Before I started the Rubbish Diet Challenge, I did do some recycling, but I was a bit lazy, so sometimes glass pots or paper would end up in our waste bin. I also did not do any plastic recycling at all. Here is an overview of what is done in terms of recycling and waste in the Netherlands.

Plastic and glass with a deposit refund (statiegeld)
In the Netherlands it is mostly the bigger PET and glass beer bottles that have a deposit which you get back after you hand the bottles back in at the supermarket. Over 90% of these bottles get reused or recycled this way!

Paper is collected on the curbside once a month here. Old paper is recycled to make new paper, for example toilet paper, notebooks, and envelopes.

Near all supermarkets you can find containers for glass waste. You can leave the lids and paper labels on as they will separate it afterwards, but Milieu Centraal advises to already separate it correctly beforehand. Glass is great stuff, as it can be reused endlessly without loss of quality. In new glass pots and bottles, about 60% old glass is recycled.

Since the beginning of 2010 you can hand in plastic separately in the Netherlands. There is a list of what you can and cannot put in the large orange containers which are to be found near every supermarket. The tricky thing is this: our plastic waste is transported to Germany to be processed. There they separate the plastics into PET (indicated with number 1), PE (numbers 2 and 4), and PP (5). If you look at the list, however, there is no mention at all of these different plastic materials. This means that our plastic waste may also contain PVC, PS and mixed plastics, which will simply be incinerated or dumped after they have arrived in Germany. According to official numbers obtained by Kassa in October 2010 (watch the episode online — Dutch), 20% of the plastic waste arrives in Germany is considered unusable for recycling. Of the other 80%, not everything will be recycled either, because of ‘impurities’ (rests of paper and foil on the plastic packaging?). Cleaned, molten old plastic can be resources for new plastic products.

Small chemical waste (KCA)
Every household has a red box for small chemical waste — the stuff that is too dangerous to put in your normal waste bin –, which you can then drop off when it is collected in the neighbourhood every now and then, or you can drop it off yourself any time at an ‘environmental point’ (Dutch: milieupunt).

Organic waste
Most people will have a green container at home for their organic waste (GFT – vegetable, fruit, and garden). Unfortunately, when you live in an apartment, there is no separate green waste collection. In my city, there is also no option to bring it somewhere yourself to hand it in separately. This waste will be turned into compost. Fun options here are to process this waste yourself: start your own compost heap, get a bokashi bin, and/or a wormery.

Grey waste
Even the residual waste is not all lost. At the factories that process this waste, still quite some post-separation takes place, to separate out plastics, metals, and cartons. For example, about 85% of metals is recycled by post-separation with magnets and magnetic eddy currents.

Bad waste
For the zero waste challenge, anything that is probably not recycled or reused I consider to be bad waste. This means that cans are okay, even though they do end up in our grey waste bin. As for plastics, I only accept 1:PET, 2/4:PE, 5:PP, and the biodegradable type, as the rest will probably end up as waste anyway. Of course as waste goes, glass, paper, and organic waste are very much preferable.

PS Another interesting move is to go plastic free. A lot of the things you can do to get there are actually the same as what you would want to do to reduce your waste! But let’s take it one challenge at a time…