April 1, 1995

12 Min Read
Flemish Programs Combat Household Hazardous Wastes Into The Future

Robert Sinclair and Ann Vandeputte

Flanders, a region of Belgium with 5.8 million inhabitants occupying an area of 5,200 square miles, has experienced wide-spread industrialization and growth in the last 30 years. As a result, the region is generating an increasing amount of municipal solid waste (MSW).

Bordering Luxembourg, the Neth-erlands, France and Germany and known for its lace, beer and chocolates, Belgium is comprised of three regions, Brussels, Flanders and Wal-lonia. Each region is responsible for managing its own solid waste.

To address waste-related issues on behalf of the Flemish Government, the Flemish Public Waste Agency (OVAM) was created in 1981. One of OVAM's planning, permitting and operational activities has been developing a comprehensive household hazardous waste (HHW) program.

In March 1991, the Flemish government passed progressive legislation on collecting and treating HHW. In Belgium, only Brussels has similar legislation. In Europe, the Neth-erlands also is particularly active in recovering its HHW stream. But the European Union has not developed related regulations or directives to date.

Since Flanders incinerates most of its municipal solid waste, HHW legislation was necessary as a pollution control measure and to respond to growing concerns for public health and safety. Specifically, all 308 Flemish jurisdictions were given un-til the end of 1993 to implement household hazardous waste collection programs.

TThe legislation requires: * All households to receive a special household collection container (called a milieubox) at the region's expense;

* All communities to implement one of three specified collection op-tions (or a combination thereof); and

* The collector and the post-collection recipient of the HHW to be ap-propriately permitted by OVAM.

The legislation also defined household hazardous materials, targeting 10 categories of HHW, including paints; inks; glues; oils; resins; and greases; solvents; acids; cleaning products; bases; household batteries; items containing mercury; substances of mixed composition; and packaging with HHW residue.

Light bulbs and hypodermic needles are excluded from the list of targeted materials. While they are not considered hazardous, they are problematic when placed with regular waste. For now, OVAM requests that HHW operators accept needles and bulbs brought in by residents who are then informed by front-line staff that alternative disposal op-tions will be available shortly.

Under imminent legislation, the needles will be considered medical waste. Doctors and dentists in Flan-ders already are provided with special containers for waste needles. The proper disposal of light bulbs has not been determined yet but may involve related manufacturers and distributors in a take-back (re-turn-to-retailer) system. Hypodermic needles may be recovered in the same way.

Small retail generators would like to bring their hazardous materials to the depots, which are essentially the same as household hazardous wastes. However, since non-household generators are often charged for collection and treatment of these materials, they are often deposited in other, less desirable destinations.

On one side of the issue, municipalities believe that the handling of commercial hazardous wastes is not their responsibility. To accommodate these materials, they would need to increase the size of container parks at their cost. In addition, the site permits would have to be extended since more conditions and restrictions apply to non-household haz-waste. On the other hand, many commercial enterprises produce haz-waste in quantities that are very small and therefore too expensive to be specially treated.

Regional Assistance Approximately one year after the legislation came into effect, OVAM produced a detailed guide to assist Flemish communities in planning, implementing and operating their HHW programs. The manual defines and explains the legislation; identifies and targets HHW; provides de-tails on the milieubox; addresses roles and responsibilities; outlines collection options; identifies recyclable HHW materials; and summarizes management issues. Commu-nities are free to design their own programs as long as they meet the implementation deadline and certain minimum safety standards.

To encourage effective programs, the Flemish region will provide fi-nancial support in proportion to the quantity of HHW collected and until the end of 1995 (a flat rate was not considered to be enough incentive). For example, if less than 1 kilogram per inhabitant per year is recovered, the resident will receive a specified amount of money from the region.

During the first collection year, the program offered an additional a-mount for each kilogram recovered as a start-up incentive. In order to earn the subsidies from the region, communities are required to provide a minimal level of service vis-a-vis collection frequency. For instance, house-to-house collection is required twice a year; area-to-area is required four times a year; container parks are required once a month; and a combination of methods requires the same frequencies.

In addition to specifying collection options and minimum collection frequencies, all municipalities must monitor the quantity of HHW actually recovered on a monthly basis. All residents bringing HHW must be registered, which serves as a check on non-residential generators as well as non-residents. OVAM acts as a clearinghouse for all of the data compiled.

Collection Options OVAM's manual addresses establishing HHW programs, providing planning and operational details, safety precautions, essential equipment requirements, case study ex-amples and estimated cost ranges.

More than 2 million milieuboxes were purchased and distributed to all households in Flanders. Each plastic box holds about 13 gallons (50 liters) and has a child-proof, locking lid. A cardboard liner or in-sert protects the milieubox and makes material unloading easier. The cardboard box is replaced each time it's taken out, and targeted HHW items are identified on the box. Recently, one individual was seen bringing his box to the vehicle on the back of his bicycle.

The box, however, is too small for large HHW items such as paint cans and fluorescent tubes. The child-proof lock also has proven difficult for adults and older people have had some difficulties handling the box.

House-to-house collection of household hazardous waste is ac-complished with a custom-designed, walk-in vehicle with different containers for the materials. The materials are sorted at the collection point by the vehicle crew (usually a single person). Homeowners bring out their container when they see the collection vehicle in their street. Once the vehicle has finished its collection route, it travels to a transfer station or depot and unloads the material into larger containers. A final sort may also be conducted at that time. According to Flemish regulations, house-to-house collection must oc-cur at least twice per year. This collection system is convenient for older people who are more likely to be at home during the day.

It is also an expensive system. Residents must be at home during the day to take advantage of the collection, which is difficult for those who work. It is also possible that the vehicle will pass by without being noticed. In addition, weekend collection is too costly to consider. The box itself cannot be left outside unattended even with the child-proof locking lid.

The same house-to-house collection vehicle may be used to collect from area to area. The local authority divides the community into service areas where central collection points are identified, such as parking lots and shopping centers. A rotating schedule is the central feature of this approach.

People at work cannot take advantage of a service offered only during the day. Moreover, the collection schedule is thrown into disarray when large numbers of people show up at a collection point that may only be open for a short period of time. Long lines of people discourage would-be participants. Scheduling can be difficult to establish at the outset; but after some experience, the right time tables fall into place. Inclement weather (common in Belgium) also tends to keep non-vehicular traffic away.

Also known as drop-off depots or civic amenity sites, container parks are reportedly the simplest and cheapest systems to establish and operate. Container parks should in-clude a designated shed where separate containers safely store materials. If a community follows OVAM's design for a HHW depot building, 60 percent of building costs will be covered by the region.

Container parks generally require significant space, usually in industrial areas or on the outskirts of town, so their location may not be convenient for everyone. Depending on the facility's location, it is possible that only people with vehicles may be able to use container parks. Ironically, container parks are often more convenient for non-household generators. Additionally, these sites must be secure outside operating hours.

The community of Boekhoute hosts the HHW collection vehicle once every three months. Although the vehicle only stays for two hours in the early evening, as many as 100 people will drop off their household hazardous wastes. Most communities prefer collections on Saturdays, which presents certain challenges for the operator, who must find the vehicles and the staff to meet the de-mand and must pay overtime wages.

The collection vehicle is about 20 cubic meters long with a side door and 60-gallon plastic barrels inside. The barrels are bar-coded with information about the type, packaging and location of the contents. Res-idents hand their milieuboxes and bags of HHW to the vehicle operator who notes the contents in his ledger before sorting the material into a maximum of 24 categories. At the community's request, the vehicle op-erator may ask for personal identification if quantities greater than 10 kilograms are delivered.

The HHW facility, which is operated by Afvalstoffen Terminal Vlaan-deren (ATV), has a receiving area where the barrels are off-loaded and weighed. A computer reads the bar code and adds weight data. Con-tents are double-checked and then allocated to the appropriate storage area. Some of the household hazardous wastes, such as paints, oils and solvents, can be bulked up.

ATV handles 1,000 tonnes of haz-waste each month, of which 7 to 10 percent is recovered from 500,000 households; the rest is collected from commercial generators. ATV sends the recovered hazwaste to authorized treatment facilities.

Regional Implementation By the end of 1992, 142 HHW programs were operating in Flanders, and by the end of 1993, there were 308 programs. An OVAM survey reports that area-to-area collection and container parks are the most frequently used methods.

With data monitoring requirements, OVAM has assembled HHW recovery information from all of the programs (see bar graph). The total quantity of HHW recovered in the region during 1992 was 1,522,413 kilograms. As the number of programs increased from 142 to 308, the quantity collected increased to 3,669,288 kilograms in 1993.

Most HHW is recovered in the container parks, and 62.4 percent by weight of all HHW recovered at those facilities is used motor oil. This figure includes oil recovered in communities without comprehensive HHW programs.

At a global level, oil and grease ac-count for more than 50 percent of all materials recovered (see chart on page 48). Recovering and recycling motor and cooking oil has long been a tradition in Flanders. Automobile batteries also have been recovered for some time. As with North Amer-ican HHW programs, paint is a commonly recovered material that represents 16 percent of the total.

Of the HHW materials collected, only certain substances can be recycled such as motor oil, cooking oil, fluorescent light bulbs, old x-rays, car batteries, mercury-oxide and nickel-cadmium batteries, non-toxic aerosols, silver (from photo development) and some solvents, bases and acids. In theory, many of the other household hazardous waste items also can be recycled, but recovered quantities are too small or contaminated to make recycling economical.

Approximately 35 percent of HHW collected is treated physically or chemically before being destroyed in a specially designed incinerator that also recovers energy value (at the INDAVER facility in Antwerp). Other material is placed in a Class 1 landfill. Clean, empty metal packaging is sent to scrap yards for recycling.

Aerosol canisters present a special challenge because the incinerator chamber must limit the canisters to five percent of feedstock due to the danger of explosion. Operators hand-sort the recovered canisters into toxic and non-toxic streams to reduce the quantity that has to be specially treated. ATV and other operators are looking for additional markets.

OVAM was responsible for distributing the boxes to each of the 308 communities in Flanders. To in-troduce the idea to the general public, OVAM created and sponsored a publicity campaign of billboards and posters across the region. OVAM produced sorting and storage in-structions to accompany each box.

OVAM also prepared a detailed guide on implementing and operating an HHW collection program and provided ongoing technical support as the programs were rolled out. The communities were responsible for distributing the boxes and promoting the program within their own jurisdictions.

ATV's Vander Elst indicated that one-third of the building cost was spent on security measures specified by the local community such as a sprinkler system, a carbon air filter in the bulking room and a non-porous cement floor sloped toward a long drainage trough that automatically diverts chemical wastes into a special holding tank. Special incineration of HHW at a facility owned and operated by INDAVER involves additional costs.

From an environmental perspective, Flemish officials believe that the cost of recovering and treating HHW properly is justified. As more municipal composting programs start up, operators will be obligated to meet stringent quality standards. The Organic Reclamation and Compost-ing Association in Brussels has a-greed that selective, multi-stream collection systems will work best.

Likewise, as an increasing number of packaging and paper recovery programs are implemented across Eu-rope, secondary market requirements will become more strict. Con- taminating substances such as household hazardous waste will have to be separated, and Flanders, Brussels, the Netherlands and Ger-many are leading the way.

While Flemish municipalities have primary responsibility for collecting HHW, OVAM will continue to help improve program efficiencies and re-duce costs.

In 1980, the Flemish region of Belgium became responsible for a variety of government activities, including waste management. In accordance with directives set out by the European Union (EU), the Flemish government established three waste policy objectives: preventing and minimizing waste generation; promoting and supporting reuse, recovery and recycling efforts throughout the region; and organizing safe disposal of remaining waste materials.

The government established a public waste agency, Openbare Afvalstoffenmaatschappij voor het Vlaamse Gewest, to meet its objectives. Openbare Afvalstoffen-maatschappij voor het Vlaamse Gewest is funded through an environmental tax on waste disposal and its free-to-invest joint public/private enterprises, such as recycling companies.

Openbare Afvalstoffenmaat-schappij voor het Vlaamse Ge-west's 200 staff members are re-sponsible for:

* Developing comprehensive waste management plans;

* Permitting, licensing and standards for all waste disposal facilities in Flanders;

* Creating and maintaining an industrial waste database;

* Cleaning up contaminated landfill sites;

* Implementing a region-wide household hazardous waste program; and

* Providing communications assistance to Flemish communities about waste reduction programs.

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