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OM in the News: How Oslo Turns Garbage into Energy

May 1, 2013
Half of Oslo is heated by burning garbage

Half of Oslo is heated by burning garbage

Oslo, writes The New York Times (April 30, 2013), is a city that imports garbage. Some comes from England, some from Ireland. Some is from neighboring Sweden.  A British tax on landfill makes it cheaper to send it to places like Oslo. “It helps us in reducing the escalating costs of the landfill tax,” says a spokeswoman for Leeds, England. Oslo even has designs on the American market. “I’d like to take some from the United States,” says the director of one plant that turns garbage into heat and electricity. “Sea transport is cheap.”

A recycling-friendly place where roughly half the city and most of its schools are heated by burning garbage — household trash, industrial waste, even toxic and dangerous waste from hospitals and drug arrests — Oslo has a problem: it has literally run out of garbage to burn. The fastidious population of Northern Europe produces only about 150 million tons of waste a year, far too little to supply incinerating plants that have capacity of more than 700 million tons. The problem is not unique to Oslo, a city of 1.4 million people. Across Northern Europe, where the practice of burning garbage to generate heat and electricity has exploded, demand for trash far outstrips supply.

Garbage may be garbage in some parts of the world, but in Oslo it is very high-tech. Households separate their garbage, putting food waste in green plastic bags, plastics in blue bags and glass elsewhere. The bags are handed out free at groceries and other stores.

Still, not everybody is comfortable with this garbage addiction. “From an environmental point of view, it’s a huge problem. There is pressure to produce more and more waste, as long as there is this overcapacity,” says one Norwegian environmental expert. Retorts the head of Oslo’s waste recovery agency, “Recycling and energy recovery have to go hand in hand.”

Discussion questions:

1. How do some US cities deal with massive amounts of garbage?

2. Why are sustainability efforts such as this of interest to operations managers?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Wende Huehn-Brown permalink
    May 1, 2013 8:21 pm

    I drive by the Pinellas facility to get to my campus (see http://www.pinellascounty.org/utilities/wte.htm). But Oslo looks like more effort to recycle first.

  2. Barry Render permalink
    May 2, 2013 6:34 pm

    Wende,
    Thank you for sharing this site. I am really happy to discover that we are doing similar projects in the US.

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