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Ikea, burritos and some trash
Updated: Jul 30, 2014 05:30 AM , By Visakh C. R.

“Sell your garbage for Rs.10 a kilogram.”

“Swap your old newspaper, bottles and garbage for groceries.”

These are some statements which any city dweller will dream about. But it’s true and is happening in this world.

Sweden, a Scandinavian country, with around nine million residents, generates 4.8 million tonnes of trash a year but only 4 per cent of it ends up in landfill. Thanks to Sweden’s highly successful and efficient waste management system, they have now run out of trash!

Sweden has developed an enviable system in which much of the household waste is recovered or recycled. The ‘waste-to-energy’ programme converts waste into energy to power one-fifth of the district heating systems, and also provides electricity to around 2,50,000 houses.

The problem is that Sweden is faced with a situation where it has to look for more garbage to burn. So, it has turned to its neighbours for help. It is planning to import 800,000 tonnes of trash to cope with the shortage. Norway has already started sending loads of trash and the Swedish authorities are looking forward to signing new trade agreements with Italy, Romania, Bulgaria and other Baltic countries to satiate their ‘garbage power plants.’

The cautious might point out that burning waste will produce harmful chemicals. It’s true, and as per the agreement with Norway, Sweden will return the ashes (which contain harmful chemicals such as dioxins). It’s up to the Norwegian authorities to clean it up. And Norwegians are happy, since it’s cheaper than recycling the trash themselves.

In another corner of the world, a country, which is known mostly for its guns, drugs and cuisine, is making progress with innovative ways of handling trash. In Mexico City, capital of Mexico, the 21 million residents have found a new way to buy groceries and vegetables. It’s a giant step forward, but Mexican authorities have taken a leaf out of our ancestors’ book. Since March 2012, they have been running a market which works based on the barter system.

It’s as simple as it can get. Bring your trash, especially paper, plastic and bottles, and get locally-grown food items in return. It’s estimated that the market collects around 20 tonnes of scrap every month. The government subsidises the prices. As The Economist points out, the scrap is sold to recyclers for 40,000 pesos ($ 3066), and the food items are bought from local farmers for 90,000 pesos ($6,900). The government chips in with the difference. But this is a very little amount to pay for a trash management system which not only reduces the headache for the local authorities but also encourages local farmers at the same time.

Sweden’s process is technologically highly advanced, whereas Mexico’s is a back-to-the-basics approach. Both are working well, and the city-dwellers as well as the authorities are heaving a sigh of relief. Instead of waking up to the foul smell of rotting garbage and driving through streets filled with trash, the Scandinavians can relax with the heating system fully on during cold and chilly winter nights. As for the Mexicans, well, they can enjoy a burrito with some guacamole made from the locally-grown avocados.

If only we could implement one of these initiatives our cities, which teem with garbage! But how many of us will bother to segregate our trash? And how many more scams will they create?

The writer’s email is visakhcr@gmail.com

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