Much of the plastic, metal, and beverage carton (PMD) waste that Netherlands residents set aside for recycling ends up in the incinerator. Recyclers reject PMD that contains 15 percent or more of other substances. In the most recent national measurements, researchers found that almost 30 percent of PMD consisted of these “interfering substances,” the Telegraaf reports.
The rejected recycling goes into the incinerator like unrecyclable waste. While the incinerated waste generates electricity and heat, it also produces CO2 emissions and wastes materials.
In nine Twente municipalities, 98 percent of PMD waste ended up in the incinerator, according to Twente Milieu. In Middelburg, on the other side of the country, waste processors rejected “almost all loads” of PMD, alderman Eduard Smit wrote in a letter to the city council. “This means that raw materials are lost, there are extra costs and less income. It is bad for the environment, and the good intentions of residents are nullified.”
“Interfering substances” are items other than PMD that end up mixed in the recycling. These could be food from packaging that hasn’t been cleaned or other waste put in the wrong bin. For example, plastic toys can’t go into PMD, fruit nets can jam the machines, and packaging with food residues can cause contamination.
Contaminated plastic waste is “a real concern,” Hester Klein Lankhorst of the Afvalfonds Verpakkingen, which implements the legal targets for recycling and reuse, told the Telegraaf. “We want to use as much recycled material as possible in new packaging, but for that, we need the cleanest possible material at the front. In 2021, we saw that the PMD waste contained an average of 28.9 percent of disruptive substances, which is a very large amount.”
“Many Dutch people want to do it right; they want to help the environment, but that works much better if there is an unambiguous system,” Klein Lankhorst said. “It is not effective that one municipality does x, the other y. In Belgium, there is the same system for PMD everywhere, and things are going much better there in terms of recycling figures.”