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.

Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

True

The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

Keep Reading Show less
True

When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."