Environment minister calls for increased recycling and waste sorting

Environment minister’s new strategy would force residents to take a hands-on approach to reducing Denmark’s carbon emissions

The environment minister, Ida Auken (Socialistisk Folkeparti), has penned out a new strategy that may mean a "paradigm shift" in the way we handle our rubbish. 

In a few weeks, the government will present a strategy that will require households to sort their waste into several bins rather than sending the majority of it to the incinerator.

“Danes will have to sort more of their waste. The goal is definitely to recycle more and incinerate less. That is a paradigm shift for Denmark, because so far, we have been the world champions of waste incineration,” Auken told Politiken newspaper.

Approximately 50 percent of all household rubbish is burned at incinerator plants that convert rubbish into energy for residential electricity and heat. Incineration plants are highly efficient in turning all kinds of waste into energy, but with that comes carbon dioxide emission levels that exceed the goals set under the Kyoto Protocol.

READ MORE: Government lays financial foundation for greener future

Positive initiative
The waste organisation Dakofa, which is made up of 244 members working with various aspects of waste management, was pleased with the minister’s announcement.

Morten Petersen, the head of Dakofa, thinks that the ideal arrangement would be separate rubbish cans for incineration and for waste that is unsuitable for burning. Larger receptacles should then be provided for several types of dry recyclable waste such as cardboard, iron, plastic and bottles.

“In general, people will have to meet more demands. In the beginning they may have to pay for the rubbish cans themselves, but there can also be a positive economic outcome if we use the materials better,” Petersen said.

According to the environment minister, increased recycling and waste sorting in ten trial councils has already reduced rubbish costs, but no specifics were given. 

A similar plastic recycling pilot project was carried out in Copenhagen two years ago. Residents who took part in the year-long project said they were satisfied with the new service, while the sanitation workers who collected the additional recyclables reported that the new system did not make their jobs any more difficult.

READ MORE: City's plastic waste gets new LIFE

Councils want proof
The councils who own the incineration centres have called for some documentation that increased recycling will be worth the costs. 

“We would like to recycle more if it can be documented that it makes sense for us to do so. We are waiting to see that sort of documentation,” Anders Christensen, an environmental consultant for the local government association Kommunernes Landsforening, told Politiken.

Waste sorting is not enough
This is not the first time that waste sorting has been discussed.

In 2011, a study by the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), revealed that incineration meant that Denmark emitted 70,.000 more tonnes of carbon dioxide yearly than originally thought and the nation was exceeding the carbon dioxide goals under the Kyoto Protocol.

READ MORE: Denmark’s carbon bomb

In an interview with The Copenhagen Post in 2011, DTU associate professor Thomas Astrup said that simply separating waste is not necessarily enough to reduce emissions.

“If the plastic can be sorted out in clean fractions and recycled properly to make new plastic, then it’s a good idea. But if it’s not clean, it can only be recycled into secondary materials, which saves less new plastic and less carbon dioxide emissions. Then it is better to incinerate the plastic in Denmark at high efficiency,” Astrup said.

An EU directive requires all member countries to recycle at least 50 percent of paper, plastic, metal and glass waste before 2020. At the moment, Denmark does not live up to those requirements and incinerates more and recycles less than our neighbours in Germany and Sweden.

It takes determination
So far, neither Auken or Dakofa have been able to give an estimate of how much increased waste sorting is going to cost. 

Nevertheless, Auken is determined to change the general attitude towards recycling.

“Recycling should be common sense and come to us naturally. I know that Danes want to [recycle their rubbish]. But it takes determination to keep us going in the right direction,” Auken told Politiken.

The government will present the final resource strategy in its entirety in the upcoming weeks.