Observations of Sustainability in Scandinavia

As our time in Scandinavia comes to a close we would like to spotlight the overall level of sustainability in Scandinavia.  Having only spent a short amount of time in each country it is important to understand that our impressions may be limited compared to the reality of the situation, but based on our experiences the following is a summary of our findings.

Recycling:

RecyclingRecycling is a key part of sustainability and must be a consideration when attempting to become more environmentally conscious.  Both Sweden and Finland seem to have relatively high levels of recycling, presenting sorted and labeled receptacles in most public spaces.
Airports and metros had as many as four different receptacles for various types of recyclable waste, and seldom would you see a single unsorted trash can in a public space.  Sweden seemed to have a slightly stronger presence of recycling, with only 4% of waste generated in the country going into landfills.  Admittedly, we did not spend as long or utilize much public transportation in Finland, so our perception of it may be slightly skewed especially when considering that Finland is the largest recycler of bottles with over 90% of containers beinCoke Recyclingg
recycled or reclaimed for new production.  Sweden also offers one crown (1KR or $0.15 USD) for each aluminum can recycled which is three times what is paid in California, another factor in increasing recycling levels in the country.

Reduction of Waste:

Another key area in sustainability is the reduction of waste, a topic which was common in both business and public settings during our time in Scandinavia.  Businesses such as Mölnlycke and Ericsson discussed how the reduction of waste in the manufacturing and use of their products is a central consideration when it comes to new product development.  Each iteration of a product is designed to be made and used more efficiently which reduces the overall carbon footprint of the company and of the consumers using their products.  Sweden has been so effective at reducing waste that in late 2012 the country ran out of garbage in its landfills and was forced to import trash from Norway in order to keep energy producing incinerators running.  In both countries, many places either do not have or do not use air conditioning due to the short summer season and moderate climate which is another way in which energy savings are realized.

Overall Cleanliness:

Smoking Kills

A discarded pack of cigarettes carrying a strong warning is littered on the street in Helsinki

For the most part both Sweden and Finland were impressively clean especially when compared with America, though we did notice a few differences and similarities between the countries.  A major problem throughout Europe that we noticed in both countries is the prevalence of smoking and the resulting cigarette litter.  Packs of cigarettes carry much stronger warnings

than those in the US but the rate of smoking remains higher in Finland, and due to the prevalence of Snus (similar to chewing tobacco, but not used loose and never spit) smoking rates are slightly lower in Sweden than the US.  In Stockholm we witnessed a sanitation worker whose sole job was seemingly to pick up discarded cigarette butts on the street.

Trash on River Bank

Trash washed up on the bank of the Torne River – Trash highlighted in red

Although the Torne River was for the most part clean, we did notice a surprising amount of
refuse washed up on the banks outside our cabin.  Overall water quality throughout Scandinavia seemed to be very good which is why it was surprising to see such a large amount of trash washed up on the riverbank in a town of ~20 people.

Finland seemed to have a more prevalent rash of discarded alcohol bottles and cans, and nearly every bench in Helsinki (in public squares) on Friday night was filled with someone openly drinking despite the fact that it is illegal to do so.  This could be related to our visit coinciding with a national holiday weekend, but regardless of the reason it was still a source of litter.

Another interesting difference we noticed was that the cars in Sweden seemed to generally be more clean and manicured than the cars in Finland.  Overall, the Swedes seemed more meticulous about order, design, and cleanliness so this fact is not extremely surprising.  This could also be a result of the greater prevalence of bikes as a form of transit in Sweden, which also cuts down on traffic and reduces the environment impact of the daily commute.Bikes Everywhere

Omitting the litter generated from cigarettes, we believe that Sweden best embodies a sustainable mentality followed by Finland; both countries seem to be currently ahead of the US on the topics of sustainability and decreasing waste.