Solid Waste & Recycling


Environment and Waste Technology in the Netherlands

In the second week of October, 2011, I had the privilege of joining a dozen or so other Canadian environment and waste industry professionals on a trade mission hosted by the Kingdom of the Netherlands. On the trip -— which lasted a week...

In the second week of October, 2011, I had the privilege of joining a dozen or so other Canadian environment and waste industry professionals on a trade mission hosted by the Kingdom of the Netherlands. On the trip -— which lasted a week — our group crisscrossed the country for a close-up view of a range of facilities and processes to deal with everything from municipal solid waste to the recycling of old mattresses, from technologies to remediate contaminated soil to incinerators for hazardous materials.

Our trade mission included meetings with government officials at The Hague, attendance and “matchmaking” at the large Milieubeurs environmental trade show in Den Bosch, a reception at the Canadian Embassy (where Aim Environmental signed an agreement with another company) and numerous site visits.

The trip reaffirmed my long-standing conviction that Northern countries have much to teach and share with their circumpolar peers; indeed, many Dutch technologies and equipment arrays are available to solve environmental problems in Canada, just as Canadian solutions could be commercialized and exported there.

Land and limitations

There are interesting things about the Netherlands that make it uniquely qualified to develop environmental technologies and export them overseas, starting with its land mass, which is in large part recovered from the sea or shoreline bogs. If there’s a country that understands soil, it’s the Netherlands, and Dutch companies such as Boskalis International (a.k.a. Stuyvesant) are demonstrating soil cleanup technologies in Alberta’s oil sands. At points on the tour our guide would mention that the bus was crossing onto land reclaimed from the ocean a few decades ago; an hour later he’d point out that we were now exiting that land — the bus had driven 100 kms per hour all that time.

With the country networked with dykes and much of it below sea level, it’s not surprising that landfilling is banned; thirty-five waste streams are banned and currently less than five per cent of waste is landfilled these days (mostly asbestos that was once used, among other things, by farmers to create pathways on their lands).

Land pressures have forced the Dutch to invest in every alternative to landfilling, including aggressive recycling and other forms of waste diversion.

As one would expect, wherever landfill is banned, incineration is used. Upwards of a dozen waste-to-energy (WTE) incineration plants dot the landscape of the Netherlands, most of them state-of -the-art affairs with emissions at non-detect levels. Indeed, incineration overcapacity was cited several times on our tour as a problem, with the plants competing for waste and, in fact, necessitating the import of waste from places such as the United Kingdom. 

A highlight of our tour was visiting the brand new OMRIN WTE plant scheduled to treat 210,000 tonnes per year (tpy) of waste from 36 municipalities (27 of them local Friesen jurisdictions) or about 173,000 households. Built at a cost of € 150 million, the plant will be paid for by the end of its 15-year contract. A common concern with such plants is that they may compete with recycling programs for high-BTU wastes such as plastic soda bottles; it was reassuring to discover that such wastes are diverted from the waste that’s fed into the incinerator (I visually saw none in the feedstock), largely because the government pays a generous 390/tonne for separated plastics — much higher than the tip fee for the incinerator. Indeed, the Packaging Directive states that 42 per cent of plastic packaging must be recycled by 2012, and municipalities are paid incentives to divert this material from disposal.

The plant’s bottom ash is incorporated into road aggregate; the toxic fly ash, meanwhile, is shipped to underground salt mines in Germany.

In support of waste diversion, several financial instruments are available. The fee for disposing combustible waste in the Netherlands is, at the moment, € 107/tonne; landfilling the same waste costs about € 120/tonne. Some municipalities use a volume-based variable fee to charge for waste services, typically € 250 per household. Most jurisdictions in the country encourage source-separation of organic waste, paper and cardboard, plastics and glass. Many use wheeled containers, and every municipality must offer residents public drop-off depots.

All of this has led to impressive results: iIn 2010 around 80 per cent of the Netherland’s waste was recycled, 16 per cent incinerated and only a small fraction (three to four per cent) was landfilled.

Technology innovation

The Netherlands has imposed some nation-wide legislation that waste managers in other jurisdictions can only dream of, as these have spurred technological innovation. For example, in the early 1990s separate collection of organics was mandated, which led to investment in composting and anaerobic digestion technology and techniques. Requirements to recycle plastics has led to investment in better equipment to recover those materials, and the need for recycled soil has led to an explosion of expertise in soil washing and other forms of site remediation.

As anyone who has visited the busy port of Amsterdam would know, Holland is one of the world’s leading export nations, so most investments in domestic technologies are made with one eye on foreign markets, and most of the companies with whom we met spoke at length about demonstrating their solutions at home, then selling them around the world.

At the Milieubeurs environmental trade show we met with Luc Klunder of Gicom Composting Systems whose company took tunnel composting from the mushroom industry and adapted it for large-scale municipal purposes. Gicom has since built more than 70 facilities worldwide. Similarly, Ward Janssens of Orgaworld described his company’s anaerobic process for organics wastes, which is in operation near London, Ontario, is constructing another in Ottawa and has plans for two more in Quebec. Frank Geerts and Henk Roeven of the Christiaens Group described their in-vessel system that’s finding favour in towns and cities across Canada, most recently with a plant that just opened in the City of Guelph that was built by a consortium of BioRem, Christeans Group and Maple Reinders, and will be operated by Aim Environmental. (See article, page 44.) We also met with Christel Bockting of Trisplast at the company’s exhibit on the trade show floor; Trisoplast produces an interesting  landfill liner made with bentonite clay, the even settling properties of which provide advantages over synthetic landfill liners, which could be especially of interest to customers in the solid waste and mining industries.

At VAR Recycling our group was treated to the Dutch idea of a landfill, which was primarily a place where waste is sorted and recycled. As Ruurd van Schaik, Director of Engineering, explained, the facility manages and diverts construction and demolition (C&D) waste, with rubble being valuable in Holland; compost and biomass are processed onsite in organic digesters that generate 80,000 tpy of compost for the potting industry and green fuels. Refuse-derived fuel pellets are sold to cement kilns The facility also recycles artificial turf, separating the sand, the green “grass” from the black rubber backing. VAR also has a soil washing facility as part of its extensive landfill excavation and reclamation project.

Later in the week we were able to view the downstream fate of plastics diverted from disposal via places like VAR Recycling. Ton van der Giessen and Rob Labots showed us around the Van Werven pla
nt, which specializes in plastics recycling, especially the difficult resins from which garden furniture (for instance) and large children’s toys may be made. The company processes 10,000 kilos of garden furniture per week, among 15 to 20 trucks that drop off mixed plastic each day. The plant employs 60 people who work around the clock six days per week producing plastic pellets that can be half the price for manufacturers than virgin resin. We later visited the manufacturing plant of Lankhorst Recycling in Sneek, a subsidiary of a large conglomerate that started out in marine rope and now makes everything from large nautical buoys to plastic decking to pipe protective sleeves used in offshore oil & gas drilling operations. Huge “Van Werven” totes full of recycled plastic pellets were present throughout the plant.

In Lelystad we visited a mattress recycling plant operated by Retour Matras, which designed all its own specialized equipment and collects mattresses via a system of transport containers deployed at retailers and waste depots across the country, paying haulers a percentage of a recycling fee.

Another highlight of the trade mission was our visit to ATM Moerdijk — operator of the world’s largest hazardous waste treatment plant. Our host, CEO Wim Hulshof explained the complicated history of the company which overcame economic and technical hurdles to become the profitable enterprise it is today, currently as a subsidiary of UK-based Shanks. ATM receives and processes all kinds of hazardous wastes, but is especially effective at treating contaminated soils in its large rotary kiln. With prices in the range of just 50 to 60 Euros per tonne, it’s arguable that in some instances it could make sense to send tanker ship loads all the way from North America to the Netherlands for treatment at ATK. (In fact, the company receives such shipments from all over the world.)

Another company we visited was Biolake, whose Jan Pronk showed us a small-footprint system designed to turn about 8,000 tpy of agricultural waste into energy, and garner greenhouse gas credits for clients. No trip to Holland would be complete without visiting an equipment manufacturer in the recycling plant space; Dutch equipment suppliers like Bollegraaf are well known in Canada; we visited a company called Nihot, whose manager Cees Dujjn showed us around. About 95 per cent of the plant’s operation is geared to export. The company got its start making simple small single-burner stoves in the aftermath of WWII and gradually developed into a manufacturer of recycling equipment of different types (e.g., drum separators, balers, shredders, etc.). One of Nihot’s specialities is air-knife air separators, which accurately sort light from heavy fractions in recycling streams.

Separate excursions on the trade mission included a discussion in Leeuwarden on sustainable water technology with Hein Molenkamp, director of the Water Alliance of the Netherlands, plus a visit to a demonstration site for desalination operated by Blue Energy; some remarked on the very interesting apparatus called a “Dutch Rainmaker,” which was a high-tech windmill adapted to condense moisture out of the air and turn it into drinkable water.

On the last day a delegation of those with a special interest in soil visited the largest soil remediation project in the Netherlands — a former dumping ground in Volgermeerpolder that was transformed, in part from peat-forming, into a park.


Guy Crittenden is editor of this magazine. Contact Guy at

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