Toralf Igesund, Bergen, Norway, waste graph, wasteless future, recycling, waste generation

Toralf Igesund, Head of Planning, BIR, Bergen, Norway

Today I am happy to introduce you my recent but good friend Toralf Igesund. I have started to exchange emails with Toralf few months ago, when we realised that we had a similar view on the disruption and the changes that are coming to waste management sector and recycling due to the fourth industrial revolution. As he wrote me in an email “My daughter was born in 1991, at the same time as internet was born and the first web-page was published. It is only 25 years ago and no one could imagine what has actually happened”. Toralf works as the head of planning department in BIR, in Bergen, Norway’s second largest waste management company that’s responsible for managing the waste of roughly  320.000 inhabitants in the municipalities owning BIR (Askøy, Bergen, Fusa, Kvam, Os, Osterøy, Samnanger, Sund and Vaksdal).  In my recent visit to Bergen, I had the pleasure to spend some very fruitful and thoughtful hours discussing with him on the status and the future waste management. This post is written by Toralf. He combines the historical social changes in Bergen with the evolution of waste generated per capita  – the result is more than great (we will continue with one more post abut the evolution of waste management legislation). I am sure you will enjoy it.

The waste graph of Bergen reflects all the major changes of the local society

“The history of how waste management in Norway has developed reflects how the society has changed from a poor country in the outskirts of Europe, to the present modern, wealthy, and high-tech oil producing country. BIR is the public waste management company for the municipalities around Bergen, on the west coast of Norway, and was founded in 1881 as the first public waste management company in Norway, maybe even Scandinavia. The background was a health-law of 1860 that imposed the municipalities to form health-commissions. The health-commission in Bergen was concerned with the poor sanitary standards, and learned about the London doctor John Snow. He discovered in 1854 the link between outbreaks of dysentery and latrine polluted water wells. Dr. Snow plotted the dysentery cases he visited on a map, and the connection was clear. It is hard for us to imagine that the science of medicine was so premature; the concept that diseases infect by contamination was not understood at the time.Dr. John Snow (not to be confused with the character in The Game of Thrones!) made sure that new water wells were installed and that public collection of latrine was established, and the dysentery and general health-situation in London improved. Dr. John Snow is celebrated today as a pioneer in modern epidemiology and his findings led to the establishment of the water supply and wastewater works we know in modern societies. Read more about dr. John Snow here:

Bergen was an early adopter of the new knowledge from London. It is possible that the doctors in the famous leprosy hospital in Bergen played an active role here. Bergen has always been an international port with multiple contacts abroad.

The public company Bergen Renovationsvæsen carried out compulsory collection of latrine buckets at night (night renovation). The buckets were emptied and disinfected. In daytime solid waste was collected (day renovation). The renovator used his brass bell when he stopped in the street to signal that the housewife could come out and get rid of waste.

Bergen, Norway, waste collection, Toralf Igesund, waste management, recycling, wasteless future

Day renovation in Bergen around 1916. (Bergen Archives)

We know that Bergen in 1880 had a large population growth as the society started to change from depending on agriculture and fisheries to commerce and industry in the towns. Many parts of Bergen saw poverty and poor nutrition. Life expectancy was about 40 years, and infant mortality was high. The infections dominate the clinical picture.

The waste of 1881 consisted probably of potsherds, ashes and bones, while food waste fed chickens and piglets, and textiles were reused and worn to shreds. According to old logbooks, the day renovation amounted to 14 kg/ per capita pr year.

Bergen, Norway, waste graph, waste management, waste generation, per capita, Toralf Igesund, wasteless future

The graph with waste per capita from 1881 to present is an exponential curve, a “hockey stick curve” just like any other curve that shows consumed products, consumed energy, population growth, or depletion of species over the same period. It is a symbol of how waste management has developed and changed with the society up to today, and we will see even more changes in the future.

This situation was very stable for a long time. The town of Bergen grew but waste per capita is only slowly increasing to about 25 kg/capita after 2nd world war.

Post war Europe was recovering gradually, with rationing of critical goods for construction and consumption. Collected solid waste increased to 40 kg/capita in 1960. But this period saw important changes as industry grew up and processed food with packaging entered the households. Tinned fish and meat, pickled vegetables and jam in jars became common goods. Disposable packaging became common, and the amount of waste grew. But most important of all – around 1960 plastic entered the market. Cheap, versatile and formable to all kinds of use, this material started to take over the world.

In the 1970s (60 kg/capita) more women started to work outside the home, and less time in the kitchen led to consumption of more processed food with more disposable packaging, but also higher living standards and higher consumption of other goods.

Around 1980 (200kg/capita) sorting and recycling of materials started in Bergen. First glass bottles and packaging jars, later paper and cardboard. The continued growth in consumption and waste generation is kept in check with increased recycling measures up to today.

Finally, at 2015 the waste generation went to 440 kg/capita. The waste curve shows signs of leveling off in Norwegian cities, while the Norwegian countryside still have increasing waste per capita. The waste curve is quite similar in many European countries, while the waste generated per capita in USA in 2015 is about 990 kg/year (EPA).

A final note about the waste graph: the amount of collected waste has been recorded quite accurately, but how many people it represents is more inaccurate as the city is growing and expanding, step by step. This is why the curve is not as smooth as one could expect, but the general picture is quite clear. The waste graph will in the future be updated with new statistical data, including collection of bulky waste.

Few words about Toralf Igesund

He works as the head of planning department at BIR AS in Bergen, Norway He has studied  civil and environmental engineering from University of NTNU, Trondheim, Norway.

Experience: 24 years in BIR, planning and projects with public waste management, 10 years consulting. Experience from Nordic countries, Africa, Ex Jugoslavia. Activities: several positions in Avfall Norge working groups, leader of Avfall Norge International Network – Balkan, member of Eurocities WG Waste , board member in several companies.


1 Comment
  1. shekar rajamani 6 years ago

    Interesting article. Good to know that the “history” of waste management is documented and is made available for study. Time to turn the truth into actionable items for the overall awareness and benefit society at large. wish you good luck in your efforts.

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