Denmark is perceived to be one of the world’s greenest countries. But is it really? Besides the Danish windmills and bike lanes there is a not-so-well-hidden secret of this otherwise rather environmentally friendly country; their passion for burning garbage!

This burning passion has received widespread and often misleading coverage by international media such as the New York Times or the National Geographic who didn’t bother to dig too much into the details and instead succumbed to the charms of well-designed green washing.

Objective facts about Denmark are that is one of EU countries that generate more waste per capita, and is world leader in incineration of household waste, burning 80% of it. For comparison this means that after discounting recycling Denmark burns more waste than what is generated in countries such as Czech Republic, Estonia, Bulgaria or Poland. How green is that?

Contrary to best practices in the sector, in Denmark most household waste is not separately collected this means that recycling rates are as low as 22%. Most organic waste, which is 90% water, ends up in the oven.

More waste is good, less waste is bad??

It might look like a contradiction but in Denmark the system is set up in a way that the worst thing you can do is reduce the size of your waste bin. Why? Well, every city in Denmark has its own incinerator and they are mostly publicly owned. This means that the citizens are actually the owners of the burners and hence if less waste is sent for burning -because it is being avoided, reused or recycled- the incinerator will function under full capacity, lowering the efficiency to generate heat and power. Yet the incinerator has to meet the capital and operating costs with less income which will result in an increase in the waste management fees. I.e. the more waste you generate, the better for your pocket.

With the current system of incentives in Denmark getting to Zero Waste would be a financial catastrophe. It is therefore unsurprising that the country that burns the most also generates more waste than any other. Denmark is the perfect example of the linkage between waste burning and waste generation.

Credits: (The story of) Denmark’s transition from incineration to Zero Waste

Footnote:

Want to know more about the original idea behind “zero waste”, and its true definition, then go to the green quiz website:

 Credits: Green Quiz: Zero Waste – EarthShare

Zero waste means all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use. San Francisco, a national leader in waste management, has set an ambitious zero waste goal for the city. By what year is San Francisco planning