Norway's quiet waste revolution

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A decade-long drive to collect and sort electrical waste in Norway is showing astounding results. The effort has made Norway the world’s leading recycler of appliances, and spared the local environment from tons of toxic substances.

When the appliance recycling program began in 1999, only 5 percent of electrical products from local businesses was being collected. Today, an estimated 98 percent is collected, sorted and recycled, reports newspaper Aftenposten . The program removes dangerous chemicals from the appliances and allows various metals to be re-used.

Pumps, lamps, motors, cables and thousands of tons of other electrical products earlier landed on local dumps. State officials threatened to impose new environmental fees on such products, but local industry groups claimed they’d mount a clean-up effort themselves.

The state went along with the industry’s creation of RENAS, a company formed to manage a major new recycling program. The state demanded that 80 percent of electric waste be collected by 2004. RENAS met that goal and has since far exceeded it.

“We really had the desire and inspiration within our own branch,” RENAS chief executive Gunnar Murvold told Aftenposten . “Today folks are proud, and feel they did the right thing.”

RENAS has 2,200 members, all importers and producers of electric products, and all pay a fee in accordance with their revenues. The money goes to 150 other firms that collect waste around the country, sort it and disassemble much of it for either recycling or storage.

Last year they collected 53,000 tons of appliances, lighting fixtures and other electric waste spread over 849 product categories. Those throwing away the items don’t pay anything.

Murvold claims Norway is the only country in the world with a systematic electric waste collection program. It hasn’t attracted much attention, either in the country or outside of it, not even from local politicians.

That doesn’t discourage Murvold. “There’s still some waste we don’t get hold of,” he said, “but our vision is that no environmentally dangerous matter will go astray. That may not be possible, but we’ve come a long way.”