Solid Waste & Recycling


Let's Go Dutch

As part of our ongoing effort to bring Solid Waste & Recycling readers information about innovative and interesting waste management and recycling systems SW&R's editor recently toured various facilit...

As part of our ongoing effort to bring Solid Waste & Recycling readers information about innovative and interesting waste management and recycling systems SW&R’s editor recently toured various facilities and met with waste industry leaders and government representatives in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands stands out as one of the most environmentally advanced countries in the European Union and the world, perhaps out of sheer necessity. With half of its landmass reclaimed from the sea, sensitive groundwater levels, and the highest population density in Europe, the 16 million people who live on 41,160 square kilometres (the size of Polar Bear Park on the shore of Hudson Bay) are keen to maintain a clean environment.

Meetings and tours were attended in The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam with: the Dutch Waste Processing Association (“VVAV” in Dutch); the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Affairs and Environment; the Dutch Foundation Disposal Metalectro Products; Grontmij Consulting Engineers; AVR (a leading waste processing plant); MIREC (a leading electronics recycling company); Bakker Magnetics; and, Auto Recycling Nederland (ARN).

The Dutch view waste as a source of renewable energy and rich compost, producing about 500,000 tonnes of compost and 3,000 kilowatts of electricity from 7.5 million tonnes of waste annually. A further 800,000 tonnes of incinerator bottom ash are used on roads). Just one million tonnes of residential waste was disposed in 2001 and the Netherlands boasts some of the highest recycling rates in the world: paper and glass stand at 70 and 90 per cent respectively.

The comprehensive waste management system features:

monitored residential multi-stream recycling, including a national organics program;

producer take-back systems for electric and electronic products in which industry and consumers “go Dutch” to cover the costs of collecting and processing waste;

regional plastics reuse and recycling initiatives, including a PET beverage container deposit-refund program; and,

a national policy that virtually all waste that can’t be recycled or composted is used to generate energy.


The VVAV works to optimize the conditions under which waste management and recycling stakeholders process waste. With a focus on high environmental standards and cost efficiency, VVAV represents the interests of composting firms, operators of incineration and landfill facilities and processors of waste.

“Municipalities can only do so much,” says Henk Brons, head of policy at the VVAV, “Extended producer responsibility through take-back programs is essential to divert other materials such as batteries, PVC window frames, and beer crates. Special covenants with industry are also helpful.”

More than 20 such public-private covenants exist. One example is the Packaging Convenant II, which was signed by government and industry in 1997. This covenant stipulates guidelines to reduce and reuse packaging materials, including a recycling target of 65 per cent brought onto the market as of June 30, 2001.

In addition to municipal policies and covenants, stringent legislation (or “decrees”) with regard to waste and recycling is enforced across the country.

“Just say no” to landfills

The “Prohibition on Landfilling Waste Decree” promotes a goal to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill to just four per cent by 2010. The decree states that only waste that cannot be reused or recycled may be landfilled, prohibiting the landfilling of 32 categories of household and industrial solid waste. The average tipping fee is about $300/tonne (versus $100/tonne in Ontario).

As a result, the number of landfills in the Netherlands has been drastically reduced — from more than 1,000 in 1976 to about 35 in 2000 — as well as the amount of waste sent to landfills. In 1990, waste processors landfilled about 14 million tonnes of residential and industrial waste; in 2000 this amount fell to about six million tonnes.

Landfill gas is collected to generate electricity at most sites. In 1998, 89 cubic metres of landfill gas generated 145 GWh of electricity, or the amount used by about 47,000 households in one year.

Organics are “goed” (as the Dutch say)

Since January 1, 1994 all Dutch municipalities are legally obliged to collect all vegetable, garden and fruit (VGF) waste — which accounts for about half of the residential waste stream — separately from other household waste. Thanks to a spirited advertising and educational campaign, there is about an 80 per cent participation rate and in 1998 this amounted to 1.5 million tonnes, from which 0.5 million tonnes of compost was produced. Two anaerobic digestion plants process both compost and biogas.

The VVAD is working to improve the quality of the compost produced. About a third of all compost receives a “Keurocompost” quality label to indicate that the compost is free of contamination, including pathogens, salts and heavy metals, and weed seeds. Approved compost is used on municipal green space, farms, gardens, and to grow those famous bulbs.

Other waste

To recover electronic appliances used in private households, the “Disposal of White and Brown Goods Decree” has been in effect in the Netherlands since January 1, 1999. About 125,000 tonnes of white goods (refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, ovens) and brown goods (televisions, audio equipment) are discarded annually. The regulation requires manufacturers and importers to take back and process all end-of-life appliances in an environmentally safe way.

Extended producer responsibility mechanisms are also in place for products such as computer and telecommunication equipment. The Nederland~ ICT (information technology equipment) federation was initiated to manage computers, printers and telecommunication equipment on June 13, 2001 — well in advance of the proposed European Union directives and proposed programs in North America. (See Cover Story in the October/November edition.)

Even car wrecks are efficiently recycled. In 1997 about 270,000 cars were scrapped in the Netherlands, which equals about 250,000 tonnes. About 86 per cent of this amount was recycled. The ARN implements a formal structure to track all registrations and manage disposal fees for domestic and imported automobiles.

As Mr. Brons says, “We aim to do the best we can to reduce and reuse all of our waste materials. If every country shared this goal the world would be a cleaner, more efficient place to live in.”

Connie Vitello is editor of this magazine. E-mail Connie at

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