Au Revoir to Waste

FINDING WAYS TO EFFECTIVELY reduce waste is a challenge for any nation, and after studying a decade of Belgium's waste reduction programs, The Brussels Institute for the Management of the Environment (IBGE-BIM) hope to combat any problems.

The IBGE-BGM recently released a report, “Voluntary Actions Supported By Local Authorities to Encourage Waste Prevention in Europe,” summarizing its waste reduction efforts in the Brussels, Belgium, region during the past 10 years. The following are a few of the Institute's challenges and successes.

Disposable grocery bags, which account for 1 percent of total household waste, were one of the waste reduction programs' targets. To reduce use, the IBGE-BIM used radio and point-of-sale advertisements. Low-price, reusable bags also were distributed to customers in stores. Before the campaign was initiated in 1999, 3.5 percent of area households used reusable bags. By 2000, reusable bag use had risen to 5.7 percent.

The Institute found that unsolicited advertising was another large source of waste, amounting to 12,400 tonnes per year in the Brussels region. In 1999, the IBGE-BIM began a campaign that would allow residents to refuse unwanted advertising. With legal backing from the legislature, a mailbox sticker was created so that residents who did not want to receive unsolicited ads could place them on their mailboxes. The efforts began in 1999 with the distribution of the sticker and brochures, and radio and television advertising campaigns. In 1998, 5 percent of the population was using the sticker, which increased to 19 percent by 2003.

Organic waste comprises between 25 percent and 30 percent of total household waste, and up to 36 percent of total waste in homes with gardens. Consequently, IBGE-BIM wanted to increase residents' use of at-home composting. The Institute set up a network of volunteer composting experts to provide technical advice and lead training programs. IBGE-BIM also conducted information campaigns using radio and television. Before the campaign began, between 6 percent and 15 percent of area residents composted organic waste at home. After the campaign's completion, 28 percent of surveyed residents said they always compost, and 10 percent said they sometimes compost.

During the past decade, IBGE-BIM has worked with schools, which produce an estimated total of 10,000 tonnes of waste per year, to reduce waste. Of the waste schools produce, paper accounts for 14 percent, drink bottles account for 30 percent, and various items, including food packaging, account for 31 percent of waste. Because schools each copy up to 100,000 pages per year, photocopies were the main target of paper reduction. Programs were set up to promote the use of double-sided copies. The institute also helped to build drinking fountains to reduce drink bottle waste and promoted the use of canteens and lunch boxes to reduce food packaging waste. As a result of these and other programs, the percentage of students using reusable cups rose from 22 percent to 51 percent, and the percentage using aluminum fell from 34 percent to 8 percent. Meanwhile, paper use at each school declined anywhere between 35 percent and 65 percent.

The IBGE-BIM continues to look for ways to reduce waste and will be conducting testing through 2007.

  • EACH BRUSSELS RESIDENT PRODUCES AN AVERAGE OF 1 KG OF WASTE PER DAY

  • FOOD WASTE IN BRUSSELS AMOUNTS TO 14,200 TONNES PER YEAR

  • MSW IN THE EUROPEAN UNION IS 500 KG PER PERSON PER YEAR, UP FROM 200 KG PER CAPITA IN THE 1960S.

  • ALMOST 5,000 TONNES OF TEXTILES ARE FOUND IN MSW EACH YEAR IN BRUSSELS.

  • BRUSSELS BUSINESSES PRODUCE 100,000 TONNES OF WASTE ANNUALLY, OF WHICH 35 PERCENT TO 40 PERCENT IS PAPER AND CARDBOARD.