INTERNATIONAL: Dutch Try To Control The Flood Of Solid Waste

With the Dutch economy's environmental technology sector reportedly investing twice as much in research and development as other industrial sectors, the Netherlands is an active provider of environmental solutions.

Approximately two-thirds of the country's manufacturers of equipment designed for solid waste, air, water and soil protection applications export their products. Germany buys 20 percent of the equipment while France, England and North America purchase approximately 10 percent each.

Former secretary general of the Dutch Waste Management and Public Cleansing Association, D. Louwman, cites several reasons for the environmental push in the Netherlands. In his paper, "Solid Waste Problems and their Handling in the Netherlands," Louwman points out that the country's location is not suited for landfills. The Netherlands is situated in the delta of three rivers, lies predominantly below sea level and has a high groundwater table. Louwman suggests that a small country, such as the Netherlands, with about 480 people per square kilometer, cannot rely on landfills for disposal.

Like other consumer societies, the Netherlands is facing the challenge of managing rising volumes of waste (see table). Between 1985 and 1991, the total costs of waste disposal by municipalities increased 55 percent as regulations for landfills and combustion tightened and separate collection of compostable organic waste was introduced, according to Gemeen-tereiniging & Afvalmanagement.

Efforts to curb waste and stimulate recycling are gradually moving toward increased responsibility for the manufacturer. In Europe, producer responsibility has taken various forms in different countries. In general, there are two types of systems: mandatory take-back systems, such as Germany's; and voluntary systems, which are based on cooperative agreements between government and industry, as in the Netherlands.

Europe is now reeling from the effects of one-sided recycling policies. Germany is dumping recyclables from its Green Dot program onto the European market, thereby causing prices for paper and plastics to become negative; Dutch municipalities are finding themselves in a dilemma when it is cheaper to landfill waste paper than to collect and process it for recycling. And Austrian and French packaging laws, which took effect in 1993, are expected to add to the glut of recyclables.

[It is time to operate by the principle of] "markets first, collection second," said Fred Nijkerk of the Dutch Federation for Raw Material Recovery. "Just look at paper, plastic and compost - it's nonsense to collect anything where there is no need. Nothing demotivates like that."

In the wake of anticipated European regulations, Nijkerk predicts future growth in the recycling industry. Some segments of the industry, such as scrap metal and construction and demolition (C&D) waste recycling, will experience more growth while others, such as paper, will be affected by price dumping, and plastics are expected to face sorting problems.

Nijkerk also expects increased investments in metals separating and processing equipment and foresees a trend toward mechanical sorting of nonferrous metals.

Where internal markets are insufficient, the Dutch can draw on their strength in international trade, Nijkerk said. For example, the country exports three times as much scrap stainless steel as it collects.

The aim of Dutch waste law is threefold: to limit waste generation through prevention; to promote reuse of waste as secondary raw materials; and to provide technically sound waste handling and treatment.

Louwman describes strategic recommendations to implement this three-pronged approach, which include an examination of each waste category for feasible opportunities for waste prevention and reuse/recycling. Combustion, with reuse of the residue, would also play a major role.

C&D waste recycling, which is already at 65 percent, is expected to reach 90 percent by 2000. Composting of vegetable, fruit and garden waste is also well underway and by December of 1992, large areas of the country had achieved a participation rate of at least 50 percent, as evidenced by a map in Tijdschrift voor economische en sociale geografie. The addition of large-scale regional waste-to-energy facilities could expand the annual combustion capacity to 8 million metric tons.

Overall, the policy recommendations have the potential to reduce the waste requiring disposal to 12.4 million metric tons in 2000 and 14.4 million metric tons in 2015. By cutting their projected waste stream almost in half, the Dutch would stem the tide of waste threatening their country.