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The waste-free city

Published 05/10/2012 by Mikael Lindström

Imagine a city without waste, a city without refuse collection vehicles and litter bins, a city in harmony with the environment where its people make use of everything we currently call rubbish. Or to put it simply, a waste-free city. A society where everything that comes into the city is part of a resource flow of materials and energy.

Today, we have become so good at sorting and recycling our rubbish in Sweden that we now have a shortage of waste. This may sound strange, but we have based much of our energy supply on waste incineration. We have started to sort and recycle the waste that was previously used at our district heating plants. As a result, we accept waste from other countries, which we then use as fuel for our district heating plants. But soon this, too, will become a thing of the past as other countries start to sort and recycle their waste to a greater extent. Quite simply, we have reached the "peak waste" point, which means that we are now starting to experience a shortage of waste. Another effect of this is "waste mining" or "urban mining", whereby companies take over land fills, remove them, decontaminate the area, sort the waste and make a profit by getting paid for clean fractions of the waste. Sweden's biggest gold producer is one example of "waste mining". Of their gold production, a full two thirds consists of recycled gold from electronic waste, with just a third being from traditional mines.

To date, we as Swedish consumers have had to pay to have our waste collected, despite the fact that it is a resource. Some municipalities have started to offer free collection of biowaste for biogas production. Will we get paid for our materials and energy contributions in the future?

Waste mining brings new business opportunities, and using waste as a resource is quite simply the way of the future – and will only become more common. If there is profit to be made from sorting waste that has lain in landfill sites for many years, then surely there must be even more profit to be made from sorting waste before it ends up there. When the Liljeholmstorget shopping centre was built in Stockholm, a recycling company was involved right from the planning stage. This resulted in logistics being optimised. The number of loading bays was reduced, and an efficient waste sorting area was created where the recycling companies' material handlers can easily and professionally sort waste from the retailers' warehouses before it even reaches the stores, which in turn means more space in-store for retailers to sell their products.

New city districts are being built all the time, using brand new approaches. Take Stockholm's Hammarby Sjöstad, for example. Here, an underground vacuum system has been created to quickly and easily transport away ready-sorted waste to the right place, eliminating the need for refuse collection vehicles. And in the planning of another Stockholm district, Norra Djurgårdsstaden, all aspects of sustainability – such as quality of life, the environment, economics, logistics, material strategies, energy and transport – are being taken into account.

The waste-free city is a vision that guides us in our efforts to develop packaging for the future. This involves the choice of materials, recycling, new concepts and even completely new services and business models.

For Innventia and the packaging industry, the future is all about developing new materials, new designs and new services that act as resources in the new, waste-free city and the waste-free society. Working together with retailers, packaging and logistics companies, recycling companies, town planners, architects and designers, we may perhaps be able to transform the image of packaging from an environmental villain into a resource. If we succeed in doing so, this will benefit the entire value chain and represent another step towards the waste-free city.

A city where everything that comes into the city is part of a flow of materials and energy which is used within the city and adapted according to the city's changing need for resources, and which is appealing to consumers. This is our challenge!

Mikael Lindstrom presented the waste free society at the conference Tomorrow's Packaging November 15, 2011 (This was a Swedish presentation). Organizers: Pack Bridge, Innventia and Packaging Mid Sweden.


Mikael Lindström Innventia

Mikael Lindström is vice head of business area Packaging Solutions at Innventia.

Mikael Lindström
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