Waste & Recycling


Overview of Dutch Waste Management Policy

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Waste Management Themed Trade Mission to Netherlands

Day Three

Waste Management in the Netherlands

Mr. Loek Bergman

Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment

Directorate for Sustainability

The Netherlands is a densely populated country of 17 million with 500 inhabitants per square kilometer. Annually they produce about 60 million tonnes of waste per year (using a broader definition of wastes than in Canada).

In 1988 they had a relatively low recovery rate (55%) (low according to themselves).  At that point they were only diverting 16% of their household waste. At that time they had 157 landfills but only four years of capacity. They had insufficient thermal treatment capacity because of issues with dioxins. In short they were in crisis.

A key issue was that there was no national planning system at that point. Municipalities were responsible for household waste and Provinces responsible for permitting etc. There was little National (i.e. federal) involvement.

To deal with this crisis a National Waste Policy was established with the following key planks:

  1. Order of preference (prevention at the top and landfilling on the bottom)
  2. Stringent standards (e.g. decrees on landfills and thermal treatment, environmental standards for building materials, compost use and by 1995 a ban of 35 waste materials to landfill).
  3. Planning on a National level (e.g. Waste Consultation Council and development of National Waste Management Plans-includes minimum standards for about 100 waste streams)
  4. Producer responsibility (e.g. electrical and electronic equipment, end of life vehicles, tires, batteries and packaging) (industry responsibility for collection processing and financing).
  5. Various instruments (e.g. landfill tax –ca. 1998 used to support landfill bans from 1995- up to 110 euros in 2011; municipal volume/weight based fees for households)

According to Loek Bergman the key drivers included a combination of things. “There were a lot of other environmental problems such as acid rain that brought environmental concerns to the forefront. As well and more importantly there were concerns with the shortage of landfill and incineration capacity.” There was something that needed to be done about this  to deal with this looming crisis.

As Herman Huisman noted “The Province of South Holland (the most populated province in NL) had insufficient capacity and in some parts of the country waste was being temporarily stored on barges. To solve this crisis a multi stakeholder (including NGOs) approach was set up to help develop a new plan.”

To get everyone on board the philosophy of prevention and diversion became infused into this process. The Provinces lost a lot of authority to draw up waste plans and now had to implement the national plan. They cooperated because they were not able to manage it themselves anymore. This ultimately resulted in the dismantling of Provincial borders for movement and management of wastes in 2000.

The net result has been in a shift from landfilling to incineration and recycling- to the point that remaining landfill operators are finding it difficult to maintain profitability.

Today there are about 20 open landfill sites that charge between 20-40 euros/tonne. The landfill tax was rescinded in 2011 because there was too little waste being landfilled. The many waste landfill bans remain in place.

There is also an excess of incinerator capacity of about 1 million tonnes/year largely as a result of the economic downturn. Much of this capacity is now being filled with imported waste from the UK and Italy.

There are concerns that this excess capacity will start to attract recyclables and there is some consideration of the implementation of an incineration tax (current tipping fee at incinerators is about 75 euros).  It is unclear if this incineration tax will ever be implemented.

What has been most interesting about this trade mission is to see that while the Dutch are very progressive they have developed their waste management systems dealing with many of the same types of problems we have in Canada.

Current Netherlands waste management issues:

  1. More recycling of household waste
  2. Over capacity of thermal treatment
  3. Less legislation. Less administrative burden
  4. Future of landfill sector
  5. Packaging, packaging, packaging

Some of the key lessons learned over the years have included:

  1. Cooperation between authorities
  2. Producer responsibility for their products is important (will be addressed in a future blog)
  3. Invest in public awareness and acceptance
  4. Combine targets and regulation with financial instruments
  5. Separate collection at source is important



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