In 2017, Belgium had the highest recycling rate in Europe, and in 2018, they recycled more than 80% of the plastic they used. Even in 2019, Belgium is one of Europe’s leaders when it comes to recycling.
For the ones who don’t know, this country is a pioneer in the fight to cut down waste. It assumed the role of an initiator in creating a waste policy and legislation. Belgium was and continues to be a leader in recycling because it managed to maintain the amount of waste at the same level since 2000. To understand how, we have to travel back in time to the moment when in the 1980s the country gave a decree that set certain goals for how citizens and companies have to reduce waste. Since that moment, the recycling legislation has constantly been upgraded.
In the 1990s the first national compost organisation appeared, but because people did not properly separate trash, the quality of compost wasn’t as good as expected. Therefore, Belgium decided to introduce some new guidelines to recommend people how to separate waste during collection. This step was more than edifying for the fight to reduce CO2 emissions. By 2019, thanks to the measures the guidelines implied, Belgium managed to cut down emissions by 480,000.
In 1998 a new legislation was adopted, one that prohibited people from incinerating recyclable waste and sending unsorted and pharmaceutical garbage to landfills. That decision has a major impact on the metal industry because the metal is infinitely recyclable and it shouldn’t end up in landfills or incinerators. Nowadays, landfilling is close to extinction.
Belgium’s recycling strategies
Different regions have different recycling strategies in Belgium. On the website, www.fostplus.be people can find guidelines on how to sort and recycle every item that goes to waste from their household and commercial buildings. Waste management is both a regional and local problem, and Fost Plus is the organisation in charge to handle the entire process. Depending on the type of litter people want to dispose of, it can be collected at home or it can be taken to a nearby container. Studies show that Fost Plus recycles annually more than 700,000 tonnes of packaging, which is equally to 90% of the packages Belgians are buying annually. The conclusion is that around ¾ of residential waste is recycled, reused or transformed.
For example in Brussels, the local authorities came up with a colour-coded system for household waste. While, yellow, green, blue, orange, green and pink containers are installed everywhere. But the residents have to make sure that they put in the bags the waste at the right date because if they dispose of them too early they can face fines.
In Belgium, the bags are so expensive people are discouraged to fill them with waste. For example the brown ones are designed for collecting general waste, but they are more expensive than 1$ each, and people would rather prefer to recycle than to fill them with garbage. The recycling education of the residents hit the point when the ones who don’t sort their waste accordingly are publicly humiliated. Paper, plastic, glass objects and aluminium cans have to be placed in special coloured containers. If someone tries to save money and doesn’t use the right coloured bag to dispose of them, the waste handlers will place a red sticker on the outside of the bag and let it in front of the house for everyone to see it.
How do Belgians recycle glass?
Glass can be recycled infinitely, but it’s important to sort it according to its colour. In Belgium, clear and coloured glass objects are collected separately, melted and transformed into other products. When picking up glass door-to-door, the collectors do not separate the clear ones from the coloured ones. They sort the items once they get to the recycling centre. Porcelain and stoneware are not recycled together with glass because they cannot be melted in the same ovens.
When sorting glass items people are not allowed to put in the same containers mirrors, pieces of windows, milk glass, crystals and heat-resistant glass. All the products have to be empty and deposited in the right glass bin.
How do Belgians recycle plastic flasks and bottles?
Belgians place plastic recipients in blue bags for collectors to take them and transform them into new objects. The entire process has three steps
- the products are sorted manually or with the help of a machine
- all items are washed and grounded into chips
- once melted they are used to make new products.
Butter tubs, yoghurt containers and other plastic bags and foils should not be placed in the blue bags because they are not recycled together with plastic bottles. Residue PMD is not allowed in the same bins with plastic items and the bottles should not have child-resistant safety capes. The packing of engine oil, pesticides and toxic products are disposed of in special conditions.
How do Belgians recycle metal items?
Steel and aluminium products are recycled to create new objects. Because both metals are placed in the same bags, magnets and eddy current separators are used to sort them. All metal objects are cleaned and grounded before they being placed in a furnace. It’s important to recycle metal because it helps Belgians conserve their natural resources. Steel is one of the metals that can be recycled endlessly.
Belgians are instructed not to place corrosive products in the PMD bags because they are dangerous when introduced in machines at the recycling centres.
How do Belgians recycle drink cartoons?
They are made of aluminium, plastic and cardboard, so during the recycling process these three materials are separated and valorised separately.
Once the products get to the recycling centre specialists sort them out and submerge them in water to separate the materials. The cardboard fibres are recycled the same way paper is disposed of, plastic is used as a source of energy, and aluminium is recycled for further use. Drink cartons are used to produce envelopes, paper bags, cardboard boxes and different types of household paper.