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Sweden's Successful Hand at Waste Management: Interview with Stellan Jacobsson, Avfall Sverige

by Fleming. Team

Mr Stellan Jacobsson has been associated with the waste sector since 1973 in many different positions, both in the domestic and international markets. In this interview Mr Jacobsson sheds light on the factors instrumental to Sweden's success story in the waste management sector.

Stellan Jacobsson
Coordinator - International Activities
Avfall Sverige


1) According to you what were the key factors to almost 99% of all household waste being recycled in Swedish households?

There are many factors which must work together and over long time. The institutional framework is definitely very important. We have clear responsibilities concerning, who control the waste streams, the municipalities who owns the domestic waste when it´s left for collection for example, and the municipalities have a strong own economy. The legislation is important, we have very restrictive laws and other steering documents. A basic for this, is committed politicians who support already established policies even if the power in government and municipalities switches between the mandate periods. The free press is also a key factor for peoples trust for the political decisions. Another important factor is a relative big trust in our politicians, which maybe is an effect of our long tradition of democracy.

2) Was it easy to inculcate a culture in which recycling is a part and parcel of day to day life?

As I mentioned above, it has been a long process. It has taken around 50 years since the authorities started with massive information and education programs for the population. During the sixties, it was a program called "don´t litter - keep Sweden clean". The campaign aimed to everybody, from school children to organizations for retired people and professional organizations. I also believe that our common responsibility for the nature has an important influence.

3) How much was the government involvement to drive reform measures to reach the scenario today?

The politicians have been extremely important! They have set up the framework in form of national goals, clarified the responsibilities and supported it with legislation, and have had the patience to wait for the results. The long term basic conditions has also been very important in order to attract the investors, the framework have been extremely important to secure the revenue streams for the investments.

4) Was it easy for operators and handlers of waste to easily adapt to modern collection systems & practices?

It´s complicated, and demands specific knowledge of course. But you don´t go all the way in one step, you gradually build up the competencies and skills. It´s mainly the market players who solve the practical services and they are purchased by the municipalities. This means we have very qualified people in the municipalities who plan for the waste handling and purchase, and follow up with the services.

5) What would be your advice to countries who have recently begun to implement zero waste policies?

Clarify the responsibilities! Support with national policies, gain peoples trust and start with the appropriate activities according to the current situation. Last but not the least important point - establish solid and long term conditions in order to attract the investors interest! It´s not a question about technology, it´s a question about the money, do you have it in the system or do you have to create the economy for the transition to a more sustainable waste management?


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