Because it has become so good at recycling, Sweden now is importing 800,000 tons of trash each year from other European countries, including Norway, to power its waste-to-energy program, Public Radio International reports. Burned waste powers 20 percent of Sweden's district heating as well as electricity for roughly 250,000 Swedish homes.

Swedish households recycle most of their waste; only 4 percent of it ends up in landfills, according to PRI. Sweden makes it mandatory for households to separate recyclables from trash, and producers help handle waste management.

In contrast, Americans recycled just 34 percent of their waste in 2010, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and more than half of U.S. household waste in 2010 ended up in landfills, 136 million tons of garbage in total.

Trash-burning facilities in the United States handle only a small portion of U.S. waste, and most of the burned trash ends up in landfills, according to The New York Times.

In just one example of U.S. waste, Americans throw away nearly half of their food, costing roughly $165 billion per year, according to a recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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