Almost everything we consume will one day become waste. At current rates of consumption and growth, waste streams are set to rise substantially.

In recent decades, waste management practices have made considerable progress. As more goals, policy instruments and measures have been introduced, public environmental awareness has increased. Waste is no longer seen as merely garbage, but as a valuable resource.

In Sweden, an important task is to identify obstacles and opportunities for more sustainable consumption and to correlate behaviour with waste management planning. Waste prevention, reuse and reparation are the primary measures when it comes to waste management.  Waste affects everyone and households, as well as industry and municipalities, can contribute to decreasing the amount of waste and recycle and reuse the waste created.

Household awareness a major part of the success

Material recycling is the top priority and source separation of waste is made in an absolute majority of the Swedish households. The awareness and dedication of the citizens of Sweden is the key success factor that has led to Sweden to be considered as one of the global leaders in sustainable waste management

Most households in Sweden separates its waste into the following fractions: Food waste, packaging of metal, plastic, paper and glass, newspapers, electronics, tires and batteries. Important steps to increase reuse and repair of goods are currently taken. Extended producer responsibility creates incentives for the producer to decrease waste generation and increase material recycling. 


A large share of the waste generated in Sweden is incinerated in waste-to-energy facilities, where water for district heating as well as electricity is generated. As a result of all measures taken, less than one percent of the total waste generated in the country is put on landfillsUrban planning is an important tool when municipalities want to work to treat waste according to the waste hierarchy.  

Waste management in Swedish law

The legal basis for the Swedish waste management system is established by both Swedish and European waste legislation. In Sweden, the least preferred solution is the disposal of waste at landfills. The most favorable option is to prevent waste generation and reuse and repair products. If waste is still generated, the key target is to recycle the materials. 

Overall milestones of the development of Swedish waste management

  • Producer responsibility was first introduced in 1994. Currently, eight product groups are included. The most important of these are packaging, newspapers, tires, cars, batteries and electrical and electronic waste. 
  • Landfill tax (1999) and bans on landfilling of combustible waste (2002) and organic waste (2005). 
  • Ambitious targets for material recycling. 
  • EU membership has meant more stringent standards for hazardous waste, landfill and incineration 

Economical incentives

  • 2000 the landfill tax for diversion of municipal waste from landfill in favor of recycling and incineration. Landfill taxation level increased in 2002, 2003 and finally in 2006.  
  • a weight-based charge is applied to household waste, gives citizens incentive to increase recycling of packaging waste 
  • Taxation on the burning of fossil fuels
  • Municipal waste management 
  • Extended producer responsibility  
  • No taxation on biogas 

Judicial and regulatory incentives

  • 1999 Environmental Code and the EU’s waste hierarchy 
  • Since 1990s extended producer responsibility for packaging waste – Paper waste- Electrical and electronic waste –  Batteries – Tires – End of life vehicles – Pharmaceuticals – Radioactive products/unclaimed radioactive sources
  • 2002 landfill ban on sorted combustible waste 
  • 2005 landfill ban on organic waste 
  • 2010 regulations of municipal waste management plans in every municipality called “Waste Plan 2020” 
  • The environmental objectives (national, regional and local) adopted by the government 1999 set by the Swedish government. In 2005 include, among others, the target of 50 % recycling of household waste by 2010. 
  • 2015 EU’s circular economy action plan 
  • 2018-2023 Waste Plan and waste prevention programs in Sweden 

Information to citizens to change behavior

In Sweden, environmental problems need to be tackled now, and not passed on to future generations. That is the thinking behind Sweden’s environmental objectives – goals that are crucial to welfare and intended to guide the sum total of Swedish efforts to safeguard the environment. Some of the milestones targets that indicate steps along the way to the environmental objectives and the generational goal when it comes to waste as follow: 

  • Better resource management in the food chain
    Measures are to be taken so that, by 2020, resource management in the food chain is improved through separation and biological treatment of at least 50 percent of food waste from households, catering services, shops and restaurants, with the aim of recovering plant nutrients, with at least 40 percent treated in such a way that energy is also recovered. 
  • Construction and demolition waste
    Measures are to be taken so that, by 2020, at least 70 percent by weight of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste is prepared for reuse, recycling and other material recovery. 

Related Best Practices

Near Infrared Sorting of Plastics from Household Waste Reduces Emissions by 75 %

Near Infrared Sorting of Plastics from Household Waste Reduces Emissions by 75 %

This plant outside of Stockholm is the first of its kind in Sweden, using the Near-Infrared Technology to automatically sort out plastics from household waste. A total of 11,000 tonnes of plastic and 2,500 tonnes of metal are sorted out each year.

Last-Mile Delivery – Inner-City Distribution

Last-Mile Delivery – Inner-City Distribution

Last-mile delivery is the final stage of an item’s journey, where it reaches the end customer. It’s also the most carbon-intensive stage. Growth in e-commerce is increasing both traffic congestion and CO2 emissions from delivery vehicles. Intensive work is underway in Gothenburg to test carbon-neutral concepts for last-mile deliveries.

Tvärpilen – a Small Residential Area, Big on Sustainability

Tvärpilen – a Small Residential Area, Big on Sustainability

The village of Kivik in south-east Sweden is where you’ll find the new residential area Tvärpilen, which combines beauty, sustainability and responsibility in perfect harmony.

Site East –  a Climate-Neutral Construction Site

Site East – a Climate-Neutral Construction Site

At Skellefteå Site East, close to Northvolt’s factory, one of the world’s most sustainable development projects has been conducted. Maximising the cutting-edge know-how of both Skellefteå Municipality and external partners, Site East is a source of inspiration for the industry. It has the boldness to adopt new approaches to sustainability and work with contractors towards a common vision.

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