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Nordic winter: survive (and have fun) when the temperature drops

Brrrr!!!! The cold of another Nordic winter is here. No doubt about it. Luckily, all of us here at sulonorth can call ourselves sort of experts on how to handle the below zero temperatures and the dark temperamental skies of Northern Europe. This is not our first reindeer rodeo after all. Here are 8 tips for surviving the extreme Nordic winter conditions.

1. Hygge (do it hardcore)

If you have not heard the Danish word “hygge” you have probably been living under a rock. Basically it means taking cosiness to the extreme. We are talking about candles, smooth lightning, cosy home decor, comfortable sitting areas, fuzzy blankets and hot drinks. These all make “hygge”. You will be spending a lot of time inside during the winter. So make your home as “hygge” as possible. Good lighting is key to achieving this during the dark months. You cannot spend too much on scented candles, herbal teas, mulled wine or hot chocolate at this time of the year. Also, cosy warm robes (or better yet blanket robes, Google it, and thank us later) and wool socks are a must for anyone living this far north!

2. Force yourself out

This can be seen as counterproductive since we just told you to invest a small fortune on good lighting and cosy pillows. It’s important though to try to get out during daylight hours whenever you can. Better yet, try one of the crazy Nordic outdoor activities like cross-country skiing, sledding or skating. Who knows, you might just fall in love with it. Spending time in nature is an extremely important step for winter survival because it undoubtedly reduces depression and anxiety. If you live in Helsinki, we strongly suggest a walk in Lauttasaari. If you drive anywhere make sure you have your winter tires!

Bright sunny day and snow piles in Helsinki
Piles of snow in Helsinki!

3. Warm clothes

The importance of wearing warm attire in Northern Europe is clear during the winter months. You will be miserable without it. It is good to invest in some proper winter clothes so that being outside and taking the longer walks recommended in Step 2 won’t feel so extreme. Outdoor activity won’t be enjoyable if you are feeling you are freezing your ass off the entire time. Also, pro-tip, take a thermos full of your favourite hot drink with you to enjoy at break time while taking in the beautiful winter scenery.

4. Invest in energy-giving light therapy lights 

Light therapy really works. 30 mins a day is all is needed. Turn it on as you wake up and have your breakfast. Your energy levels will immediately go up. Ströme Energy lights are what we use.

5. Discover a new hobby or interest even if just for the winter

Start to try new food recipes or get into building miniature trains. Anything you can do indoors when it is already dark at 4pm. Something you might not have done in the summer since you didn’t want to waste time indoors. Now it is time to try it. Bonus points if you take a course at a university or community centre away from home. Also, now it is the perfect time to start reading those classics you always wanted to but never felt you had time for or had better things to do outside. Maybe learn about P2P-lending.

6. Explore the indoors outside your home

There is a lot of things to do indoors. There are many museums throughout the Nordics. If you are in Finland, wintertime is a good time to invest in a museum card that gives you free access to hundreds of museums around Finland. Many museums are also kid friendly and have kid play areas. Also, malls often have nice kid areas for those with tiny humans. Other fun indoor activities could be movies, theatre and bowling. 

Snow at Töölönlahti in Helsinki Finland
Snow covered Töölönlahti in Helsinki.

7. Fun and games

A cold Nordic winter is the perfect time to get hooked on games or start binge-watching a new addictive show. As it happens, Apple released its mobile game subscription service Apple Arcade just recently. Though still a work in progress, Apple does grant a one month free trial to all new users. Winter is the best possible time to take advantage of this deal. The games can also be played on the Apple TV with a PlayStation game controller. For those more into traditional games, there are many fun board games to spend those cold winter days with family or friends indoors.

8. Eat well and exercise

Maybe it’s a cliche but remember to eat healthy and exercise. To survive the dark and cold make sure you get all the vitamins you need. The best way to do this is with help from a varied diet. It might also be useful to take D Vitamin supplements if you don’t consume any dairy products. Some dairy products are fortified with D vitamin in the Nordics to make sure people get enough with the lack of sunlight. 

(9. Finland bonus: sauna time)

Three words: Weekly sauna shift! Utilise it! Most people in Finland have easy access to a sauna, either there is one in your own apartment/house or there is a shared one in the apartment building you can book once a week for yourself. A Nordic winter is the perfect time to start using it. While at it, experiment with different sauna oils and scents to take your relaxation to a whole new level.

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Why Sweden is the waste king of Nordic Europe

Want to live in Finland or another Nordic country? Get ready to spend a lot of time sorting waste and recycling.

In Finland, most apartments and houses contain multiple bins for waste sorting by type. You carry it outside regardless of the weather and dispose of it in one of several different receptacles: biological, mixed, cardboard, plastic, paper, cans, glasses, and hazardous (batteries, small electronics).

Compare this to Britain, where residents usually put out three bins: food waste, mixed recycling, and garden waste. In countries such as the UAE and Turkey, people generally do not recycle at all.

I chose these countries as examples because I can speak from first-hand experience after living for multiple years in each. The point is that Northern Europe is a leader when it comes to waste treatment and recycling.

How do they do it in Sweden and Finland?

In Sweden, nearly half of general waste is sent for energy recovery. The country is so good at burning waste, which produces steam for electricity producing turbines, that it imports waste from other nations, including Norway and Finland. The energy is used to heat Swedes’ homes and even to power buses.

Some numbers from Swedish Waste Management and Recycling Association Avfall Sverige:

  • In 2018, each Swedish citizen produced 466kg of household waste.
  • In 2017, each Swede produced 473kg (so waste per person in Sweden is being reduced – at least between 2017 and 2018!).
  • In 2018, 15.5% of household waste was treated biologically.
  • Nearly 50% of household waste went to energy recovery in 2018.  
  • Only 0.68% of the waste went to landfills.

Finns, on the other hand, produced 510kg of waste per person in 2017. In Finland, most of the municipal solid waste is treated for energy recovery. The rest gets recycled and only a tiny amount is sent to landfills, as per data from Statistics Finland.

The most dramatic change with Finnish municipal waste management happened in 2016 when the dumping of municipal waste in landfills decreased substantially compared to previous years, coming in at 3%. This change was due to a regulation that banned dumping organic waste into landfills. 

Helsinki neighborhood waste center door
Fall in line and recycle as you are told!

Why are Danes the largest waste producers in EEA?

NOTE: How countries define municipal waste varies. Sometimes the term covers a wide amount of commercial waste. This is the situation in Denmark, which partly explains the large amount of generated municipal waste per capita. Therefore, the figures below are not completely comparable between countries.

Danes produced the most municipal waste in the European Economic Area at a staggering 781kg per capita in 2017. In Norway, the figure was close at 748kg. In Iceland, the third biggest waste producer, it was 656kg. 

This puts Scandinavian nations on the top of the list for municipal waste generators. This can partly be explained by the wealth of these nations. Usually, rich nations produce more municipal waste than less wealthy nations within the EEC.

However, Sweden and Finland are producing much less waste and are also wealthy countries.

Urbanisation is considered another important contributor to Denmark’s high level of waste. However, perhaps the main reason for the high figure is the way that municipal waste is determined, according to Denmark’s Environmental Implementation Review 2019. The review also states that Denmark is among the countries with the lowest amount of landfill waste in the EU at 1%.

Why does Sweden import waste?

Currently, Sweden imports more than 1.3 million tonnes of waste from other European countries. Nearly half of this waste comes from Norway, but also Finland exports waste to its western neighbour. Why is that?


Finland has a problem when it comes to energy recovery at home. The country’s waste burning facilities are overcapacity. That is why a lot of Finland’s waste is sent to Sweden and Estonia. All in all, Finland exported 100,000 tons of mixed waste in 2018, according to Yle.

A ban on dumping organic waste in landfills also increased the amount of municipal waste being burned. If Finland’s waste incinerators only took in household waste they would have enough capacity. However, they also accept industrial waste.

Finland Waste by Sector 2017
Finland Waste by Sector 2017

Finland is building a new waste incinerator facility in Salo, but it won’t be ready until 2021. Finland’s largest waste management facility (in Vantaa) is also being expanded. However, for the time being, it seems Finland will keep exporting waste to its neighbours to the south and west.

Trash means cash

In Norway, the problem is not related to capacity but the free-market economy. Norway has enough facilities to burn its waste at home. The capacity was built up after landfill dumping was banned in 2009. However, Swedish waste burners compete in the Norwegian market. They offer a cheaper price due to lower costs in Sweden. 

It seems that Sweden is destined to sit on the Nordic waste throne for the foreseeable future.