Every Swede produces 473 kilos of waste per year, and even though the Swedes are all about recycling, they are unable to reduce the amount of waste they produce. The threshold for each household is far too high, new research shows.

Mimmi Bissmont, who divides her time between being a researcher at Malmö University and being a development engineer at VA SYD (a municipal association for water systems and waste management), has interviewed households that recycle, but are not explicitly devoted to waste prevention, and also studied zero-waste focussed bloggers.

These blogs show that there certainly are ways to reduce waste.

The societal norm is clear and few problematise private consumption. But zero wasters do exactly that. They focus on their own choices and often start with a non-shopping period. Thus challenging the concept of shopping as a marker of status and a leisurely hobby.

Mimmi Bissmont

Is recycling good enough?

Although Sweden has an efficient recycling programme, it would be even better for the environment if less waste was produced.

“But many think recycling is ‘good enough’. For waste prevention practices to happen, the prevailing idea that recycling alone is good enough needs to be challenged,” says Bissmont.

Research shows that household waste is neither deliberate nor completely voluntary. It must be both simple and more socially accepted to prevent waste, reasons Bissmont.

Previous research on waste minimisation has been about attitudes and motivation, but that is not enough as it is only part of the solution, the research finds.

Even though there’s a will to minimise their own waste, many people find it difficult to:

  1. Refrain from shopping. The zero wasters describe that it is difficult to refrain from unnecessary shopping. The difficulty of distinguishing what one needs and what one wants can result in a “want-need” that makes it hard to buy only that what one needs.
  2. Find good alternatives. It is not easy to find groceries without packaging or items that can be repaired. Finding such items needs to be more convenient.
  3. Behave differently. Bringing a lunch box to work may not be the social norm and prompt unwelcome curiosity from colleagues.

“My study of the zero waste blogs shows that these households have to struggle in their everyday life to minimise their waste. This indicates that the prevention of household waste is not supported by the Swedish society and therefore won’t increase by itself,” says Bissmont.

How can waste minimisation be supported and promoted?  Bissmont highlights the so-called REP deduction (a tax reduction for the repair and maintenance of appliances) that can help with repairs and rent. Another way is to use legislation. A successful example is the use of plastic bags, which has declined since a new regulation required stores to inform their customers about the environmental impact of plastic bags.

Text: Ellen Albertsdottir

About the research

Mimmi Bissmont's licentiate thesis Reducing household waste: A social practice perspective on Swedish household waste prevention was presented at Malmö University on May 15.


  1. Start by thinking about your own consumption habits. How do you consume and why?
  2. What needs do you have and how can these be met? Can they be catered for in a different way than buying stuff?
  3. Reflect on the alternatives to buying. Sharing, renting, borrowing are some examples that are becoming more and more common. If these are not possible, there may be the option to buy used or repairable items.
  4. How do you use your stuff? By taking care of and repairing our things, we give them a longer life.
  5. Do not throw away things unnecessarily! One fifth of all bulk waste in Sweden consists of whole and fully-usable items. Maybe your items can find a new life with someone else: sell or donate. If it is waste: sort and recycle. And remember that things you pass on will have an extended lifespan if there is a willing recipient - so be prepared to become a recipient as well.

Source: Mimmi Bissmont