Ever finished eating an apple and wondered how to best dispose of the core? What about banana peels, egg shells or even pineapple leaves?
Since the early years of this millennium, Swedish technology has been applied to turning such organic garbage into a clean, efficient source of energy. More and more communities are taking advantage of this type of recycling to reduce air pollution and dependence on fossil fuels.
How does it work?
Households and restaurants are the primary source of food garbage. After collection, the garbage is first treated so that it becomes a liquid. Then it is sent through an oxygen-free biogas reactor. As the organic material degrades, a gas called bio-methane is created. This gas is rich in methane and is captured and stored.
Biogas resembles natural gas and can be used in natural gas networks or as fuel for vehicles. As vehicle fuel, it is a very clean alternative to fossil fuels. Emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrous and sulphur oxides, carcinogenic substances and particulates are practically eliminated from vehicles that run on biogas.
An added advantage to this recycling process is the sludge that remains after the gas is created. This sludge is used as fertilizer and returns many important nutrients to the soil.
Traditionally, Sweden has always been concerned about preserving its clean and healthy environment, so it’s not surprising that the country has the highest percentage of vehicle biogas volume sold than any other country in the world.
In 2010, there were 32,000 gas-driven vehicles registered in Sweden. Most of these are cars, but also buses and heavier vehicles are making use of this type of fuel. The total potential is 3 million cars in the entire country.
In Lund, all the city buses run on biogas and 80% of the garbage collection trucks use it. Of all the gas fuels sold for industrial vehicles, biogas had increased 58% according to data from 2008.
A Way for Everyone to Participate
With so many advantages to this type of recycling, people don’t mind making a little extra effort to help the environment when given the chance. Specially designed paper bags and plastic holders are provided free of charge. The receptacle is also free and is emptied at the same time as the other garbage containers.
Currently, at least 35% of all food leftovers (from households, restaurants, etc) are recycled. Also, commercialization of much of the research and development in this field is close at hand.
So, next time you eat your daily apple, remember you’re not only keeping the doctor away, but – at least in Sweden – several other environmental problems as well.