Bornholm Island, Denmark. Photo: Gerald Haenel

The small Danish island of Bornholm has decided that instead of replacing its aging incinerator it will begin treating all waste as resources by 2032. As NatGeo reported, “Garbage sorting, recycling, minimizing waste, and a lot of new technology are the tools envisioned to turn Bornholm into one of the first garbage-free communities on the planet.” While Bornholm doesn’t know all the policy and technological mechanisms it will take to see this goal to fruition, its leaders welcome the challenge.

Jens Hjul-Nielsen, CEO of BOFA, the island’s waste management company and key architect behind the garbage-free vision explained that “By 2032 we aim to reuse or recycle everything. How we get to that point is an exciting process, because there is so much we don’t yet know. We have a vision, but no clear-cut plan on how to get there.”

The goal is to eliminate the need for a landfill entirely and instead, a circular economy will be created:

  • In BOFA’s vision of the future, the citizens of Bornholm will sort all their waste into different fractions, easy to collect and use in new resource loops.
  • Metal, plastics, glass, paper, and cardboard are widely recycled, and new waste fractions such as fishing nets and insulation materials will be added to the sorting and recycling system.
  • Meanwhile, organic waste will be converted into energy together with green garden and park waste, while the nutrient-rich residue from the energy extraction is used as fertilizer in fields, parks and gardens, writes BOFA.

But this transition will also instill a knowledge and appreciation for the circular economy in Bornholm as, 

  • Elementary school children will be educated as “resource heroes” with practical lessons in waste, resources, the environment, and nature.
  • And a university research center on models of green transition and the circular economy will be established on Bornholm.

Why This Matters: While Denmark is a global leader in renewable energy, it lags among other European nations when it comes to recycling. For years, Denmark, as well as other Scandinavian countries, have incinerated their trash and almost 60% of all Danish plastic waste wound up in landfills. Now that China has stopped accepting the world’s waste, the actions that Bornholm takes could serve as a model for the rest of Denmark and other nations as well. Working to minimize the plastic and packaging we use while creating more innovative recycling systems are the steps we need to create a true circular economy.

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