The United States continues to lag behind leading countries in pushing aggressive environmental programs to reduce pollutants and garbage. Two stories this week highlight the sharp and disappointing contrast. In Sweden, the government has made an incredible leap in reducing household garbage and appears close to attaining the impossible: a zero waste national objective for landfills. Currently, less than one percent of Sweden household garbage ends up in landfills. In the meantime, Germany (which continues to outstrip the U.S. on green policies while continuing strong economic growth) has announced that it will add one million electric cars on the road by 2030 and expects to drop greenhouse emissions from transportation by 26 percent by 2030 from 1990 levels.
Sweden has had astonishing success in reducing landfill waste which is notoriously bad for the environment from residual ground and air pollution as well as the failure to fully recycle trash. The Swedish government has pushed the concept of garbage as a commodity for recycling or fuel production. Swedish families now Produce just 461 kilograms of waste which is slightly below the half-ton European average, but the country does an amazing job in managing the trash.
One of the biggest reasons for the low level of landfill use is a law that I have often spoken about in some countries. In Sweden, producers are responsible for handling all costs related to collection and recycling or disposal of their products. This gives companies an incentive to reduce packaging and increase recycling.
As for Germany, we have previously discussed the incredible achievements of that country in alternative energy sources. Merkel’s government has now announced the plan to have the million electric cars on the road by 2020 and set the 26 percent drop as the goal. Germany is making these achievements while maintaining one of the strongest economies in the world.
These laws of course have the obvious value of not just reducing greenhouse gases but reducing pollution and improving public health. The garbage rules also force greater cost internalization for manufacturers rather than to allow them to simply externalize the costs of packaging and pollution.