It’s monday morning, 7:30, and we just parked the car. My colleagues and I are quick to get out and organize. We grab container hangers, gloves, a pen and our phone. We set off in teams of two. One takes pictures while the other writes the hangers. We are doing a container check before they are emptied by the waste collectors.
I look into the first bin.
I see some soda cans, milk cartons and a lot of plastic that used to contain meat and vegetables. I notice some chips and nuts bags. They’re not supposed to be thrown in this container, but this is a minor mistake. If there where more mistakes we would notify the owners, but in this case we let it slide. There’s a fine line between informing residents to improve the quality of collected waste and pushing their buttons.
The next bin only has an inflatable pool in it. An easy decision for us. This bin will be refused for emptying. Any inflatable item isn’t recyclable at this time. Besides, the container is meant for plastic, metal en carton packaging, a pool isn’t a package. Today I’m in charge of writing the hanger, so I write down what’s wrong and my colleague takes a picture of the address label and the contents. When we get back to the office, we use the pictures to compile a list of addresses we need to visit in the upcoming weeks. I attach the hanger to the container and move to the next one.
When we’re looking in a container, a while later, a lady comes out and asks what we’re doing. We explain and offer to look in her bin together. She agrees and points out hers. We have a quick look and see that overall the waste is perfectly sorted. But we do notice the nespresso cups in between. We tell her that the material of the cups are fine to be thrown in, but the ground coffee is still in the cups. This obviously belongs with the organic waste. We advise her that she can either open up the cups and separate the two sources or throw it all with the residual waste. If too many people throw the wrong things in this bin it can result in a refusal at the sorter, with the final result it will all end up with the residual waste after all.
As we say goodbye we don’t forget to compliment on her good work, since most of the bin was perfectly sorted.
This all started in 2014 when the Dutch government set a goal. Every person can only produce a maximum of 100kg of residual waste per year by 2020. At that time, on average a person produced 250 kg of residual waste.
This doesn’t sound too complicated, but once you know that this is where the work of our government stopped, it becomes a different story altogether. They put all responsibility for reaching this goal in the hands of the municipalities. Each started their own research on how to meet the goals. Local councils in the end decided on their strategy, that could vary highly from the next town over.
In my opinion a lot of money is wasted by making each municipality decide how to tackle the issue.
If they would’ve chosen some towns across the country to test various systems and then drawn conclusions from that and set up a strong campaign, we would’ve met these goals way sooner. Now waste coaches have to go out to talk to each individual on mistakes they’re making, because their family in the next town over has to do things in a different way. Of course this is not the only reason why it’s hard to meet the goals.
Many don’t understand why the country is doing this. They feel belittled and they feel that they pay someone to take care of their trash, so they aren’t responsible anymore. Again, if they set up a country wide campaign, the public would’ve been informed better. Besides, prices wouldn’t have gone up so much because of all the individual researches that were conducted.
And it doesn’t end here a new goal was already formulated for 2025, by then each individual can produce no more than 30 kg of residual waste. Luckily the government has finally come to the conclusion that the producers of our trash, the packaging companies, should work on reducing and reusing too. But I understand that people feel that all responsibility is placed in their hands. They don’t see what is done behind the scenes. Really we don’t know how much of what they say is actually being done, all we see is that we have to change our lifestyle.