Danish waste company forced to import rubbish from abroad

The high-tech Amager Bakke waste-to-energy plant is running out of rubbish supplies from the local region and will have to start importing from outside Denmark. 

Refshaleøen oversigt, Amager Bakke, Copenhill.
Refshaleøen oversigt, Amager Bakke, Copenhill. Photo: Mathias Eis/Ritzau Scanpix

When ARC’s incinerator, Amager Bakke, opened in March 2017, it was one of the most modern green energy plants Denmark had ever seen.

The high-tech waste plant is designed to destroy huge amounts of trash from Copenhagen and convert it into energy which is used to heat thousands of homes in the region. It is one of two plants which play a major role in Copenhagen’s ambitions of meeting zero carbon requirements by 2025.

But now, ironically, as municipalities have become very efficient in waste sorting and recycling, the plant is quickly running out of its most important raw material: rubbish.

This has impacted the plant’s finances, so now the five municipalities behind ARC have agreed on a plan that will both improve the economy and provide heat for the capital’s homes: waste from surrounding countries will be shipped to Denmark and burned at the Amager Bakke plant.

READ ALSO: EU countries need better recycling, Copenhagen agency finds

Until now, the owner municipalities had blocked ARC’s ability to source waste through imports, but the agreement provides a waiver to allow imports to be increased until the end of 2025 to keep the furnaces running. 

In a press release, the five owner municipalities state that the increased imports will also increase CO2 emissions – but: “The alternative is that the municipalities will have to recycle less waste, that ARC’s finances will be worse – and even that there may be a need to import gas, which comes from Russia, among other places.”

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‘Pant’: Denmark recycles more cans and bottles than ever before

The number of bottles and cans recycled under Denmark’s ‘pant’ system set a new record last year, topping two billion units for the first time ever.

‘Pant’: Denmark recycles more cans and bottles than ever before

The number is equivalent to one recycled can or bottle per person in Denmark every day throughout the year, according to a press release by Dansk Retursystem, the company which operates the recycling system.

The figure is based on an annual report by the company totalling the amount of bottle and can recycling that ran through its systems in 2022.

There were signs as early as July last that an annual record will be set, according to the Dansk Retursystem statement. In that month, 200 million bottles and cans were returned via the “pant” system, which was a record for a calendar month.

The pant system is based on a small surcharge being paid on every bottle at the point of purchase. The surcharge, or deposit, is paid back to consumers when bottles are returned via specialized machines, which are located at most supermarkets.

In total, the excess of 2 billion cans and bottles for water, juice, soda and beer returned throughout the year was a 3.9 percent hike on the previous record, which was set in 2021.

Dansk Retursystem CEO Lars Krejberg Petersen praised consumers for “keeping up the good ‘pant’ habits” in Monday’s statement.

“We are obviously grateful at Dansk Retursystem for the large quantity of returns. It is based on support from consumers that we can ensure bottles and cans are reused for new things,” he said.

“In 2022 alone, this meant that we reduced CO2 admissions by 223,000 tonnes by recycling materials in comparison with having to produce new bottles and cans from virgin plastic, glass and aluminium,” he said.

For every 100 bottles and cans sold with the ‘pant’ mark on it, 92 were returned in Denmark last year. A return percentage of 92 percent is one of the highest of the world for recycling of drinks packaging.