Oslo, Norway, Needs Your Trash

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Garbage in Naples
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A view of a pile of uncollected rubbish in Naples, Italy. Oslo is picky when it comes to its waste, preferring England's garbage to Italy's. (Photo by Laura Lezza/Getty Images)

The city of Oslo, Norway, has a trash problem. But it's not what you think: They don't have enough of it.

Garbage incineration is Oslo's main power source, according to a story in The New York Times. And the efficiently run city is running out of fuel.

In fact, the Norwegian city has had to import trash from other countries to keep the lights on.

Maybe this isn't surprising with a city of just 1.4 million people. But, well, one country's trash has turned into another's much-needed energy.

Oslo is on the hunt for garbage-rich countries and -- surprise -- they're not hard to find.

But it turns out the city is picky when it comes to its waste, preferring England's cleaner garbage over Italy's.

Said Oslo's waste engineer Pal Mikkelsen to the Times, "It's a sensitive question."

Naples could certainly use the waste removal. The city has been dealing with illegal dumping for years, and in 2011 it had to call in troops when the piles of stinky trash overflowed the city's landfills.

Wherever the trash comes from, Oslo will need a lot of it. According to the Times, all of northern Europe generates 150 million tons of trash, far less than the 700 million tons the incinerating plants can handle.

Oslo seems committed for the long term. The Norwegian power company Hafslund states on its website, "A significant share of Oslo's district heating comes from waste incineration, biofuel facilities and heat pumps that extract heat from sewage. These are resources that would otherwise be lost or considered waste."

It adds, "The goal is to replace all fossil fuels for peak loads by 2016. This will make a substantial contribution to Oslo's environment and cut carbon emissions."

This is an admirable goal that right now seems hard to meet with the resources at hand, which is why the city is looking beyond its borders for trash to burn.

Even garbage from the United States could be an option since, as a waste engineer tells the New York Times, "Sea transport is so cheap."

Not so fast. The United States has been turning some of its landfill gas into fuel for some time. In fact, two of the largest landfills in the country, in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, convert some of their methane gas into energy.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, out of the United States' 2,300 landfills, 520 convert some of their gas into electricity, enough to power 688,000 homes. Landfills in the United States account for 1% of natural gas demand.

Oslo is clearly on to something. Still, it's not the only city to run out of garbage for fuel.

Last year, Sweden resorted to importing 800,000 tons of trash to burn when it had no more of its own. So it turned to its neighbor -- Norway.

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