Tag Archives: sweden

The Swedish model: a year on, the unique pandemic approach still isn’t paying off

“We need help,” said Bjorn Eriksson, director of healthcare for the Stockholm region, at a recent news conference, per Reuters, noting that 83 patients were in intensive care beds. “That corresponds more or less to all intensive care beds we normally have.”

Despite more months passing and a first wave that many hoped would immunize the country, Sweden’s coronavirus approach doesn’t seem to be paying dividends so far and the situation is close to spiraling out of control, even as the country has one of the best medical systems in the world.

Rather ironically, Sweden ended up in this situation by listening to scientists — or rather, by listening to one scientist in particular: Anders Tegnell, the current state epidemiologist of Sweden. The Swedish constitution prohibits ministerial rule and mandates that the relevant government body (in this case, the Public Health Agency) must initiate action on relevant challenges. It’s very unusual for politicians to ever overrule advice from expert agencies in Sweden.

This put Tegnell in a central situation and made him the de facto czar of the Swedish pandemic response. However, Tegnell’s views are at odds with scientists from other countries. “Sweden is right” and “all the other countries are wrong,” quipped Johan Giescke, Tegnell’s mentor, close confidant, and consultant adviser for the Swedish Public Health Authority

Sweden has not imposed a lockdown, unlike many other countries. Despite some restrictions, Sweden has kept large parts of its society open, counting on people to follow restrictions voluntarily. The Public Health Agency issued recommendations to work from home and avoid unnecessary travel, but they refused to enforce these measures, as was the case elsewhere in the world.

Even if it wanted, Sweden would have had a very hard time enforcing these restrictions. The Swedish Constitution legally protects the freedom of movement for the people and prevents a lockdown in peacetime. But now, the country’s government wants to introduce a temporary pandemic law to grant it increased powers, especially when it comes to enforcing various types of lockdown. Sweden also introduced similar legislation in spring, but the legislation expired without ever being used. Now, however, as cases continue to rise, it seems that they can no longer continue as previously.

At odds with the world

Sweden, a country more used to the ‘Best Countries’ lists, found itself at odds with the rest of the world early on in the pandemic. Sweden seemed to opt for a herd immunity strategy, claiming that its only objective was to avoid the hospitals being overrun. Swedish officials (Tegnell included) then vehemently denied this and said journalists had misunderstood their plan — but email exchanges obtained by Swedish journalists under freedom of information laws showed that Tegnel actually discussed herd immunity as an objective in mid-March. “One point would be to keep schools open to reach herd immunity faster,” Tegnell commented. He also appeared to cynically ask if sacrificing older people would be “acceptable.”

Critics (and there was no shortage of them) pointed out that the approach of letting the disease spread in a “controlled fashion” through the country is not only counterproductive, it’s unethical. After all, every country pondered this, and ultimately decided differently.

Anders Tegnell during the daily press conference outside the Karolinska Institute. Image credits: Frankie Fouganthin.

Achieving herd immunity without vaccines was regarded by many specialists as a huge gamble, and one not likely to pay off. Not only do we still not know how long immunity lasts (if it’s in the order of months, herd immunity is simply not achievable without vaccines), but given how COVID-19 spreads, there’s no way to limit the spread without measures such as face masks and lockdowns. Tegnell questioned the scientific basis for the “stricter” measures taken by other governments but failed to provide solid evidence supporting Sweden’s own approach. As the cases continued to rise in Sweden, not only were face masks not mandated — they were actively discouraged, even in medical settings.

Then, for a moment, it seemed like Sweden’s approach was paying dividends: when the number of cases started to finally drop without a lockdown, some took it as a victory the Swedish approach. But the immunity tests tore the whole idea down. In June, immunity was found just in 6.1% of Swedes. In September, the figure was not different. ‘Sweden’s prized herd immunity is nowhere in sight,’ noted one analyst in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

Amid a summer which saw Sweden battle with a large number of infections, Tegnell predicted that Sweden was unlikely to see another big wave.

Then, the second wave came.

An even worse second wave

Even if Sweden hasn’t achieved herd immunity, there were hopes that the country would have some significant immunity level that would allow it to avoid the brunt of a second wave. This does not seem to be the case. The Public Health Authority declared — incorrectly — in AprilMay, and July, that Stockholm was on the verge of herd immunity, only to correct itself later on. The country currently has the highest per-capita rate of infection (on a rolling seven-day average), and still one of the highest fatality rates in the world — even as it boasts one of the most competent and well-funded medical systems.

Tegnell himself had to concede that he wasn’t expecting this. Sweden is seeing a record number of cases, and yet again, suffering much more than some of its neighbors.

“We see no signs of immunity in the population that are slowing down the infection right now,” Tegnell commented in November.

The simmering criticism from opposing scientists is starting to boil over, and the politicians who had been supportive of the approach were forced to take a detour. When 22 prominent scientists published an article raising concerns about the country’s approach, they were ridiculed and even insulted by local media. Now, things are starting to change.

“I think that most people in the profession didn’t see such a wave in front of them; they talked about different clusters,” the prime minister, Stefan Löfven, told the Swedish Aftonbladet newspaper on Tuesday.

It’s not just the lack of lockdown measures. A national commission report that analyzed the Swedish response found that the country was slow to protect elderly homes, was slow in implementing measures, and failed to communicate properly — especially regarding the risk of asymptomatic carriers (until recently, Sweden only considered patients with severe symptoms as likely to spread the disease).

While Tegnell’s agency was not responsible for directing the elderly care system and other shortcomings, many still blame the relaxed approach for some of these failures. Many medical workers are also starting to quit, leaving hospitals even more pressured.

Anders Tegnell during the daily press conference outside the Karolinska Institute.

In 2019, the Global Health Security Index of the ‘most prepared’ countries in the world for a pandemic published by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security ranked Sweden as 7th overall. If Sweden wasn’t prepared, then almost no one in the world was.

Sweden is abandoning the Swedish model

Denmark, another Scandinavian country where cases have recently been surging, has announced a nationwide lockdown. In Sweden, no such thing has happened — but it’s no longer seeming as impossible as it did a few months ago. Sweden has already announced a set of measures, including allowing high schools to implement distance learning.

Gradually, Sweden seems to be retreating from its no-lockdown stance, as Tegnell and his close collaborators are increasingly pushed to the sidelines, though they still stand by their approach.

“Lifting and closing things is really detrimental to trust and will also have a lot more negative effects than keeping some kind of level of measures all the time,” he told the Observer newspaper. “Opening and closing schools, for example, would be disastrous.”

As of November, Tegnell insisted that it’s “not yet possible” to say which approach is right, but many are starting to see the writing on the wall. Professor David Goldsmith, the lead author of a paper published by the UK’s Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, told ABC:

“Honestly, there was never a chance of that being a sensible approach,” he said. “Nobody has ever tried to control a pandemic or an epidemic by inducing herd immunity. They deny it now, I know they do, but the evidence is abundantly clear.”

At any rate, it’s obvious that Tegnell and his idea is losing support. Tellingly, King Carl XVI Gustaf made damning remarks during his annual review of the year with the royal family, saying that the relaxed approach has “failed” to save lives. It’s rare for the king to criticize so bluntly, but it’s a strong indication that the country is starting to redefine its approach.

But it’s not happening overnight, and it’s still not clear just how things will happen from now on.

For now, the Public Health Authority still hasn’t recommended the use of masks in public places — making Sweden the only democracy in the world that doesn’t recommend masks.

Rather ironically, Sweden’s approach is also suffering due to how quickly vaccines were developed. Had it taken more time, the Swedish approach would perhaps have been somewhat better in comparison. But with vaccines already on the horizon, allowing the disease to spread so much seems even more unnecessary.

For now restaurants, bars, and coffee shops are still open in Sweden. The Netherlands, with lower infection rates than Sweden, just went into a full lockdown. Germany will close down most of the country, and Denmark is going in full lockdown. Meanwhile, Anders Tegnell called lockdowns in neighboring countries “mad” and “ridiculous,” and Prime Minister Stefan Lofven called on the populace to use their folkvett — a blend of good manners, morality, and common sense that is supposed to be innate to all good Swedes. But these words ring more of national exceptionalism and hope rather than practical ideas.

After all, folkvett can only get you so far.

How close are we to reaching herd immunity for the coronavirus?

There are only two ways to innoculate a population against the threat of a novel pathogen: vaccination or herd immunity. Vaccination is simply not an option for the coronavirus at the moment (nor for the next 12-18 months), so that leaves us with herd immunity — the notion that a viral infection stops spreading in a community after a sufficient proportion develops antibodies after recovering from the illness.

Credit: Pixabay.

Although no country has officially declared herd immunity an objective they’re actively pursuing as part of their COVID-19 mitigations strategies, some have flirted with this idea. For instance, Sweden has taken a much more relaxed approach compared to its Scandinavian neighbors, or the world at large for that matter. In the scientific community, this approach (along with the UK’s initial approach) has been seen been by outsiders as a sort of massive (and very dangerous) medical experiment.

While residents in most countries stayed cooped up inside under strict orders not to leave their homes unless necessary, Swedes were told to behave responsibly and far fewer restrictions were truly imposed.

Schools and cafes were allowed to stay open and gatherings of up to 50 people are still fair game. Apart from minor restrictions, the life of the average Swede hasn’t changed all that drastically — at least not in terms of restricted movement.

Unsurprisingly, infection rates skyrocketed compared to neighboring lockdown-loving countries, such as Denmark or Norway.

As of June 1, Sweden had 37,532 cases and 4,395 deaths due to COVID-19, whereas Denmark had 11,699 cases and 576 deaths, and Norway 8,446 cases and 236 deaths. Sweden has a population roughly twice that of Denmark or Norway but its number of cases per million citizens is much higher.

This approach has caused Swedish authorities to come under a lot of fire, but is the country at least close to herd immunity? Not even close, according to recent assessments.

Herd immunity is a distant dream and quite possibly a disastrous strategy to follow

When our body’s immune system is attacked by a virus, white blood cells create antibodies to fight off the invading infection. When the virus comes in contact with us a second time, this time the immune system is primed against it, eliminating the infection before we start to feel sick.

Researchers conducted seroprevalence surveys, in which they took blood samples and analyzed them for antibodies against SARS-CoV2. The samples were taken randomly across a representative sample of the population.

In Stockholm, the most densely populated region of the country, just 7.3% of the population is estimated to have antibodies to the coronavirus. Elsewhere in the country, it’s likely that a much lower proportion of the population has the antibodies.

Elsewhere, in Spain, a similar survey reported a national average of 5% with antibodies for COVID-19, with 11% for Madrid and 7% for Barcelona. In the UK, the national average for COVID-19 antibodies is 5%, although London has 17%.

Worldwide, the WHO estimates that just 3% of the population has antibodies to COVID-19, almost half a year since the outbreak first started in Wuhan, China.

In order for herd immunity to offer protection from infection to a population, at least 60% of the community would have to have the required antibodies.

Herd immunity: not a viable strategy in light of insufficient information about the coronavirus

Herd immunity hinges on two important factors: the proportion of the population that is infected and the duration of immunity.

In the case of SARS-CoV-2, the question of how long immunity lasts after recovery is still open. In April, the WHO issued a statement claiming there is “no evidence that people who have recovered from Covid-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.”

But since then, research has surfaced suggesting that people do indeed form antibodies and that SARS-CoV-2 isn’t necessarily some superbug on course to rewrite immunology textbooks. One recent study on 285 people who tested positive for Covid-19 found that all of them developed antibodies within 19 days of symptom onset.

As for the question of how long immunity lasts, that’s impossible to tell at this point because the virus is still so new. We’ll have to wait at least a year for definite answers. If immunity only lasts for a few months (which is the case with influenza, for instance), that means that even the people that are immunized now might not be immunized next year, so this makes the herd immunity strategy even more far-fetched.

However, SARS-CoV-2 isn’t the only coronavirus that we know of. Exposure to MERS-CoV, which caused the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak in 2002-2003, produced antibodies that were present 2-3 years post-illness, according to one study. Another 2016 study found that SARS-recovering patients had T-cells capable of fighting the virus even 11 ears post-infection.

The bad news is that coronaviruses that cause the common cold frequently reinfected previous hosts more than once over the span of a year, indicating that immunity is very short-lived. If immunity to SARS-CoV-2 is anything like that for the cold, then herd immunity won’t work. As such, any national strategy hinging on herd immunity should first wait for peer-reviewed studies that establish how long antibodies for COVID-19 stay in a person’s blood.

But even if immunity would be somewhat long-lasting, more than 57% of the global population would have to be infected, potentially resulting in millions of deaths. While we wait for a vaccine, it seems like the only viable option at this point is suppression/mitigation through constant testing, fast contact tracing as soon as new clusters are identified, and social distancing for many months to come.

Has Sweden’s coronavirus approach failed? So far, the numbers suggest so

As countries in Europe reported lower coronavirus figures following a lockdown, Sweden’s relaxed approach continues to draw high infection rates and fatality rates. The country is still far from achieving herd immunity and criticism is mounting against the country’s strategy.

Image credits: Jonathan Brinkhorst.

Sweden is not used to being on “the worst of” lists. Like its Scandinavian neighbors, Sweden consistently ranks high in most economic, social, and educational indexes. But unlike its neighbors, Sweden opted for a much more lax approach to the coronavirus lockdown.

It’s not like Sweden did nothing — they banned large gatherings, closed some places down, and took all the initial measures that other countries followed. But as the rest of Scandinavia (and of Europe) pushed a tight lockdown, Sweden refused, and shops, restaurants, gyms, some schools, and many workplaces remained open. So far, that strategy does not seem to be paying off.

Damning figures

Sweden has a few major assets on its side: a highly educated population, a generally low population density (with the exception of its capital, Stockholm), and one of the best health systems in the world. So it doesn’t make much sense to compare Sweden with other countries that don’t share these characteristics. Luckily, its neighbors Denmark, Norway, and Finland share them to a great extent, and they all implemented a tight lockdown — so it makes for an interesting comparison.

When looking at the total number of cases, things don’t look too good for Sweden. You can see that the outbreak in Norway, for instance, started earlier and more aggressively than in Sweden, but after some point, the total number of cases started to taper off — but not in Sweden.

But the official number of cases is misleading, because it depends on the number of tests. So perhaps, the number of deaths is more revealing. Here, the charts look even worse for Sweden.

Initially, Sweden saw death rates from COVID-19 that were similar to other European nations that had closed down their economies. But as time passed, the lack of a strict lockdown seemed to take a higher and higher toll.

Now, Sweden has the highest coronavirus death rate in Europe and one of the highest death rates in the world — with little to show for it.

Herd immunity? Not even close

In order for herd immunity to be achieved, at least 70% of the population must be immunized — and Sweden isn’t even close to achieving that. A test on 1,118 Stockholm residents carried out by Sweden’s Public Health Agency in late April showed that only 7.3% had developed the antibodies needed to stave off the disease. Stockholm is the most heavily affected area, and antibody rates are expected to be even lower in the rest of the country.

The country’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said the number was a “little lower” than expected “but not remarkably lower, maybe one or a couple of percent.” However, according to The Guardian, the agency was expecting a figure closer to 25%.

State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, the architect of the Swedish strategy. Image credits: Franie Fouganthin.

Representatives of the Swedish government, as well as its agencies, have repeatedly denied that pursuing herd immunity is the objective, but in this case, it is unclear why this more lax strategy was pursued in the first place. This is why Sweden’s denial of the ‘herd immunity’ approach sounds a bit half-hearted — almost like reassurance for the international press rather than its own citizens. The only apparent reason to opt for this strategy is to hope you can weather the storm without any major economic damage. But even that’s not going so well.

Economic forecasts show that Sweden’s economy is unlikely to feel any major benefits and will contract as much as its neighbors’.

With its measures, Sweeden seems to have fallen between to stools. It has imposed some lockdown measures — enough for the economic damage to be strongly felt, but not enough to keep the virus in check as well as its neighbors.

Furthermore, while Sweden’s hospitals have so far withstood the onslaught of new patients, they are likely to collapse soon if the number of cases doesn’t drop, experts warn. Lastly, winning time can be important in itself: even as a vaccine will likely take months or yeast to be developed, with every passing week we are learning new aspects about the coronavirus and new ways to improve patient survivability.

Mounting criticism

From both inside and out, more voices are criticizing Sweden’s approach.

“I’d say it hasn’t worked out so well,” said Dr. George Rutherford, professor of epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco. “I think the mortality in Norway is something like ten-fold lower. That’s the real comparator.”

Annika Linde, Sweden’s former state epidemiologist, has also criticized the approach, saying that the country has failed its vulnerable populations.

“I think that we needed more time for preparedness. If we had shut down very early … we would have been able, during that time, to make sure that we had what was necessary to protect the vulnerable,” Linde told the Observer.

Linde said that she initially shared the opinion of her successor, Anders Tegnell. But as the data from other countries kept coming in, she realized that this wasn’t the best approach. She believes Sweden’s approach has been a failure, due to an unwillingness to adapt a pre-prepared strategy built on the experience of influenza pandemics. This is also what the UK initially did: it based its approach on the influenza pandemic plan, but this turned out to be a flawed and very costly approach for both countries.

“The basic perception was, I think, that sooner or later, irrespective of what you do, you will have the whole population infected,” she said.

“So when Anders Tegnell said ‘we will flatten the curve, and we will protect the vulnerable’, I thought ‘we will reach herd immunity after a while. It could be a good strategy’. I wasn’t that critical.”

Now, Linde points at Sweden’s neighbors and sees how much better they fared, wishing that Sweden would have opted for a different course.

“I think it is beginning to lean on that the Swedish model may not have been the smartest in all respects,” she diplomatically says.

Sweden was also not a leader in testing and tracking down infection clusters — which other countries have done with great success.

Image credits: Alexis Mette.

The Swedish experiment

Sweden has not wavered in its support for this approach. In a notable interview, one Swedish epidemiologist has claimed not only that Sweden’s approach is correct — but also that the lockdown approach is not correct. In the interview, Prof. Johan Giesecke claimed that one year from now, we will be seeing similar rates between all European countries. The jury is still out on that one, but for now, at least, Sweden’s approach has little positives to boast.

Everything that Sweden claims as its advantage in this pandemic (a high trust in authorities, an educated population, and sparse settlements) can also be said for the other countries in Scandinavia — and they opted for a very different approach, so Sweden’s approach is so far hard to justify.

This is the first national crisis that Sweden has had in over 100 years. Unlike its neighbors, Sweden has not had any major threats since the early 1800s, and perhaps, regards COVID-19 rather dispassionately, instead of seeing it as a pressing crisis.

The coronavirus fight is a marathon, not a sprint. Time will tell whether Sweden’s approach was actually right, but for now, the results don’t seem very good.

Sweden waves goodbye to its last coal plant — two years in advanced

Slowly but surely, European countries are starting to renouncing coal, one of the most polluting energy sources available.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

Sweden just became the third European country to leave coal behind, following Belgium and Austria. The country decided to shut down its last remaining coal plant two years before the scheduled closure, signaling a strong intent to shift to renewable energy.

The coal plant is located in eastern Stockholm and owned by Stockholm Exergi, a company part-owned by the City of Stockholm. The decision was described by the company as a “milestone” and will help lower the greenhouse gas emissions of the country.

“This plant has provided the Stockholmers with heat and electricity for a long time — today we know that we must stop using all fossil fuels, therefore the coal needs to be phased out and we did so several years before the original plan,” Anders Egelrud, chief executive of Stockholm Exergi, said in a statement.

The company first aimed to close the plant in 2022, gradually reducing its output. But the deadline was met sooner, mainly thanks to a lower electricity demand due to a mild winter in Sweden — instead of waiting for another two years, better close it now and save the emissions.

Thanks to the move, Stockholm, Sweden’s capital, is a step closer to having its district heating produced only by renewable or recycled energy by 2030. Many European cities use district heating instead of localized boilers, as it increases efficiency and reduces pollution.

“Since Stockholm was almost totally fossil-dependent 30-40 years ago, we have made enormous changes and now we are taking the step away from carbon dependence and continuing the journey towards an energy system entirely based on renewable and recycled energy,” Egelrud added.

Sweden’s decision advances Europe’s movement away from coal. Belgium became the first EU country to phase out coal for heating and power in 2016. Austria followed this year, closing its last coal-fired plant – which powered a district heating network in the municipality of Mellach.

Seven more countries are expected to end coal by 2025: France (2022), Slovakia (2023), Portugal (2023), the UK (2024), Ireland (2025) and Italy (2025), according to Europe Beyond Coal. They are expected to be followed by Greece (2028), the Netherlands (2029), Finland (2029), Hungary (2030), and Denmark (2030).

There are ongoing discussions in the Czech Republic, Spain and North Macedonia about when to exit coal-fired electricity. Germany has said it will put its last coal plant offline by 2038, a commitment that still has to be firmed up in the country’s coal exit law.

“Against the backdrop of the serious health challenges we are currently facing, leaving coal behind in exchange for renewables is the right decision and will repay us in kind with improved health, climate protection and more resilient economies,” Kathrin Gutmann, campaign director for Europe Beyond Coal, told PV Magazine.

Leaving fossil fuels behind isn’t good just for the planet, it’s also an economically smart move, as the costs of renewables are dropping across the globe. A study by Carbon Tracker showed coal developers could end up losing up to $600 billion as renewable energy is now cheaper than coal energy in many countries.

Coronavirus in Sweden — live updates, cases, and news

Coronavirus cases and fatalities in Sweden

The number is based on confirmed diagnostic tests. It is very likely that the true number of COVID-19 cases is higher as many cases are asymptomatic.

New COVID-19 cases and fatalities per day in Sweden

This is a good indicator of “flattening the curve” — when there is a steady decreasing trend, it is an indicator that the spread of the disease is slowing down.

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If you’d like to use these graphs and maps on your site or articles, please e-mail us.

Risk of COVID-19 in Sweden

There is a risk of being infected with the coronavirus in Sweden. The Public Health Agency (“Folkhälsomyndigheten”) advises all those with symptoms to reduce the risk of spreading the virus by avoiding social contact. Those above the age of 70 are advised to avoid social contact as age is one of the risk factors. 

Avoiding infection

  • Avoid touching your face and eyes. The infection is spread via mucous membranes in your eyes, nose and mouth. 
  • Wash your hands frequently using soap and water. Pathogens can easily end up on your hands. You must therefore make sure to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Always wash your hands when you get home or when you get to work after being outside, before meals, when handling food and after going to the toilet. 
  • Avoid contact with people who are unwell. 
  • If you are unwell – stay at home. Cough or sneeze into your sleeve or use a paper tissue. When you cough or sneeze, tiny droplets containing pathogens are spread.

Coronavirus in Sweden News:

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Stockholm says no to fashion week to explore more sustainable options

The fashion industry is now under the spotlight as a large polluter, mainly because of the way our clothes are manufactured. The clothing industry is a major consumer of water, creating textile wastee and it can be linked to greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation.

Source: Flickr (Josephzohn)

With that in mind, Sweden’s recent decision shouldn’t come as a shock. The Swedish Fashion Council recently decided to cancel Stockholm Fashion Week for the foreseeable future. The event, which was usually scheduled twice a year, was set to take place on August 27 to 29.

The aim will be to develop a new format, in line with a more sustainable standard for the fashion industry. Until then, designers will have to wait to show their products in Stockholm.

“Stepping away from the conventional fashion week model has been a difficult, but much considered, decision. We need to put the past to rest and to stimulate the development of a platform that is relevant for today’s fashion industry,” said Jennie Rosén, CEO of the Swedish Fashion Council.

Rosén said that the council is now focusing on creating tools and platforms that are more relevant to the industry’s current needs, such as formats that generate revenue streams and encourage cross-sector collaboration.

“The Swedish fashion industry is extensive and growing, so it is crucial to support brands in their development of next-generation fashion experiences. By doing this we can adapt to new demands, reach sustainability goals and be able to set new standards for fashion,” she added.

Sweden takes its sustainability very seriously. The country has a long trajectory as a leading eco-friendly country due to its initiatives in many sectors such as recycling, aviation, green technology, and renewable energy. It’s no coincidence that the country is the birthplace inspirational climate change activist, Greta Thunberg.

Yet again, Sweden showed that it’s not afraid to take action to promote sustainability. The country is now seeking to make a difference also on the fashion industry, inspired by the new and improved methods of clothing production that are kicking in and the growing knowledge of the impact of the fashion industry on the environment.

About 20% of water industrial pollution comes from textile treatment and dying. The fashion industry uses 1.5 trillion liters of water per year and it releases 190.000 tons of textile microplastic fibers in the oceans every year. More than 20% of the world’s chemicals are used for the textile industry.

Charred grains.

Earliest evidence of beer brewing in Scandinavia hails from the Iron Age

New evidence shows that Swedes were producing beer on an industrial scale even since the Iron Age.

Charred grains.

Carbonized germinated grains found at Uppåkra, Sweden.
Image credits M. Larsson, A. Svensson, J. Apel, 2018, Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

Humans have had a very long relationship with beer. Legal documents and images recovered by archaeologists show that people in Mesopotamia produced the brew as early as 4000 BCE. There is also evidence of beer-making in China around 3000 BCE. Beer seems to have played an important part in these ancient cultures and economies, and it’s possible that the earliest permanent settlements were founded just so we could grow more grains and make more beer.

New findings from the Lund University, Sweeden, shows that northerners were also joining in the fun as early as the Iron Age.

Let there be ale!

Archaeologists from Lund report finding the carbonized remains of germinated grains in Uppåkra, southern Sweden. The findings show that malting processes were carried out here as early as the Iron Age — and where there’s malt, there’s beer. The scale of the operation and its position in the settlement indicates an industrial-level approach to brewing.

“We found carbonised malt in an area with low-temperature ovens located in a separate part of the settlement. The findings are from the 400-600s, making them one of the earliest evidence of beer brewing in Sweden,” says first author Mikael Larsson, who specialises in archaeobotany, the archaeology of human-plant interactions.

Finding cereals on archaeological sites is far from uncommon. However, there’s rarely any way to link these grains to certain processes, meaning we can’t tell what the people of old were planning to do with the seeds. The particularities of the malting process, however, allowed the team to identify the intended purpose of these grains.

It takes two key processes to brew beer. The first, malting, requires wetting grain with water to induce germination. During the process of germination, enzymes in the seeds break down proteins and starches into sugars. After enough sugar is formed, the second part of the process begins: the grains are dried in an oven to halt germination. The charring on the seeds discovered in Uppåkra, as well as the presence of ovens in the area, suggests that the grains were involved in this drying process.

Ovens.

Excavation of the kiln structure. a) During removal of clay base of oven. b) Stone packing exposed at the base of the kiln. c) Removal of stone packing and wall foundation of oven. d) Oven removed, excavation of trench cut in progress.
Image credits M. Larsson, A. Svensson, J. Apel, 2018, Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

Uppåkra is currently the largest Iron Age settlements in southern Scandinavia. From 100s BCE to the 1000s CE, it was a densely populated political and religious center. Imported luxuries such as jewelry and glass bowls were found in impressive quantities in the settlement, suggesting that it was an important and rich trading center. It’s not far-fetched, then, to assume that a local brewing industry might have thrived here — and evidence on the ground also supports this.

“Because the investigated oven and carbonised grain was situated in an area on the site with several similar ovens, but absent of remains to indicate a living quarter, it is likely that large-scale production of malt was allocated to a specific area on the settlement, intended for feasting and/or trading,” explains Mikael Larsson.

We’ve previously only found evidence of beer brewing in the Nordic region in two other places: one location in Denmark from around 100 CE, and one in Eketorp on Öland from around 500 CE. This would make the present findings the earliest evidence of beer production in the area.

The paper “Botanical evidence of malt for beer production in fifth–seventh century Uppåkra, Sweden” has been published in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

Electric-road-rail.

Sweden opens world’s first electrified road, to charge e-vehicles on the run

One stretch of road outside Stockholm will recharge electric cars and trucks as they’re zipping along.

Electric-road-truck.

A former diesel-fueled truck owned by the logistics firm PostNord is the first to use the road.
Image credits Erik Mårtensson / eRoadArlanda

Stockholm can now boast having the world’s first operational electrified road. While it’s quite short, linking Stockholm Arlanda airport to a nearby logistics site over a stretch of two kilometers, it is nevertheless an important step forward in Sweden‘s long-term energy strategy and its efforts to combat climate change.

The country has pledged to decouple completely from fossil fuels by 2030 — quite an impressive goal to set for ones’ self — the lion’s share of which are currently guzzled by the transport sector. This electrified road is Sweden’s proof-of-concept, aiming to show that e-vehicles can be used conveniently over long distances. Once expanded to other key infrastructure lines, such as highways and main roadways, the roads will ensure Swedes can charge their electric vehicles wherever they are — and ensure a smooth transition from combustion engines to electronic ones for residents and industry.

The road transfers electricity from an underground rail into the batteries of cars through a flexible arm attached to the charging vehicle. It might sound risky, but the team behind the project says it’s not any more dangerous than a bowl of meatballs with cranberry sauce.

“There is no electricity on the surface,” Hans Säll, chief executive of eRoadArlanda, the consortium behind the project, explained to the Guardian.

“There are two tracks, just like an outlet in the wall. Five or six centimeters down is where the electricity is. But if you flood the road with salt water, then we have found that the electricity level at the surface is just one volt. You could walk on it barefoot.”

Each new kilometer of electrified road currently costs roughly 1 million euros ($1.23 million) to install. Not exactly cheap (the World Bank estimated back in 2000 that one kilometer of new road costs around US$866,000 to install, so about 1/3 less), but its still a whopping 50 times cheaper than installing an overhead tram line over the same distance.

Electric-road-rail.

Not so cool now, are ya, overhead electricity?
Image credits Erik Mårtensson / eRoadArlanda.

The e-roads are divided into 50 meter-long (164 feet) segments, which are individually powered — and only when a car is running on that segment. To keep extra safe, power will be cut when a vehicle stops.

With Sweeden currently maintaining about half a million kilometers of roadways (20,000 of which are highways), that would add up to a lot of euros. Luckily, as e-vehicle manufacturers have done such a wonderful job in battery technology one-upmanship lately, the Swedes don’t need to electrify everything — just the important bits.

“If we electrify 20,000 kilometers of highways that will definitely be enough,” Säll explained. “The distance between two highways is never more than 45 kilometers, and electric cars can already travel that distance without needing to be recharged.”

“Some believe it would be enough to electrify 5,000 kilometers.”

Another interesting feature of the e-road is its “dynamic charging” ability. In essence, the system can estimate how much energy each vehicle running on it consumes, meaning the costs can be debited per individual car or user. It also means that these cars can get away with smaller batteries (since there’s always a reliable supply of power close at hand) making them even more energy-efficient in the long run.

The government’s roads agency has already drafted a national map for future expansion, The Guardian adds.

The only question yet to be answered is whether Ikea will start shipping DYI stretches of electrified roads, with their customary excess of bolts in each package.

Plantscaper concept.

Swedish company builds food-laden ‘Plantscaper’ to feed the cities of the future

Swedish company Plantagon is tackling the world’s food problems through ‘agritecture’, a combination of architecture, technology, and agriculture. The first of their projects, a massive vertical greenhouse or “plantscaper”, is set to open in 2020.

Plantscaper concept.

Artist’s concept of a plantscaper.
Image via Plantagon.

There are over 7.5 billion people living today, a number that’s expected to skyrocket to 10 billion in the next 30 or so years. Many researchers, politicians, and members of the public are worried that we’ll see dire shortages in the wake of such spectacular population increases. Perhaps most worryingly of which are the looming threats of food and water scarcity, likely to be compounded by climate change and greater migration towards urban centers.

For many of us, these shortages have yet to make an appearance, and it would be just dandy if things stayed this course. To be blunt, however, for that to happen we’ll need to grow much more food than we do today, and we’ll need to grow it more efficiently, especially in regards to water usage. One Sweedish-based company named Plantagon is working today so we’ll have solid footing when dealing with the issues of tomorrow.

Their solution involves dotting urban landscapes with huge vertical farms called “plantscapers”, crop-laden skyscrapers that can feed thousands of city dwellers each year.

The concept of Plantagon’s vertical greenhouses is the brainchild of Swedish innovator Åke Olsson. A passionate organic farmer, Olsson needed to get more surface out of his croplands. So, he designed a rack transport system which slowly cycles planting boxes from the floor of a vertical greenhouse to its ceiling, so he didn’t have to use any artificial light. Shortly after Plantagon International AB and the Plantagon International Association were founded in 2008, they bought the design from Olsson.

Greenhouse inside.

Image via Plantagon.

Plantscapers use the same concept but on a much taller scale, mixed in with a hearty helping of hydroponics to keep everything growing. They resemble high-rise office buildings that churn out delicious veggies instead of water cooler conversations and stressful deadlines. The first plantscaper, The World Food Building, is already under construction in Linköping, Sweden. The 16-story building is estimated to cost around $40 million and should be ready to open sometime in 2020.

The WFB’s layout allows for far more output relative to its surface area than a conventional farm. The building is expected to produce about 550 tons of vegetables annually, which according to the company should be enough to feed roughly 5,000 people. The plants will be grown in watery, nutrient-rich substrates. All factors and growing conditions, from water to nutrition, sunlight, temperature, and air quality will be monitored autonomously, to make sure everything is perfect for the plants and that waste is minimized.

Maintenance and harvesting jobs will similarly be performed by autonomous systems, Plantagon CEO Hans Hassle told Business Insider, likely in a bid to keep costs down. Plantagon hopes their autonomous systems and urban setting will lower transportation, production, and energy costs enough to make the ‘scrapers a sustainable solution to feeding the community. Additionally, the building will help save 1000 metric tons of CO2 emissions and 50 million liters of water that a conventional farm uses for the same amount of food.

Of course, these figures will have to be verified after the WFB is completed, and any eventual teething problems are solved. Still, the plantscaper concept does seem to be a hit so far (I admit I’m quite taken as well, I just love buildings with plants). The company is currently in talks to develop plantscrapers in Singapore, the United States, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.

I’d also be curious to see a cross between Plantagon’s concept and a technology such as that of SolarWindow — one producing food, the other electricity. Such buildings could conceivably feed and power cities at the same time.

Until then, will have to wait and see if the plantscraper concept will succeed. I hope it does.

Sweden's port of Lulea risks getting too shallow for ships because sea levels around it are dropping. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Why sea levels around Finland and Sweden are dropping while the rest of the world is drowning

Sweden's port of Lulea risks getting too shallow for ships because sea levels around it are dropping. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Sweden’s port of Lulea risks getting too shallow for ships because sea levels around it are dropping. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

One of the biggest consequences of man-made climate change is sea level rise. On average, sea levels are rising at a rate of more than 3 millimeters (mm) a year, bearing serious repercussions for human health and the economy, particularly in coastal regions which are most vulnerable. And because our planet isn’t a bathtub, in some places the sea level is rising two or three times faster than average. For instance, by 2030 sea levels could be 431 mm (17 inches) higher, with the highest rise at Mayport, Fernandina Beach, and Daytona Beach. People living around China’s Yellow River delta are swamped by sea level rise of more than 250 mm (9 inches) a year.

Sea levels aren’t rising everywhere, though. In fact, in some places like Scandinavia, they’re dropping.

Namely, Finland and Sweden’s landmass is rising by 3 to 9 mm each year due to a geological process known as the post-glacial uplift, which started 10,000 years ago when the last Ice Age ended. And although it may look like these Scandinavian countries have nothing to worry about, sea level drop is causing all sorts of problems.

But first, a few words about what’s causing this peculiar drop in sea level while the rest of the world seems to be drowning.

A rubber mattress

Some 50 miles below our feet lies a viscous layer thousands of miles thick known as the mantle — the thickest layer of the Earth. On top of the mantle, tectonic plates float like a cake on a pudding. If you put some more sweets atop of the cake, it will start sinking into the pudding. Likewise, more weight on the crust, such as billions of tons of ice that collect during an ice age, will cause it to sink more into the mantle. Now displaced, the mantle will bulge elsewhere. When the extra weight is gone, such as in the aftermath of an ice age when all those excess glaciers melt, the mantle rebounds — it still does to this day after thousands of year. It’s much like a foam rubber mattress, in the sense that it takes a while to return to its original shape.

This post-glacial uplift is what’s overly compensating for sea level rise around the Scandinavian coastline and locals are plainly aware of this fact. “The conditions for sea transportation in the area is getting more tricky,” says Sven Knutsson, professor of soil mechanics at Lulea University of Technology, told journalist Jon Bjarki Magnusson.

For instance, the port of Lulea located in northern Sweden is getting shallower which is causing problems for larger ships attempting to enter the port, problems that were non-existing 40 years ago. Since then, the land has risen by about half a meter. In one spot, Sweden’s coastline has risen 300 meters since the Ice Age ended about 10,000 years ago. Local authorities are investing about $208 million to deepen the harbor.

The uplift is also ruining Swedish lakes. Once pristine and crystal clear, many of Sweden’s shallower lakes are now becoming murky and muddy as more and more grass grows around them. There’s not much to do in this case as any attempt to deepen the lakes simply makes no economic sense.

In Western Finland, ironically, the sea level drop is causing floods. Because the crust is rising non-uniformly, namely faster by the coastline than further east, rivers have become tilted. During the spring when Finland’s big rivers are packed with meltwater, the surroundings get flooded.

On the flipside, at least these countries are getting bigger. It’s estimated the uplift is helping Finland gain 700 hectares of land every year as its western coastline is gradually rising. Theoretically, this newly surfaced land is owned by the state but owners who have adjacent land can claim it. Already, there are feuds between residents with some ending in court.

Of course, all of these problems aren’t nearly as bad as the threats faced by people living in coastal areas all over the world.  Sea levels are rising at an increasing rate each year and as the planet heats more, as it does today, this rate will only accelerate. Sea levels are rising 50% faster than they did two decades ago, according to a recent 2017 study which attributed the acceleration to Greenland’s melting ice sheet. If this trend continues, Scandinavian countries but also other places like Scottland could actually see the sea level fall by as much as 50 meters.

sweden thumbs up

Swedish kids will learn programming from their first year in primary school. They’ll also learn how to spot fake news

sweden thumbs up

Credit: Pixabay.

According to the European Commission, there will be a shortage of over one million programmers in Europe by 2020. Sweden is already a leader in the tech industry but even so understands very well that it needs to do more and what better place to start with than today’s fledgling youth. As of July 2018, programming will be introduced in the official school curriculum even for children in their first year of primary school.

“This means Sweden is taking the kind of approach we should have. Sweden should be a country where every kid in school is prepared for working life, and knowledge of programming needs to start early,” education minister Gustav Fridolin told The Local.

“Everyone should learn how to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think.” Twenty years after Steve Jobs first said this, more and more countries, businesses, and schools are trying to convince people to start coding.

Fridolin underscored the importance of such a measure seeing how many businesses inside and outside Sweden are looking for skilled programmers. He argues that knowing the basics of coding is a life skill that can be helpful beyond writing software as more and more jobs require computer competence. You don’t need to know how coding works to use a spreadsheet but programming experience can be very helpful if you’re working in a tech company, even as sales. And more and more services will be IT-based.

In 2015, Britain became the first G7 country to introduce compulsory computer science in the school curriculum for all children aged five to 16, a controversial move considered to the biggest disruptive measure in the country’s curriculum for the last 14 years.

Another interesting addition to the curriculum meant to enhance the children’s digital competence will also involve classes on how to differentiate between reliable and unreliable sources. If we’ve learned anything from 2016, it’s that fake news is a real phenomenon that can have devastating effects on society. The uncensored, echo-chamber nature of social networks only exacerbates the proliferation of so-called alternative facts which means that an open, free, and democratic society can withstand only if its populace is capable of thinking on its own based on evidence. The Swedish government is well aware of this. One recent poll, for instance, shows eight in ten Swedes think fake news is having an impact on how they perceive basic facts.

“There has been some naivety when it comes to the information society. An idea that all knowledge is just a short click away and we don’t need to know as much as we needed to before,” Fridolin explained.

“It’s the exact opposite: we need basic knowledge in reading, writing and numeracy so we can’t be tricked, but we also need to advance our criticism of sources to the same level as we previously taught students about scientific theory for example. You already need to have your first taste of this today at about the age of ten.”

What do you think? Is Sweden on the right track? Should programming be a compulsory subject in the same vein with biology or basic math? Your opinion is welcomed in the comments section. 

Sweden is becoming the first cashless country, report finds

Sweden is definitely one of the more avantgarde countries in the world – it’s not just that they recycle 99% of their garbage, are working heavily on becoming fossil free, have some amazing engineering, and are implementing the six hour work day, but now, as a new study concluded, they are also the first country to move towards a cashless economy.

Image via Wiki Commons

Industrial technologists at Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology have just published a study that shows how fast cash is disappearing in Sweden.

“Our use of cash is small, and it’s decreasing rapidly,” says Niklas Arvidsson, an author of the study.

The rate of decrease is quite amazing: nowadays, there are just 80 billion Swedish crowns (about €8 bn) in circulation, down from 106 billion just six years beforehand – and the trend isn’t slowing down.

For inhabitants of the country, this is no surprise. Walking through the streets of cities, it’s almost impossible to find a shop that doesn’t accept card, and most locals almost never carry any cash on them.

It’s not just people, banks are following the same trend – several branches don’t even accept cash anymore.

“At the offices which do handle banknotes and coins, the customer must explain where the cash comes from, according to the regulations aimed at money laundering and terrorist financing,” says Arvidsson. Any suspicious cash transactions are reported to the police.

But this is not necessarily a good thing, especially as there are people left behind. Sweden too has its share of homeless, who can’t really access the system; the same goes for many immigrants, and even the elderly can find it difficult to adapt. In a cashless society, the government’s generous social system has to compensate for these people. Also, there are concerns about a lack of privacy – the bank can at any time see what, when and how much I bought, and that can be seen as an intrusion to privacy

 

Sweden tests the six hours work day, with impressive results

A group of elderly-care nurses working at the Swedish Svartedalens elderly home participated in the first controlled trial of shorter work hours the country held for a decade now. In February, they switched from an eight-hours to a six-hour working day for the same wage, in an effort to improve productivity and quality of life.

Just as reducing the work day from 12-11 hours to 8 allowed the workers much needed rest and personal time once, Sweden experiments with reducing the day to 6 hours work, to improve productivity and quality of life.
Image via wikipedia

“I used to be exhausted all the time, I would come home from work and pass out on the sofa,” says Lise-Lotte Pettersson, 41, an assistant nurse at Svartedalens care home in Gothenburg. “But not now. I am much more alert: I have much more energy for my work, and also for family life.”

Despite the fact that an extra 14 members of staff were hired to cope with the shorter hours and new shift patterns, the Svartedalens experiment’s results are so promising that others, all over Sweden, are joining in. At Gothenburg’s Sahlgrenska University hospital, orthopaedic surgery has moved to a six-hour work day, as have the staff of two hospital departments in Umeå. Even small businesses tried the model and report that a shorter day increases productivity and reduce staff turnover. Ann-Charlotte Dahlbom Larsson, head of elderly care at the home, says staff wellbeing is better and the standard of care is even higher.

“Since the 1990s we have had more work and fewer people – we can’t do it any more,” she says. “There is a lot of illness and depression among staff in the care sector because of exhaustion – the lack of balance between work and life is not good for anyone.”

Pettersson, one of 82 nurses at Svartedalens, agrees. She looks after the elderly of the home there, some of whom have dementia, and her work demands constant vigilance and creativity. This can get very tiring, very fast, and the six-hour workday allows her to maintain a higher standard of care throughout her shift.

“You cannot allow elderly people to become stressed, otherwise it turns into a bad day for everyone,” she says.

After a century in which working hours were gradually reduced, holidays increased and retirement reached earlier, there has been an increase in hours worked for the first time in history, says Roland Paulsen, a researcher in business administration at the University of Lund. People are working harder and longer, he says – but this is not necessarily for the best.

“For a long time politicians have been competing to say we must create more jobs with longer hours – work has become an end in itself,” he says. “But productivity has doubled since the 1970s, so technically we even have the potential for a four-hour working day. It is a question of how these productivity gains are distributed. It did not used to be utopian to cut working hours – we have done this before.”

At Toyota service centres in Gothenburg, working hours have been shorter for more than a decade. Employees moved to a six-hour day 13 years ago and have never looked back. Customers were unhappy with long waiting times, while staff were stressed and making mistakes, according to Martin Banck, the managing director, whose idea it was to cut the time worked by his mechanics. From a 7am to 4pm working day the service centre switched to two six-hour shifts with full pay, one starting at 6am and the other at noon, with fewer and shorter breaks. There are 36 mechanics on the scheme.

“Staff feel better, there is low turnover and it is easier to recruit new people,” Banck says.

They have a shorter travel time to work, there is more efficient use of the machines and lower capital costs – everyone is happy.”

“Profits have risen by 25%,” he adds.

Martin Geborg, 27, a mechanic, started at Toyota eight years ago and has stayed there because of the six-hour day.

“My friends are envious,” he says.

He enjoys the fact that there is no traffic on the roads when he is heading to and from work. Sandra Andersson, 25, has been with the company since 2008.

“It is wonderful to finish at 12,” she says. “Before I started a family I could go to the beach after work – now I can spend the afternoon with my baby.”

For Maria Bråth, owner of internet startup Brath, the six-hour working day the company introduced when it was formed three years ago gives it a competitive advantage because it attracts better staff and keeps them.

“They are the most valuable thing we have,” she says.

An offer of more pay elsewhere would not make up for the shorter hours they have at Brath. The company, which has 22 staff in offices in Stockholm and Örnsköldsvik, produces as much, if not more, than its competitors do in eight-hour days, she says.

“It has a lot to do with the fact that we are very creative – we couldn’t keep it up for eight hours.”

For Linus Feldt, owner of Stockholm app developer Filimundus, the six-hour working day schedule his business began a year ago is about motivation and focus, rather than staff simply cramming in the same amount of work they used to do in eight hours.

“Today I believe that time is more valuable than money,” Feldt says. “And it is a strong motivational factor to be able to go home two hours earlier. You still want to do a good job and be productive during six hours, so I think you focus more and are more efficient.”

Throughout the 1990s the country toyed with several experiments of the six-hour day for a full wage. In Kiruna, a mining town in the far north, home care for the elderly moved to a six-hour day in 1989 so to better correlate the working lives of female carers with those of their husbands in the mines. Stockholm city council conducted a major trial of a six-hour day in care centres for children, older people and those with disabilities from 1996 to 1998.

But when power passed from left to right in Kiruna in 2005, the reform was reversed and staff went back to eight hours. Similarly, with a change of administration in Stockholm the trial came to an end.

“It was a political decision to end it, they said it was too expensive,” says Prof Birgitta Olsson of Lund University, who was involved in research to evaluate the Stockholm experiment. “But it was a good investment in improved wellbeing for the community. More people were in jobs, they were in better health and enjoyed better working conditions.”

Measuring the cost of such schemes is complicated, Olsson says – it is hard to distinguish whether savings on sick leave, for example, are down to shorter working hours or other factors. Moreover, with more people in work, unemployment benefit payments are cut, but the savings accrue to the state, not the municipality that bears the cost of hiring more staff.

Svartedalens is attempting to avoid shortcomings by keeping the changes tightly focused and monitored. Only assistant nurses are involved, and the city’s human resources management system is generating high-quality data, according to Bengt Lorentzon, a consultant on the scheme. Another care home is being used as a “control”, so Svartedalens can be compared with a workplace that has stuck to an eight-hour day.

“It is very important to get evidence,” Lorentzon says. “All the previous experiments were focused on the nurses’ health and sick leave, not the quality of service.” It is too early to put figures on the results, but nurses at Svartedalens have more energy, are less stressed and have more time for the residents, who themselves are more comfortable and relaxed, Lorentzon says.

Despite the positive signs, the experiment is likely to end next year – the centre-left coalition on Gothenburg council has lost its majority, and the Conservatives and Liberals are firmly opposed to reduced working hours. The trial is costing about 8m Swedish krona (£630,000) a year, according to the Liberal party.

“It’s like living in a world where it is raining money from the sky,” according to one Conservative councillor.

Daniel Bernmar, leader of the Left party group on Gothenburg city council, which pushed for the trial at Svartedalens, admits a six-hour day costs more money, but insists it is a matter of quality of life for public sector workers and for residents in elderly care.

“Not everything is about making things cheaper and more efficient, but about making them better,” he says. “Under the Conservative-led coalition government in Sweden from 2005 to 2014 we spoke only about working more, and more efficiently – but now we want to discuss how to survive a long working life so we don’t destroy our bodies by the time we are 60.”

Sweden recycles 99 percent of its garbage. Here’s how they do it

Recycling is still a field where we have much work to do; while you hear talks about it everywhere, it’s still not done at a satisfying scale in most parts of the world. But Sweden is not part of that group. Virtually all of Swedish garbage is recycled; as a matter of fact, they are so good at making garbage useful that they sometimes import it from other countries.

Over 90% of all aluminum cans are recycled. Today, recycling stations are as a rule no more than 300 metres from any residential area. Most Swedes separate all recyclable waste in their homes and deposit it in special containers in their block of flats or drop it off at a recycling station. Everything has a purpose: newspapers are made into paper mass, bottles are reused or melted for raw materials, food is composted or transformed into soil and trucks are often run on recycled electricity or biogas. Waste water is repurified until it becomes drinkable again and pharmacists accept left over medicine.

You could say that they’ve taken things one step further. Just 1 percent of all the garbage ends up in landfills, that’s quite amazing. But it’s not all good when it comes to Swedish recycling – it gets quite controversial. Because while half of the garbage is recycled in conventional ways, the other half is burned for energy and heat – and that’s not quite sustainable.

Weine Wiqvist, CEO of the Swedish Waste Management and Recycling Association wants Sweden to do even more, and give up on burning the trash.

‘We are trying to “move up the refuse ladder”, as we say, from burning to material recycling, by promoting recycling and working with authorities’, he says.

But even with burning the waste, they are very careful to pollute as little as possible. The process sends CO2 into the atmosphere, but the result is filtered through dry filters and water. The dry filters are deposited, and the resulting waste is just 15 percent of the initial mass. From this mass, metals are separated and recycled, and the rest, such as porcelain and tile, which do not burn are also extracted and used in constructions.

‘“Zero waste” – that is our slogan’, Wiqvist says. ‘We would prefer less waste being generated, and that all the waste that is generated is recycled in some way. Perfection may never happen, but it certainly is a fascinating idea.’

Indeed, the situation in Sweden is not perfect. But it’s really good – and certainly much better than what the rest of the world is doing, on average. No matter where you are, we have much to learn from Sweden.