Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sweeping the Streets of Sweden Clean

Stockholm is the cleanest big city I have ever been in. It’s incredible. It’s as if little garbage gnomes come out at night, like magic, and take away the litter. Because it is so clean, I never think about the alternative though. I never think about trash on the sidewalks and old beer cans in the streets. Not unless I am in other big cities.

When traveling with the family quite a while back, we headed over to Copenhagen. You know, the city that bikes everywhere and hosted the environmental conference a while back? Even Copenhagen seemed dirty.

Anyway, the cleanliness of Stockholm came to my attention in recent days because the snow has been melting. And melting snow means that all those things that were hiding in the snow come to the surface. The sidewalk is strewn with the dregs of the Swedish winter. Empty bottles, lonely mittens, sand and gravel to combat the ice, I even saw a large planter box that sits on my walk to work. It had been hidden for so long that I forgot it was even there.

So today, on my way to work, I was thinking about how clean Stockholm always is, and how very unclean it had suddenly become. For the first time since I moved to Sweden, Stockholm felt dirty. That’s damn impressive work over the course of three years. All the snow this year had just collected so much trash.

Then I went to the gym at lunch. Because some days at work result in needing to lift heavy things. And on the way there, I looked down at the sidewalk. Clean. Completely clean. It was amazing. Apparently the garbage gnomes drive a sidewalk Zamboni.

The entire sidewalk had been swept clean. No bottles. No lonely mittens. No sand or gravel. Instead just the faint outline of a Zamboni and the brush strokes of spring. For the first time in nearly three months, I saw virgin pavement in Stockholm, and it was glorious.

Welcome to Sweden. And garbage gnomes.

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  1. How awesome for Swedes that Stockholm (and probably other parts of Sweden) is so clean. One thing I absolutely HATE is litter, and the people who feel it's their right to throw trash on the ground -- especially if there is a trash can nearby.

    Interestingly, I read an article in the paper this morning about 2 teens who were knifed to death on an NYC subway in the wee hours of the morning. Why? Because while riding the subway, they threw a small bag of trash and it accidentally hit some thug in the face (and the thug, being a thug, got mad b/c he thought he was being dissed).

    Remarkably, as outraged as I felt about these SENSELESS murders, I felt a pang of hatred toward the dead teens for littering on the subway. No one should die over litter, but this just shows you how annoying I find littering.

    Good for Sweden and for Stockholm for having enough self-respect and sense of hygiene to keep their streets and public areas clean! I wish all other cities all over the world would follow suit. That, to me, is one mark of a truly civilized society.

    -S. (aka - The Litter Nazi)

  2. Having been one of the trash gnomes, I think it should be better still. Maybe a mandatory community service once a month, because when you pick up that stuff you'll wish no-one ever threw anything on the ground ever. And people throws a lot.
    I could fill a 120 litre bag in about an hour in one of Stockholm's suburb centres. Every day.

  3. People are far less likely to litter if their environment is clean. If you see a bunch of garbage on the ground people tend to think that one more piece of trash won't make any difference. More cities should take on Stockholm's approach and employ some garbage gnomes.

  4. Copenhagen is indeed dirty, but at least it feels like a big city compared to Oslo, the other Scandinavian capital I'm living at the moment :(

    I love Stockholm! But then again, I haven't lived there long enough to tell the tale :)

  5. I love these gravel cleaning machines... Oh, and you forgot to mention what else appears when the snow melts - all that dog poo!

  6. I wish San Pedro had garbage gnomes or at least people who could take the time to find a trash can. It really is absurd how lazy some people are with there trash. How hard is it really to go and find a trash can.

  7. I've always thought the transistion from Winter to Spring was ugly to behold here in Canada. But I guess in Sweden they put their tax dollars to work and keep it looking fresh in no time!

  8. Sen får ju soppgubbarna också 36.000 kronor i månaden i lön... fast de som städar gatorna får nog mindre iofs... det är nog ändå rätt bra löner och vilkår och sånt som gör Stockholm till en sådan ren stad. Tyckte dock att det Anonym sa var rätt morbit. Det finns massor av ungdomar som slänger skräp i Stockholm också, och att känna ett hat emot dem är bara löjligt.

  9. @vante: Det kan da ikke være rigtigt at skraldemændene får 36,000 SEK i løn, vel?

    Ellers flyttede min svenske kollega ikke fra Sverige til Norge for at få bedre løn.

  10. @vante: http://di.se/Artiklar/2007/12/14/117309/Sa-mycket-tjanar-de-bast-betalda-inom-LO/

  11. @Mattias, din länk funkade inte, men jag kollade upp det, det var visst 34.000, ändå väldigt bra betalt. Men det var som sagt sophämtare, inte gatustädare så det är väl egentligen irrelevant. Gatustädare tjänar nog inte så bra. Man undrar vad som är hemligheten bakom Stockholms renhet då...

  12. Funny video on the topic.
    Perhaps you've seen it :)


  13. Stockholm is sure clean and also beautiful during the warm season.
    A funny story though. Today on my way to ICA, i first stepped on a sidewalk as clean as a new pin and then all of a sudden, it turned to some dirty, sandy, hilly,bumpy sort of surface! Guess gnomes went on a strike or sth.

  14. have you seen latest wikileaks.org ?


    thats just sick
    that wont make us more loved in the world now..
    look at the kids
    just sick

  15. @Anonymus

    It sad, but that's how war works. Sometimes innocent people die... the soldier who killed them thought that they had weapon and that they were insurgent.

  16. @Tacy
    Those murderers on helicopter made up a story and killed ordinary people. The guy was looking at a guy who was crawling and reported like: he's reaching for a weapon!
    Please watch the video again, and this time more carefully.

  17. Gefus, do I know what you're talking about it.
    I had the same awkward experience in my city. The night before, I was taking a night stroll, the streets were covered with little rocks for what used to be snow. The morning after, I went out for another stroll, and the streets were sparkling. not a single stone....

    What could it possible be other than invisible night cleaning-gnomes......or house elves...

  18. I think it was in The Local I read a quote along the lines of

    'Nothing says Spring Time in Sweden better than treading in a 3 month old dog turd recently uncovered by the melting snow'

  19. horribly slow on responding to these. sorry about that, so instead you just get a hello from me. hello.

  20. Haha, thats a very diplomatic anwser of you Mr. Hairy Swede =)