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Danish island embraces trash-free lifestyle

Bornholm is a small Danish island in the southern part of the Baltic Sea. At only 227 square miles (588 square kilometers), the island is home to about 40,000 people and welcomes around 600,000 visitors each year.

The island is known for its sunny weather, round churches and rocky sea cliffs. But soon it hopes to make history for its lack of trash.

Bornholm’s only waste incineration plant is on its last legs, so instead of replacing it, the island has embraced another plan. “In 2032 there will be no more waste on Bornholm,” announced BOFA, the island’s waste management company. “All discarded items are resources that can be recirculated to the benefit of the entire community.”

The government doesn’t yet know all the specifics of how the plan will work, but officials have laid out a basic outline.

For example, they envision citizens sorting waste into easily recyclable items such as metal, plastic, glass, paper and cardboard, and then plan to add new items such as fishing nets, insulation materials and more plastics to the recycling system.

Organic waste, as well as garden and park waste, will be converted into energy, and the nutrient-rich residue from energy recovery will be used as fertilizer in fields, gardens and parks on the island.

Residents will be encouraged to make use of the sharing economy, lending and borrowing goods and services. They’ll reuse everything from furniture to children’s clothing, and businesses will repair an array of items from bicycles to kitchen appliances.

Elementary school students will be educated as “resource heroes” with practical, hands-on lessons about waste, resources, the environment and nature.

‘Bright Green Island’

Bornholm Denmark trash on the beach Bornholm attracts 600,000 visitors each year, some of whom leave trash on the island’s sunny beaches. (Photo: Peter Kuit/

This isn’t the first time the island has gone green. This initiative follows on the heels of the municipality’s Bright Green Island plan to be CO2-neutral by 2035.

“Yet, in the waste area we were lagging behind, so it was important for us to move ahead in this sector as well,” Anne Thomas, the deputy mayor of Bornholm, tells National Geographic.

“As a first-mover in this kind of area, you can benefit from development funding from national and international sources like the [European Union],” Thomas says. “As a last-mover you benefit from all the trial-and-error that has gone before, and the technology is far cheaper to implement. Being in the middle field is the really heavy place to be. For us, the decision to be first-movers here was not a difficult one.”

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.

Danish island embraces trash-free lifestyle

By 2032, everything will on the Danish island of Bornholm will be recycled, repaired or reused.