Denmark’s Ambitious Journey to Zero Waste by 2032


Celebrating Bornholm: A Bold Step Towards Zero Waste by 2032. Image: Shutterstock/Miha Creative

THE remote Danish island of Bornholm, located in the Baltic Sea, is not just a picturesque destination known for its unspoiled nature, quaint fishing villages, and abundant sunshine; it is also the site of an ambitious commitment to eliminate trash by 2032. In a world dealing with waste management challenges, Bornholm is forging a path toward sustainability and setting an example for the rest of the world to follow.

A Vision for Zero Waste

In 2018, Jens Hjul-Nielsen, the head of Bornholm’s waste authority, Bornholm’s Affaldsbehandling (BOFA), initiated a daring plan to make Bornholm a zero-waste island by 2032. Instead of replacing the aging incinerator, which currently burns most of the non-recyclable waste on the island, Hjul-Nielsen proposed eliminating waste incineration altogether. This vision was born from a desire to shift the island from being the ones always asking for help to becoming the ones offering solutions.

Denmark’s Waste Challenges

This project is no small feat, considering Denmark’s status as one of the highest waste producers in the world, with a strong reliance on incineration. Denmark’s 23 state-of-the-art incinerators burn waste, both domestic and imported and convert it into energy. While this approach has been hailed as a green solution, it still emits greenhouse gases, hindering Denmark’s climate goals. In addition, incineration is less energy-efficient and resource-saving compared to recycling.

Bornholm’s Progress

Bornholm’s waste management currently relies on recycling, incineration, and landfill. Approximately 70 per cent of the 80,000 tonnes of waste BOFA receives each year are recycled, while around 25 per cent are incinerated. The remaining 5 per cent, mainly toxic materials that cannot be incinerated, ends up in landfills.

Bornholm’s zero-waste commitment aligns with its broader sustainability goals, including becoming carbon neutral in the energy sector by 2025. The island sources most of its electricity and heating from renewable sources such as wind power, solar energy, and sustainable biomass.

Innovative Solutions

Bornholm’s zero-waste strategy includes innovative approaches to managing specific types of waste. One notable initiative is the composting of disposable diapers, a notoriously non-biodegradable waste. By using 100 per cent compostable diapers made from plant-based materials, BOFA’s zero-waste project manager, David Christensen, aims to turn this waste into valuable compost within just ten days. This technology could revolutionise waste management by rapidly reducing diaper waste while having a low carbon footprint, given Bornholm’s reliance on renewable energy.

Harnessing Organic Waste

Bornholm’s strategy also capitalises on organic waste, such as pig manure. A biogas plant processes 120,000 tonnes of organic waste annually, producing renewable gas used for heating and electricity. Bornholm’s abundant pig farming industry provides a substantial source of organic waste, and the plant’s success paves the way for its expansion, which could have wider applications in heavy transport and other sectors.

Community Involvement

Bornholm’s journey to zero waste goes beyond recycling and composting; it encourages community engagement and cultural shifts. Locals actively participate by renting shelves at second-hand shops to sell unwanted items and through online platforms like a Facebook group for sharing unused objects. These initiatives promote reuse and reduce the island’s waste footprint.

Challenges and Future Prospects

Bornholm faces challenges, including the need to ship various recycling categories to mainland Europe and the complexity of recycling products with multiple materials. To overcome these hurdles, collaboration with manufacturers and legislation changes may be necessary.

Bornholm’s Mayor, Jacob Trøst, recognises the enormity of the challenge and the need for ambitious goals. While the path to zero waste is challenging, it ignites action and inspires innovation. The island’s focus on education, partnerships, and community involvement positions it well on the road to sustainability.

The journey to zero waste on Bornholm represents a broader global trend toward reducing, reusing, and recycling, and the recognition of a moral imperative to steer society toward sustainability. While it may be a small island, Bornholm’s efforts have the potential to make a big impact by reducing waste, minimising environmental harm, and inspiring similar initiatives worldwide. Bornholm is a shining example of how a community can work toward a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future.

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Written by

Catherine McGeer

I am an Irish writer who has been living in Spain for the past twenty years. My writing centers around the Costa Cálida. As a mother I also write about family life on the coast of Spain and every now and then I try to break down the world of Spanish politics!