Eskilstuna: how a Swedish town became the world capital of recycling

The city was dying. Then somebody had a great idea to save it – make it the greenest place on Earth

‘People talk about Eskilstuna as the place where nothing new is invented,” says the shopping mall manager Anna Bergström. An hour’s train ride from Stockholm, the “Sheffield of Sweden” has had something of an image problem in recent years. Once a steel-producing powerhouse, the town has fallen on hard times, thanks to the rapid decline in the industry throughout the 1970s. It now has an unemployment rate that is almost double the national average of 8%.

But the town has come up with an answer: recycling. Far from the Scandinavian stereotype of glossy modernity, Eskilstuna’s wide-paved, near-deserted grey streets are populated by kitsch 1980s pizzerias, workers’ cafes and gloomy pubs – not a place where you would expect to find such a radical approach to the environment. Yet since 2012, Eskilstuna has implemented a spate of green initiatives, vying to make it the most environmentally friendly city in Sweden – and perhaps the world. Public buses and cars are run on biogas and electricity, and the town uses low-carbon combined heat and power plants, which use the thermal energy from electricity production to heat water. Residents sort their waste into seven multicoloured categories at home – green for food, pink for textiles, grey for metal, yellow for paper, blue for newspaper, orange for plastic and black for mixed – and for the past four years people have been able to drop off their unwanted goods for recycling at Bergström’s secondhand mall.

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