Releases of greenhouse gases and hazardous substances

Economic growth is one reason for the rising quantities of waste. There is more and more hazardous waste from consumer goods such as computers and mobile phones. However, with more waste recovery, the quantity of waste delivered for final disposal has declined. According to Statistics Norway 87 per cent of all non-hazardous waste was recovered in 2011. Releases from waste treatment have been reduced in recent years.

Continued increase in recovery rates

Norway generated 9.9 million tonnes of waste in 2011. This was an increase of 5 per cent from the year before. Since 1995, the total waste volume in Norway has increased by almost 40 per cent. Household waste comprises an increasingly bigger share of the total waste amount. In 2011 households generated 23 per cent of all waste in Norway.

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Waste recovery

The recovery rate for non-hazardous waste reached 87 per cent in 2011. Material recovery and biological treatment (e.g. composting) comprised 4.2 million tonnes, or 39 per cent, while energy recovery counted for 29 per cent.  

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Final treatment

Final treatment of waste means landfilling or incineration without energy recovery. Incineration with energy recovery is considered to be recovery, but these treatment methods result in different environmental impacts.

Landfilling of waste leads to the generation and release of methane, a greenhouse gas. In 2011, methane from waste accounted for about 2 per cent of Norway's greenhouse gas emissions and thus contributes to global warming. Landfilling also represents a threat for coming generations as emissions continue for a very long time after waste is deposited. Incineration of waste leads to emissions of flue gases containing hazardous chemicals, dust and acidic components.

Landfilling has declined, and amounted to 0.8 million tonnes in 2011. Hazardous waste disposed of at specially designed landfills was by far the biggest portion, making up slightly more than one third of the landfilled volumes. The remaining amounts were concrete, glass, plastic, etc., which degrade very slowly in the landfills.

The amount of degradable material going to landfill has dropped, partly due to a ban on the landfilling of bio-degradable waste that entered into force on 1 July 2009, and partly to increased export of waste to Sweden for incineration.

Waste electrical and electronic equipment

From 1999 when the take-back system started, the collection rate of WEEE in Norway has risen, as you can see in the figure. Almost 144 000 tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) was collected in Norway in 2012. This is about 29.5 kg per capita. This figure is higher than the one reported to the EU, because Norway categorises more of the waste as WEEE than the EU. The waste reported to the EU is only WEEE that is covered by the WEEE Directive.

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Hazardous waste

In 2012, a total of 1.2 million tonnes of hazardous waste was handled according to approved treatment. The quantity of hazardous waste handled by unknown methods shows a reduction since the peak in 2004.

If hazardous waste is dumped with ordinary waste it may result in the dispersal of harmful substances in the environment. They may spread via seepage of contaminated water from landfills, or in the flue gases, ash or slag produced in the incineration process. Hazardous waste which is disposed in the sewage may cause increased pollution of the sea and seabed due to malfunctioning of purifying plants.

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Consumption is the key driver

Economic growth, or growth in production and consumption, is the key driving force behind waste volumes in Norway. Larger homes, higher housing standards, frequent decoration and reconstruction, and increased spending on furniture and household appliances are typical examples of how affluence generates waste.

More waste but more waste recovered

According to Norway's national goal, growth in the total amount of waste shall be significantly lower than economic growth. The total quantity of waste increased by approximately 39 per cent between 1995 and 2011, while the gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 41 per cent in the same period.

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The national goal for waste recovery is that 75 per cent of the total quantity of waste was to be recovered in 2010, this target has been reached since 2004. The proportion is subsequently to be raised to 80 per cent. This is based on the principle that the quantity of waste recovered should be increased to a level that is appropriate in economic and environmental terms.

Statistics Norway has calculated that 87 per cent of the total quantity of non-hazardous waste was recovered in 2011.

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According to the national goal, hazardous waste is to be dealt with in an appropriate way, so that it is either recovered or sufficient treatment capacity is provided within Norway.

Most of the hazardous waste that is generated in Norway handled within the country.

A number of instruments in place

Waste management is regulated in various ways, and there is interplay between regulation at central and local levels. The central government authorities set the general framework, leaving municipalities and industry with a relatively free hand to design local collection and treatment solutions.

Important waste policy instruments

The authorities have put in place a number of instruments (e.g. legislation, taxes, and economic incentives) targeted at the municipalities, business and industry. The most important waste policy instruments are:

  • municipal responsibility for household waste
  • business and industry responsibility for dealing with the waste they generate, including the collection and appropriate treatment of certain types of waste products, such as ee-waste, packaging, cars, tyres, batteries, lubricant oil and PCB-windows
  • regulation of landfilling and incineration according to EU legislation
  • tax on final disposal of waste to landfills
  • waste management plans as a mandatory element of all building projects, as part of municipal administrative procedures
  • ban on landfilling of biodegradable waste from 1 July 2009

The effect of policy instruments is expected to increase

The instruments in the waste area contribute in a positive direction, particularly in relation to achieving reduced emissions from waste treatment. More stringent requirements, for example, provide better control of runoff of hazardous substances from landfills.

The effect of the policy instruments is expected to increase. This particularly applies to initiatives that require re-adjustment by the municipalities, businesses, and a change in people’s habits and customs.