Recycling: facts and fiction

21st July 2003, Comments 0 comments

Recycling: facts and fiction

Residents can recycle glass, paper, organic waste, chemical and paint waste, batteries and clothes.

It seems the Dutch take environmental issues very seriously - so seriously that the national government was dissolved in 1989 as a result of disasterous environmental planning.

As a small country which must allocate residential and industrial zones in relativly small areas, the recycling of waste products in the Netherlands becomes essential.

"I have always been surprised how willing consumers are to separate their rubbish," said Robert van Duin, a chemical engineer specialising in environmental issues.

Van Duin has been advising the government on recycling for the past 20 years.

"Because the government collapsed over these issues, it shows how important the environment was as a political issue 15-20 years ago," he said.

"But while they are still more important than - say the US - the importance as an issue has lessened over the past few years. The questions of how to go on have changed"

For example, government statistics revealed that more than 60 percent of both paper and glass waste was recycled, but Van Duin said recycling methods were not always the best option.

"Take glass, which has the highest rate of recycling ... but we are now aware that it is better to use re-fillable bottles than to process the glass," he said.

Another problem with recycling is from the GFT waste (vegetable, fruit and garden waste) collected for composting. Sometimes the organic waste is already too polluted or the recycling centres are filled too quickly.

Recycling questions

An important question now arises: how good is the recycled product?

"In the case of plastics, recyling delivers a very low-grade end-product," Van Duin said.

"It is the manner in which it is collected that creates the most problems in quality."

In other words, the cheaper and quicker the process, the lower quality end-product.

Another question is how much the government spend on recycling all of these products?

"The government only pays for studies," Van Duin said.

"It is not a question of what a government is willing to do, but what industries are willing to do.

"While the idealism of the government to tackle these issues has lessened, they have found another manner in which to deal with it by making the creators of the waste pay for its disposal."

So, for industry that means agreements on cleaning up industrial waste, for consummers that means extra taxes on electrical items to cover the cost of their eventual disposal.

But according to Van Duin, problems arise because the industries are fond at finding ways to cut costs, just like consumers look for ways to reduce their tax burden.

"The government does not monitor it enough," he said.

"Interestingly, it is easier in the US because of the freeedom of information act.

"Environmentalists can get the information they need."


There are many problems related to recycling and other environmental issues.

"Industries have been very active with industrial by-products, but have done little on product or packaging waste. This is the real problem now," Van Duin said.

But what about the rumours that often separated waste simply gets dumped into one big land-fill?

"It's true," Van Duin said.

"Sometimes it does happen, but it is still less than 10 percent of the waste."

Recycling is still popular

Despite the problems, people are still willing to recycle their waste and you can also contribute to the health of the environment by making it a part of your routine to separate and dispose your waste.

It does help to cut down the amount of landfill waste that is simply being wasted.

For further information, contact the Milieudienst Amsterdam 020 551 38 38.

Subject: Dutch recycling

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