Heroes

Sweden has a weird but awesome problem: They're running out of trash.

Garbage is a perennial problem, but Sweden's found a way to put their garbage to work.

Sweden has a weird but awesome problem: They're running out of trash.

I'm always a little surprised by how quickly my trash can fills up.

Unfortunately, this is a common situation. According to Duke University's Center for Sustainability & Commerce, the average American creates 4.3 pounds of waste a day. Nationwide, that's 220 million tons of trash per year! And about 55% of that ends up in landfills.

Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images.


Landfills can be a problem, too: Contaminants can leach into groundwater, and landfills produce about 22% of our methane emissions (methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change), according to the Duke center. Granted, newer ones are much better and come with things like liners and gas collectors, but we're still filling them up pretty quickly.

Sweden doesn't have this problem, though.

The Swedes figured out something important: You don't have to dump trash in a landfill. You can put that garbage to work instead.

Inside a waste-to-energy plant in Sweden. Photo by Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images.

Sweden built 32 waste-to-energy plants that burn garbage, providing heat and electricity to surrounding towns. According to the Swedish government, the plants heat about 810,000 homes and provide electricity to 250,000 more. That must be nice, considering Sweden can get pretty chilly during the winter.

But at the same time, Sweden's also really good at keeping things out of the trash in the first place. They just straight-up recycle about half their stuff. There are special trucks that pick up used electronics, and even the stuff sent to the plants get sorted first.

A recycling center in Sweden. Photo by Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images.

All of this has led to a funny problem: Right now, Sweden doesn't have enough trash.

They're actually importing trash from other countries — about 800,000 tons of it in 2014. And the other countries are paying Sweden to take the garbage off their hands, so ... win-win.

It's not piles of money, but it might be just as good. Photo by Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images.

Of course, there's some nuance here. The waste plants are burning stuff, after all, so it does produce some carbon dioxide and pollution, but the plants are designed to minimize this. There's also the argument that we should be focusing more on reducing our consumption in the first place instead of trying to deal with the collateral.

There could be some point in the future where nobody has trash to burn. Still, Sweden says they've got that version of the future covered: They'll switch to biofuels.

So there are still potential snags, but this is a problem that would be kind of great for every country to have.

By the way, America hasn't exactly been slouching when it comes to waste-to-energy plants, which is good news. As of 2014, we had 84 of them, according to the Energy Recovery Council. We're 33 times larger than Sweden, and we only recycle about a third of our garbage (compared to Sweden's about half), so maybe we shouldn't get cocky just yet. But still, we're on our way.

Garbage is a serious problem, and there isn't always going to be an easy solution.

But programs like this show how a little smart thinking can put our problems to work.

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Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.