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Opposed to using coal or gas, Sweden is burning garbage in its 34 “waste-to-energy” power plants to heat homes in the colder months. According to Tekniska Verken, a municipal government company that runs the plants, four tons of garbage contains energy equivalent to one ton of oil, 1.6 tons of coal, or five tons of wood waste. Although the trash only accounts for a small percentage of the country’s overall power supply, 10 million residents will have hot water for bathrooms and kitchens and central radiator heating thanks to burned trash.

This centralized system of “district heating” warms many buildings in Sweden. The system was built over decades of planning starting in the late 1950s. “This is not something you do overnight,” said Ronny Arnberg, project manager at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute in Stockholm.

Trash-burning plants do have their drawbacks, such as emissions like conventional power plants fueled by natural gas and coal.

However, methane generated from organic waste in landfills is reduced. This is important. In the short term, methane is about 72 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

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