Where does the trash go in Iceland?

recycling iceland

With plentiful geothermal and hydroelectric energy, Iceland has earned an international reputation as a leader in environmentalism.

The whole story is of course more complicated. For example, in 2009, the average Icelandic household produced just above 400 kg of waste annually. As of 2021, Icelandic households were producing 667 kg of waste annually, compared to the EU average of 530 kg. According to EuroStat, in 2021, the last year for which statistics are available, Iceland placed eighth for average waste produced by household in the EU and EEA. 

So where does all the waste go?

According to the Environment Agency of Iceland, of the 1,305,000 tonnes of waste produced in 2021, 54% was used as filler, 20% was exported for recycling abroad, 13% went to a landfill, 8% was recycled domestically, 2% was composted, 1% was burned for energy production, and 1% was burned with no energy production.

Notably, these statistics are by weight and also include waste from construction, mining, and road work. The percentage of waste represented by filler therefore includes large amounts of gravel, sand, and stone, and not necessarily household waste.

Iceland has also begun sending increasing amounts of its waste abroad. This June, SORPA finalized plans to send combustible waste to Sweden for incineration. There was also considerable controversy this year when it came to light that contrary to public statements, SORPA had been sending milk cartons abroad for incineration for 16 years. They had previously stated that they were recycled domestically.

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What’s the status of the Ísafjörður cruise ship terminal?

cruiseship, skemmtiferðaskip

In 2022, Ísafjörður, a town with a population of around 2,700, received some 86,000 passengers from cruise ships alone and predictions only have cruise ships increasing in this remote region of Iceland. Ísafjörður, the 13th-largest town in Iceland, is its 3rd-busiest port of call for cruise ships.

Indeed, due to the volume of cruise traffic to the town, Ísafjörður port manager Guðmundur M. Kristjánsson recently stated to Vísir that they have not been able to keep up with demand and have had to turn away some prospective visitors.

Because of the ever-increasing scale of cruise ship traffic, local authorities have begun an ISK 1 billion [$7.6 million, €6.8] expansion to the Ísafjörður harbour.

Construction on the project began in 2021 and aims to expand the harbour by developing the Sundabakki area. Upon completion, the harbour will be able to accommodate two large cruise ships at a time.

In the annual financial plan of Ísafjarðarbær, Ísafjörður Harbor is expected to take in ISK 500 million [$3.8 million, €3.4 million]. Of this total, 344 million ISK comes from foreign parties.




Eruption Site Closed After 6:00 PM

reykjanes eruption litli hrútur

Local authorities have announced that hiking trails to the Litli-Hrútur eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula will close at 6:00 PM today.

The area will be accessible from Suðurstrandarvegur (South Coast Road), but all routes from the North, including Keilir, are closed.

Yesterday’s closure is reported to have gone smoothly. According to the police chief’s assessment, it was not justifiable to keep the walking paths open all day long due to safety reasons. The walking paths from Suðurstrandarvegur will be closed daily at 6:00 PM. This decision will be in effect as long as the eruption continues at the mountain Litli-Hrútur.

iceland eruption 2023
Reykjanes Police – Map of the hazard zone around Litli-Hrútur eruption.

The estimated number of people on Meradalaleið hiking trail yesterday was 1,952. An additional 1,358 visitor were recorded on other trails to the site.

Police officers, Civil Protection officers, and medical personnel are present in the area today. There have also been reports that ICE-SAR, an all-volunteer rescue squad, has had difficulty in fully manning shifts.


Poor Breeding Season After Cold Spring

bird nesting iceland

With the breeding season for many migratory birds in Iceland coming to a close, experts say that conditions have been less than optimal due to a cold, wet spring.

Tómas Grétar Gunnarsson, head of the Research Centre at the University of Iceland in the South, stated to RÚV:

“This is an average year in a way; we take two trips each summer where we monitor the young birds. In the first trip, we assess the breeding success of species that lay their eggs early, such as oystercatchers and godwits, and in the second trip, we focus on those that breed later, like plover, for example. In both cases, the results were well below average.”

The breeding success of seabirds has been evaluated annually by the centre since 2011.

According to Tómas, this is primarily due to the challenging seasonal conditions in the spring and early summer in South Iceland. However, it is expected that the breeding rates will be better in the northern and eastern regions.

“It’s a combination of various factors that influence this,” Tómas stated further.  “Weather conditions, food availability, and hatching times – everything is interconnected to some extent.”

Concerns about the puffin population have also been reported by ecologists due to their poor breeding in recent years.