Posts Tagged ‘Sweden’

Newsflash: Trash collectors on wildcat strike?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Sweden’s largest morning paper, Dagens Nyheter, reports today that about 150 trash collectors in Stockholm threaten to go on a wildcat strike any day now, over a salary conflict with the entrepeneur handling the garbage on behalf of the municipal. The conflict itself is pretty interesting, since trash collectors here have a contract structure in which they are paid a kind of piece wage, based on the amount of trash they collect.

The employer wants to pay them a flat monthly salary (a very standard way of doing things), which for most of the workers would mean less cash. And about 20% more work. Further, the trash collectors wants to limit the amount of trash they can collect, and are complaining that there’s just so much more trash these days. Trash collector Mr Berra Ramhquist, 27 years on the job, tells Dagens Nyheter that the increase since he started is just immense.

If a wildcat strike indeed starts, one can just imagine how quickly we all will be part of an involuntary trash collecting project Mattias Hagberg style! To be continued.

Interview with Mattias Hagberg

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Followers of this blog perhaps recall this post about the book Skräp (“skräp” being Swedish for “garbage”) from November. Today we are proud to present an interview with the author, Mattias Hagberg.

Mattias Hagberg, journalist resident in Sweden's second city Gothenburg, author of Skräp

Mattias Hagberg, journalist resident in Sweden's second city Gothenburg, author of Skräp

Before we start, a little recap: Skräp is a book about garbage, in which Mattias Hagberg starts off with discontinuing the routine of taking out his family’s trash. Instead, he hides their fully loaded plastic garbage bags under the sink. This soon becomes a ridiculous exercise, and Mattias proceeds his experiment in a secret room in the cellar of the house, keeping neighbours using the cellar unaware. However, Mattias quickly understands the practical limitations of this project, and gasping for breath moves his horribly stinking trash collection (only a few days old) to the garbage container room.

Back in his apartment, Mattias Hagberg ponders over where his trash actually will be going, now that it’s out of his experiment and back into the system. Since the early 90’s, Sweden’s had an idea of system called “The Nature’s Cycle”, an idea based on the notion that our garbage can and should be recycled, i.e. return to the Nature’s Cycle. Much like Mufasa teaches his son Simba about how lions die and turn to grass, eaten by anthelopes, in the Disney blockbuster The Lion King.

Skräp, the book

Skräp, the book

Mattias Hagberg soon discovers that trash isn’t much of a happy circle-of-life story. Instead, he gives a thrilling tale about the cash in trash, how “recycling” still produces tonnes and tonnes of toxic waste and how our electronic waste ends up in slum quarters in Ghana and China, in a chain starting at your local recycling depot, going through multi-national corporations, to the mafia.

Hello Mattias Hagberg, how are you, what’s up?

– Doing alright thanks, slight headcold, other than that fine. Working on what feels like a gazillion of projects. I think most relevant for your readers is an article about the Swedish auto industry, with the angle that the point is not to save this industry, but understand that the whole system of autoism is in crisis. That constructing and buying new cars simply won’t do.

Cewl, looking forward to reading it! So, why did you decide to write a book about garbage?

– The idea was actually my editor’s. At first I was scpetic, it all felt very technical, I didn’t really know anything about garbage, had this vague idea about the recycling system working smoothly. Then I did the experiment, stopped taking out the trash, an experiment you know proved do be quite stupid. But it inspired me to take things to the next level. I realised that while we have a functioning recycling system, that system doesn’t recycle everything, far from it. And the system is suffering from the fact that we keep producing increasingly more waste. As everyday citizens however, we have a veil above our eyes for this fact, we are never confronted with the real problem: That we buy a flat screen TV when our old TV works quite well.

Which  part of the work surprised you the most?

– The insane amount of garbage each of us produce in one year. Several hundrered pounds! In the average family, about 20-25% of this garbage is food, that is most often perfectly edible! I was also intrigued by how fooled we are that there is a connection between “recycle” and “close”, how we pervive recycling to be this story about a process in harmony with nature. It’s a global industry, run by multinational enterprise. To me, it resembles the middle-age trade in letters of indulgence. For example, when garbage is burned, energy is produced that heats houses, and filters keeps the smoke clean, but the toxic remains after burning, and the poisons caught in the filter, still remains, and needs to be kept somewhere.

How has this changed your relationship to garbage?

– I think that deep down, we are all aware of that more consumption is just foolish, but we ignore this and continues to buy. For myself, of course the work with the book has effected what I buy and what I do with it, but at the same time I’m a bit fed up with the individualist perspective. We must focus more on the systemic errors of our culture, bring the debate from the behaviour of people to the behaviour of enterprise. Right now we have no debate, and we know that the resources of this earth will end. The garbage system of today is something we really need to adress, together.

Producer responsibility

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

dumpstertaoist made a great point in a comment to my former post, and I have the fantastic Swedish holier-than-thou reply! This should probably have gone in the original post, but I actually forgot about it. When one takes things for granted…

Anyways, here goes: Back in Sweden, manufacturers are governed by what’s called “the Producer responsibility”. It essentially means that companies selling products that will end up as garbage are responsible for the collection and disposal of their discarded products. The producer responsibility law stipulates companies obligations in five areas:

  • Packaging
  • Tyres
  • Newsprint
  • Vehicles
  • Electrical and electronic products

You can read more, in english, at the web of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency! Among other things, check out the Waste Council.

Swedish trash schizophrenia

Friday, November 21, 2008


Victor, our man in Stockholm, just sent me this troubling story from Swedish National Public Radio.  Apparently the trash incineration biz in Sweden is outpacing waste production by Swedes.  They’ve built so many new facilities that trash must now be imported from other European countries just to meet the demand to burn it up: 600,000 tons in the last year alone.

As you may recall from this book recommendation earlier this month, Sweden also exports electronic waste to Ghana—one kind of trash in, another out.  Aside from burning trash not being the best for the environment, all that waste hauling must be taking up shitloads of energy.  With two tips in one month, I’m upgrading Victor to Eurotipster Extraordinaire and look forward to more strange garbage news otherwise hidden from the non-Swedish-speaking world.

Photo of Japanese incinerator ripped from the Global Environment Centre Foundation.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

swedish Skräp is Swedish for trash.  It is also the title of what I am told (by my friend Victor who is Swedish and half way through it) is a rad book in which this guy Mattias Hagberg tracks his own waste then follows it all the way to Ghana, which is where Sweden exports some of its solid waste.  Swedish speakers, here’s the link to the publisher.  The rest of us will sadly have to wait for Victor to finish reading and/or the commercial release of an English translation.

%d bloggers like this: