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As the population of cities rise, waste also increases exponentially - Copenhagen is taking waste management to new heights (literally) to deal with trash from residents, even turning it into renewable energy and helping fight the climate crisis.

"For many people, waste is a black box… you don’t really know what’s happening... I think today, in modern society we’re not so good at looking at trash as a valuable resource. It’s always been a resource, actually."

Patrik GustavssonFoundation Director, Amager Bakke
Copenhagen is leading the world in sustainable waste management efforts, and other countries around Europe, San Francisco, and Israel are following their lead.

Copenhagen is leading the world in sustainable waste management efforts, and other countries around Europe, San Francisco, and Israel are following their lead.

We all know it - planet earth has a major trash problem. Humans throw away 3.5 million tons of waste every day. Dumping trash has however come a long way. Landfills and trash barges used to be the norm, and New York City even used to 80% of its garbage in the ocean. But one city has decided to look at waste as a resource rather than a byproduct. Now, trash is getting a second life with Copenhagen’s Nordsense collection program and the new Amager Bakke facility.

Nordsense: The Waste Collection Sensor

“(The Nordsense) is installed typically in the lid of a bin and it measures the distance of the content. And not only the distance but also the volume so we have sort of a depth map of what the content looks like.”

Manuel MaestriniFounder & CTO, Nordsense

Nordsense is a data-driven sensor that is placed inside the city’s trash cans that monitor each cans’ waste volume. From there, they can optimize collection routes to only pick up bins that are full. So rather than place more trash cans in the city or risk trash piling up around more popular cans, Nordsense collects the trash that most urgently needs attention. This collection program has cut waste management budgets in half, dramatically cleaned up the city, and this trash fuels something much larger…

Copenhagen has actually found a way to turn every piece of trash into something to help the city.

Amager Bakke Waste-to-Energy Plant

Amager Bakke Waste-to-Energy Plant

That’s where Amager Bakke comes in. This plant in Copenhagen uses furnaces, steam, and turbines that process 400,000 tons of non-recyclable waste every year. The waste is burned like fuel to create high pressure steam, which drives the turbines that provide electricity to 60,000 houses and heat for 160,000. Amager Bakk has been so successful that they’ve been importing trash from other countries to keep up with energy production.

Even more, Amager Bakk is so safe that they’ve been able to turn the roof of the plant into a giant recreational facility for city residents with a year-round ski slope, climbing towers, and hiking trails. It’s the only ski slope in Copenhagen and the climbing wall will be the tallest in the world, making it the only place for multi-pitch climbing in Denmark.

“Here you get the fantastic opportunity to learn about what is going on on the other side of your garbage can, right? And at the same time hopefully you will have a fantastic experience on this marvelous roof park.”

Patrik GustavssonFoundation Director, Amager Bakke

Copenhagen Leading the World’s Sustainable Future

Sustainability is the key for future generations to enjoy a clean world. So even more than a clean city and rec park, Copenhagen’s efforts are ensuring the future health of our planet and showing the rest of the world what’s possible.

"I have children. Maybe you do, too. I want to give them the chance of enjoying living in a clean world with prospects for the future. I see that as a part of my job, and what I really want to do.”

Jacob SimonsenDirector, ARC

For more stories about the people changing our world, visit our Culture & Society section. Or learn more about how Copenhagen, Denmark below.

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