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Denmark: Plan to Increase Recycling

(Aug. 30, 2013) Denmark’s Environment Minister, Ida Auken, has announced a new approach to handling rubbish in the country. In September, the government is expected to present a plan to require households to sort trash into several bins, based on the type of item thrown out, for recycling. Currently most trash is sent, unsorted, to incinerators. Auken stated, “Danes will have to sort more of their waste. The goal is definitely to recycle more and incinerate less. That is a paradigm shift for Denmark, because so far, we have been the world champions of waste incineration.” (Andreas Jakobsen, Environment Minister Calls for Increased Recycling and Waste Sorting, THE COPENHAGEN POST (Aug. 26, 2013).)

Denmark is not currently meeting the goal set in an EU Directive of a 50% rate of recycling by 2020 for waste paper, plastic, metal, and glass. It relies more on incineration than nearby nations Germany and Sweden. (Jakobsen, supra; Directive 2008/98/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008 on Waste and Repealing Certain Directives, 2008 O.J. (L312) 3-30, EUROLEX.)

At present, about half of all household waste in Denmark is burned at plants that convert the garbage into energy used to heat and provide electric power to residences. (Jackobsen, supra.) While the process is efficient in capturing energy, it produces high carbon dioxide emission levels. One study found that 70,000 tons more of these emissions than originally projected were being released. The levels are greater than the goals set under the Kyoto Protocol. (Id.) The Kyoto Protocol is an “international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which commits its Parties by setting internationally binding emission reduction targets.” (Kyoto Protocol, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) website (last visited Aug. 28, 2013); text of the Protocol (1998), UNFCCC website.)

The Danish organization Dakofa, which focuses on waste management, expressed approval of Auken’s announcement. Morten Petersen, who heads the organization, stated that the ideal plan would be to have separate containers for items to be recycled and items to be burned. He noted that “[i]n general, people will have to meet more demands. In the beginning they may have to pay for the rubbish cans themselves, but there can also be a positive economic outcome if we use the materials better.” (Jakobsen, supra.)

Recycling projects have been instituted on a trial basis in several locations in Denmark, including in Copenhagen two years ago, to generally positive reception. (Id.) However, town councils where there are incineration centers already have requested proof that increasing recycling will be worth the costs that would be incurred. Those costs have not yet been estimated. Anders Christensen, a consultant on environmental matters for a local government association said, “[w]e would like to recycle more if it can be documented that it makes sense for us to do so. We are waiting to see that sort of documentation.” (Id.)