Oslo, Norway uses the electricity produced from waste incineration to fuel many of its buildings. This is true for much of Northern Europe, but Oslo uses so much waste they actually import it from other countries. In fact, their incineration facilities are powering so many homes and schools and businesses, that the city has run out of waste. Simply put, they are too good at waste removal. Not many cities can make that claim when it comes to keeping refuse out of the trash bins and dumpsters on their streets. Oslo struggles to find more waste to keep their buildings powered, as other nearby cities, Stockholm for example, are attempting the same disposal practices.

Norway’s capital and most populated city begins its waste disposal process in the residents’ homes. They separate their food waste, plastics, and glass into various colored bags before the debris is sent to one of the many waste-to-energy plants. From there, a computerized sensor at the plant will separate those bags and send them to the proper section of the building for incineration. Typically, the steam produced from that process will turn turbine blades which then produce electricity. This electricity is then sent throughout the city to power its various buildings.

This sounds like a process full of positives, but not everyone feels that way. From a New York Times article: “From an environmental point of view, it’s a huge problem,” said Lars Haltbrekken, the chairman of Norway’s oldest environmental group, an affiliate of the Friends of the Earth. “There is pressure to produce more and more waste, as long as there is this overcapacity.” Environmentalists feel there needs to be a balance found in these tactics. Recycling as well as proper waste removal and disposal must work in conjunction. Producing massive amounts of waste to fuel a city is in some ways just as detrimental as using fossil fuels to take care of that need.

Short term, importing trash from other places to help fuel the city of Oslo is a good idea. Long term, not so much. Something has got to give and it could turn into a difficult situation when countries start over-producing refuse for these purposes (not necessarily to provide for Oslo) and there is nowhere for any of that to go. It’s a precarious situation. One the one hand, using waste to power a city (even the buses in some cases) is as good an idea as any to handle the refuse. On the other, producing more refuse just to turn it into energy can easily get out of hand.