Trashing the trash

how to let less than 1% land on a landfill

Published in El Pais, 3 November 2018.

Every time when I visit my parents in the Netherlands I need to make a switch in garbage collection. While in Bolivia I have two type of garbage, paper and the rest, in the Netherlands the garbage collection in the Netherlands has been raised to almost an art.  Glass, paper, plastic, tins, clothes, organics, small chemicals, etc. all is separated. And so while staying in my parents’ house I need a crash course in sustainable garbage collection from my mum to prevent I accidentally throw a teabag within the plastic and metal trash.

In this way the Netherlands manages to recycle 53% of it is garbage and they are not even best in class. Not by far, Germany recycles even 66%. According to calculations this number can go up to 80% with the right work and dedication. The rest of the garbage can be burned and used to generate electricity, resulting that less than 1% lands on a landfill.

Although a bit different throughout the Netherlands the basic idea to cover the costs of recycling, is that separated recyclable trash is picked up for free while the leftover garbage costs you money. In this way the people have an incentive to separate the garbage and so make recycling possible.

The situation in Bolivia on the other hand is worrisome. Only 4% of the garbage produce is actually being recycled and the rest is left on a landfill causing serious damage to the environment, groundwater and the air, resulting in health problems for many people. Although Bolivia has a lot of territory, turning into a gigantic landfill is not a solution. Recycling is possible and can reduce significantly the amount of garbage heading to the landfills. But the government cannot assume people will do this by themselves. Most people are willing to do this, but they need to be given the tools and the help. A clear schedule on when and where which garbage to throw is one, but second they also need to have the right bags, containers that they can use at home, and last they need to see that the government also does its share, showing that the recycling worked and all the separation has not been done in vain.

Experiences in other countries show that it is possible reducing the amount of trash going to a landfill, but it cannot be done without the help of the government.

About Arnold Hagens 102 Articles
Arnold Hagens is Economist with strong interest in technology, marketing and coaching

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