Tim Sibthorp kindly sent us this report about water supply and sanitation in Sweden, saying he thought it might be useful for our water around the world page.

How Swedes use water

As Tim is a Brit who has lived in Sweden for the last 30 years, I asked him whether there are any differences or similarities he noticed about water use in the two countries. He replied as follows:

“Most Swedes I know shower every morning; teenagers quite often shower twice a day. In my family (two teenage children) once every two days is usual, more often in the summer (due to blueberry & raspberry stains). Showers tend to be long and hot after the first coffee of the morning (short consensus among workmates). I assume Brits still have a bath every Friday whether they need it or not…”

Water and wastewater in Sweden

Moving swiftly on from this view of Britain as a country where very little washing happens (a view held by many countries, see Cath’s shower blog for an Australian joke on the same theme), the report, (written by the Swedish Water & Wastewater Association) makes for very interesting reading. It was produced in 2000 but is the most recent report on their website so I assume it is still current. A few highlights from the report are:

9% of the total area of Sweden is lakes, and with a population of just 9 million, only 0.5 % of the theoretically available resource is extracted for municipal use. Water supply and sanitation including the management of stormwater is the task of the local government or municipality, who are responsible for setting fees.

Water supply

Average water consumption in households is 200 litres/person/day (compared to 150 in the UK). Water consumption is broken down into 10 litres for drinking and food, 40 litres for flushing the WC, 40 litres for dish-washing, 30 litres for laundry, 70 litres for personal hygiene (40 litres in the UK) and 10 litres for other uses.

In 2000 leakage in the network was 20%.

Sewage treatment

Sewers were combined until the mid 1950’s. Since then a separate system (one foul sewer and one stormwater sewer) has been preferred for new developments and several combined systems have been rebuilt into separate systems. But 20 to 25 % of all urbanised areas are still served by combined sewers, mostly in older and central parts of cities. Sewage treatment was introduced in the 1930’s, with a massive building of treatment plants in the 1960s and 70’s. This investment has led to a decrease in pollution load on the receiving waters down to the same levels as in 1900. Effluent standards for treated wastewater are extremely high.


Average cost for water supply and treatment in 2000 was 14.1 Swedish Kroner (SEK) per m3, with different tariffs in different areas. Once fixed costs are added the average family pays SEK 4,200 per year. The rates in the least expensive municipality are less than SEK 2,000 whilst the most expensive charge more than SEK 7,000.1

The future

Sweden is considering urine removal from sewage and sewage treatment that will minimise the use of chemicals. Stainless steel pipes may replace copper pipes for water distribution within buildings to reduce traces of copper in sewage sludge. Research is being carried out how best to access phosphorous within sewage sludge. At present little sewage sludge is used on land due to doubts about contaminants within it. For stormwater management, the trend is towards SUDs.

Tim Sibthorp


  1. 14.1 SEK is £1.40. SEK 4,200 is £420. SEK 2,000 is £200. SEK 7,000 is £700.

Posted January 2013

Water supply and sanitation in Sweden – Tim Sibthorp, Sweden