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.