Where I discover the secrets of Swedish recycling and witness a bit of expert tree felling.
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Letter from Sweden by Gary (not Alistair) Cook
November 20, 2021
Since being here, we have noticed that the commitment to recycling is very strong in Sweden. Two big wheelie bins each divided into four internal sections stand proudly outside most homes. And, to someone who is not particularly au fait with the language, some of the desired contents of the eight sections are a bit confusing at first.
Obviously there’s glass (one section for dark the other for clear), metal, food waste and paper, but there’s also one for cardboard, another for tetrapak type containers then, the eighth is for everything else.
It’s all quite strange at first but you soon get the hang of it. You wander out with a big bag of rubbish then divide it at the wheelie bin. It’s a bit like dividing the spoils after a Viking raid. Perhaps that’s where the idea came from.
And it’s not just at home. It seems to me that every bus stop has a huge free car park – a sort of commuter park ‘n ride – complete with big recycling bins in one corner. These are emptied once a week and get very full. Of a Sunday morning, you see the locals with their extra stuff, shoving plastic packaging, cardboard, bottles and all that jazz, into the various big bins.
There’s another way they recycle to great effect.
We had a big wind the other night and one of the many tall pine trees outside our house fell over. Given the amount of trees and the closeness to each other, the tree didn’t fall very far and rested casually against a few neighbouring trees. Cue a couple of chaps who suddenly appeared to deal with it.
There’s a lot of ads on poles around the neighbourhood for these sort of trouble-shooters and, given the amount of trees, it’s no wonder.
Obviously I can’t vouch for anyone else but these two guys were amazing. The whole operation to remove the tree took a couple of hours but at least two thirds of that time was spent working out how they were going to do it.
I watched as a small digger was produced and a big canvas strap attached to it and the tree. Eventually a chainsaw was ripped into action. A thick wedge was cut near the base of the tree and, after a bit of careful inspection, chainsaw guy kicked the wedge out. The tree didn’t move, though it was now held in place by just a couple of inches of trunk.
The digger then slowly and surely pulled the tree backwards. Eventually it broke free from the ground then from the trees supporting it. It fell, crashing onto the road where it was dealt with double quick by the chainsaw.
The wood was then cut into fireplace sized chunks and left to dry out. Eventually, the wood will be stacked between two tree trunks where, dry and ready to burn, it will be used if and when it is needed over winter.
But, back to general recycling. Sweden is aiming for a zero waste society. Rather than dumping in landfill, the country as a whole wants to recycle or reuse everything it can.
In fact, in 2019, Sweden started importing rubbish from other EU countries. It goes a long way to giving back to the Swedish economy in terms of reusability. And, after all, surely it’s better to reuse than to buy again. And again.
It is something I can wholeheartedly embrace. In fact, I’m even doing my bit by using large empty yoghurt pots as storage containers rather than buying new plastic ones. Does that make me a closet Swede? Or just a good human?
And, just in passing, I have discovered that in Stockholm central train station, the heating is provided by 250,000 daily commuters. Their body heat is used to warm the whole place.
Now that’s really putting something back.
Till next time, hej door!