Swedish environmental practices for Ukraine: participants talk about their experience after traveling to Sweden

In September, Ukrainian environmental protection experts visited Sweden to learn about the best practices in nature conservation and to communicate with local activists, officials and entrepreneurs. The visit was supported by the International Renaissance Foundation and Sweden, as part of the EPAIU Environmental Initiative.

We talked to the participants of the trip and asked them about the most vivid impressions of this intense week in Sweden, collected their most important insights from the visit, as well as practices that they would like to implement in Ukraine. Here is what they told us.

Iryna Myronova

Co-founder and Head of the Zero Waste Lviv CSO, expert in waste management.

There are many things that have already been implemented in Sweden and that we can learn to use in Ukraine right now. And this is not waste incineration, which is so much discussed in our country. It was a revelation for me that Sweden already has mandatory separate collection of biowaste in its communities and one of the largest facilities for processing organic waste in Europe. At the same time, they continue to work on improving this separate collection. We saw specialized enterprises and the fact that it is mandatory to place containers for organic waste near every house.

We saw that citizens have access to separate collection of hazardous and other types of waste, which is located at a sufficiently close distance to houses. Such collection containers are to be installed near every house by 2026. In my opinion, we can also go this way: not trying to cover all the houses, but creating small inter-neighbourhood centres that will cover the maximum number of communities with access to separate collection.

Another important example of best practice for Ukraine that we saw is municipal partnerships. Small communities do not try to solve all waste management issues and have all the necessary infrastructure on their own. They unite and create inter-municipal companies that administer waste management. It is also important for Ukraine: to support the ability of communities to unite and jointly develop the waste management system.

In Ukraine, the government talks a lot about the importance of building different plants. In Sweden, we saw that their plants contain air purification systems, wastewater treatment systems or other systems that contribute to environmental protection. All enterprises have emission monitoring systems “on the pipe”, which allows them to assess the level of emissions in real time. In Ukraine, the systems of environmental and industrial pollution control do not meet the required level of safety. Therefore, before talking about large plants, the issue of environmental control and monitoring must first be resolved.

Olha Lyashchuk ,

Project coordinator of the Ecoclub CSO, expert in assessing the vulnerability of communities to climate change, developing climate change adaptation measures in communities.

My most important lesson is that in order to achieve the goals we set for ourselves as a country, we need to be open. It is necessary to explain to people what we are going to do and why we need this.

We can set nice goals for ourselves in terms of the green course, adaptation to climate change, etc., but if people do not understand what it is for, then they will not, for example, sort waste. After all, if you don’t know why you need it, you don’t do it.

And the facilities we visited demonstrated this openness. To the extent that the incinerator plant has engineered glass walls so that people can see this production. It is clear that this is a symbolic gesture, but it expresses the idea of openness and explanations for people and the community.

Everyone should be involved in this. Both the authorities should explain the need to sort waste to the community and the enterprises that do it. This is exactly what we saw in Sweden – both the openness of the city authorities and the openness of the enterprises we visited.

After the trip, I realized that since our country has a large agricultural sector, we need to start by separating organic waste and explaining to people the possibilities and importance of composting. We already have good examples where it works. They will make it easier to explain to people that it is not as difficult as it seems.

At the same time, I would, in fact, be very cautious about waste incineration plants in Ukraine, because this is the last point in this long chain and we must first learn to sort and select those resources that can be used, and only then burn what cannot be used. Especially given our situation with emissions control.

Inna Semenenko

Head of Resource Centre for Sustainable Development at Volodymyr Dahl East Ukrainian National University, expert on sustainable development.

The first thing that impressed me was the waste incineration and sorting plants we visited. Ukraine still needs a lot of time and a lot of money to implement something like this, and it would be ideal if everything worked like this in our country after the war.

We visited an incineration plant, which is basically a dump where waste is sorted and part of it is incinerated. But when you are there, you don’t have the impression that you are in a dump. You see a big glass wall through which you can look over the city. Excursions are held inside, they demonstrate their social responsibility, they do not hide any points.

Of course, Sweden is not perfect either, although it is several steps ahead of others. For example, we were told that they reject carrots that do not fit certain parameters – too big or too small – which can still be eaten. So, it is good that they understand their mistakes and try to do something about it. They do not justify themselves, but consciously approach it, saying that we do it this way and must consciously make some kind of joint decision.

As a university representative, I enjoyed the visit to the University in Lund (International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics at Lund University), which is one of the leaders in promoting sustainable development. They do a lot of educational work, just like other institutions we visited. It seemed to me that the initiatives promoted by our NGOs – educational events and initiatives, forums, meetings – are no less interesting than in Sweden, and sometimes even more creative. But in Ukraine, in order to attract the attention of the population to the environmental problems and sustainable development, you need to be creative, and they follow the usual steps, to simply maintain attention.

Public organizations can already adopt the Swedish practices of fostering conscious behaviour in order to reduce the amount of waste. For example, when we come to a restaurant, they don’t have napkins on the table like we do, like, take as many as you want. They just have cutlery wrapped in a napkin and that’s it. From a very young age, children there are taught to use reusable bottles. Such small but critical solutions.

If you look at the level of enterprises and businesses, they want to completely abandon some types of plastic, which are difficult to recycle, in a few years. It seems to me that it is already possible to prepare businesses so that they too switch to these new, more environmentally friendly types of plastic, to produce packaging that will be more environmentally friendly. It is realistic to do it in a short period of time, but it requires, first of all, the will and desire of government institutions.

Diana Krysinska

Associate Professor of Department of Ecology of the Medical Institute of Petro Mohyla Black Sea National University, researches the impact of Russian aggression on the territorial communities of Mykolaiv region, an expert in environmental education and sustainable development of the Kinburn CSO.

I was most impressed by how detailed the waste is sorted in Sweden, there are so many sections. For example, one of the factories sorts textiles that have not been processed before for reuse. This practice was very impressive.

I was also impressed by the attitude towards natural sites, when they are combined with technical objects and with objects of industrial ecology. At one of the enterprises in Malmö, we visited the waste incineration plant, where large cubes of waste were stored for incineration, including those imported from other countries. And this territory was next door to the Swedish nature reserve.

We were told that there are a lot of birds there, since it is a water area. And there is a hospital for birds on the territory of this enterprise. There are cases where birds fly into the territory of the enterprise, because this is an ecosystem that cannot be divided. And when these birds are injured, the company treats them and takes care of them. This is a biocentric attitude to natural objects.

In general, I was impressed by the state of the waste management system in Sweden – everything is so well thought out. At one of the enterprises, we were told that enterprises do not buy waste, on the contrary, they are paid by those who bring it, for example, local authorities or people. At the same time, the company that burns waste, sells electricity and thermal energy.

We are used to the fact, that if it is sorting, the people doing the sorting expect to be paid for it. In Sweden, environmental education and awareness are at a different level. There is an understanding that waste is not just waste, but a resource.

Another story is when we were at the sorting station, there was absolutely no smell on the territory. But when we went inside, there was a smell, and we were surprised why there was a smell behind the door, but not outside.

As the manager explained, the sorting centre is located next to residential buildings. For a long time, there were difficulties in communicating with the community regarding the location of the plant, because no one ever wants to place garbage next to them. Then the residents were guaranteed that there would be no smell or pollution, and a very powerful cleaning system and a very high exhaust pipe were built to take the smell to the higher layers of the atmosphere. I was also very impressed by this moment of responsibility and honesty in fulfilling their promises by private enterprises.

We have a widespread belief that it is impossible to implement all environmental practices because it is difficult to teach people. But after the trip, I reassessed this thesis. I think we can start doing everything, build infrastructure, sorting stations and waste incineration plants. And people will sort.

I have many acquaintances and colleagues who have gone abroad, ordinary citizens from Mykolaiv. Today they all sort waste. That is, when there is infrastructure, it gives opportunities. It really takes time, it takes resources and implementation, it takes infrastructure, but people will do it all.

Hanna Pavlenko

Project manager of the Nova Druzhkivka CSO, co-founder of the School of Eco-Activism and co-author of the eco-game “Recycle”

I really enjoyed the trip. It was very interesting to learn about Sweden’s experience in recycling and waste management, because the Swedes have been dealing with this issue for 50 years. We understand how long it took them to get to the state they are in now.

I liked the fact that they honestly said that they do not consider their system to be perfect, that they still have a lot to do to improve it. For example, they have a lot of waste incineration plants. They talked about the problems that arise because of these plants, because at the beginning of their development, the Swedes built a lot of them. And this makes us understand that Ukraine needs to plan its waste processing system in advance to avoid repeating other people’s mistakes.

We understand that the amount of waste will decrease with the right policies, with proper work with the population, the waste will be more recyclable andmuch less waste will be incinerated. Therefore, it is not possible to build many waste incineration plants.

I liked the way the Lund City Hall talked about the comprehensive development program for community development and climate change adaptation. And they work in a complex with the population, sustainable mobility, waste management, and with home heating. They made an interesting point: “Sometimes we set goals that we do not know how to achieve. But we set them anyway and eventually achieve them.”

We met with many people working in education, and this is the closest direction for our NGO. However, everything needs to be done in a complex. We have a problem of lack of infrastructure for sorting, but we also have a problem of misunderstanding among the residents. Although when we implement our projects, we see that in general people are ready to sort waste, even if not all of it. So, when the infrastructure is in place, it does not mean that 100% of people will start sorting. Therefore, it is necessary to use a comprehensive approach.

If we manage to return to our native Druzhkivka community in the near future, we would like to start working first of all with the local authorities in order to implement environmental solutions. There is an urgent need to implement hazardous waste management policies, develop waste sorting infrastructure, work at the regional level to create normal landfills, not just dumps. After all, as NGOs, we can implement some pilot projects, but the government at its level must also take steps to implement an environmental approach.

Maryna Sadkina

Project manager of the Social project “Ekoltava” CSO, environmental consultant to communities, expert in waste management.

I am grateful that in such difficult conditions the Foundation and Sweden managed to organize the trip that was extremely useful for us. I am a technical expert in waste management and this trip was very valuable for me.

You can draw conclusions about how to properly set up a waste management system only when you actually see how it is implemented in practice and you can ask people who have implemented it and have their own success stories. Such experience is far more valuable than any lecture on how something should work. After all, “successful success” sounds the same to everyone, but the issues and problems people face can be different, and such meetings help to avoid repeating these mistakes and do something better and in a different way.

I work with communities and it is important to convey to them how the world’s best practices and technologies work, what we can recommend to them, set as an example and, perhaps, advise. That is why I am happy that I became a part of this trip, I was able to ask a lot of questions to representatives of organizations who tried to answer honestly and sincerely, and provide us with quality support.

In Ukraine we can now see not only the path that other countries have taken, but also the results. Therefore, we can choose whether we want to follow this path from the very beginning or make a leap. Today, we need to choose whether we need to implement something based on mixed waste management streams, or whether it is still appropriate to look at the situation that exists in most Ukrainian communities and work on composting, adopt best practices of mandatory separate collection of food waste or waste from green spaces, considering it as a resource, not waste.


The publication was prepared within the framework of Environmental Policy and Advocacy Initiative for Ukraine, which is implemented by the International Renaissance Foundation with the support of Sweden.

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