Dutch courage

Written by: Geraldine Faulkner | Published:
Dick Hoogendoorn, MD, Dutch Waste Management Association

The Dutch Waste Management Association’s refreshingly candid and realistic managing director, Dick Hoogendoorn, reveals the secrets behind the Netherlands’ 20-year journey to sophisticated and sustainable waste management and discusses the possible directions for Europe’s CE policy. Geraldine Faulkner reports

If you mention the Netherlands in a waste management context in the UK, the response will no doubt focus on refuse-derived fuel and the 1.6 million tonnes of RDF that was exported from the UK to the Netherlands in 2014. It is a hot topic at the moment, with many British waste specialists questioning the practice of exporting fuel across the Channel.

However, Dick Hoogendoorn, MD of the Dutch Waste Management Association, understandably prefers to look at the bigger picture and the role played by the DWMA in a wider context, particularly in the EU arena. Boasting more than 50 members, the DWMA sees itself as an important discussion partner for government departments, regional and local authorities and other organisations.

“Our chairman lobbies the Dutch secretary of state and opens doors that normally don’t open for our members,” says Hoogendoorn, before adding that the DWMA also invests in maintaining a representative in Brussels.

“You need someone in Brussels to liaise with the daily contacts, members of parliament and European lobby organisations. If you want to have a say in European policies, it’s not easy unless you are embedded into the European parliament.” He pauses to ponder a moment. “The German waste association has four people located in Brussels.” As a former civil servant (“I served between 1991 and 1998,” says Hoogendoorn), he cut his teeth in the EU when it was comprised of 15 member states.

“Everyone wanted to say something even if it didn’t have any added value,” he says with a grin.

While the EU has now swelled to 28 states, with even less likelihood of consensus, the MD says it “would be a pretty stupid decision for the UK to leave the EU”.

He recalls that he was on holiday last year in Scotland when the referendum there was held. “Well, it was clear the answer should be ‘no’ and that they should stay within the UK. It was the only outcome for sensible people,” he says.

The plain-speaking Hoogendoorn works three days for the DWMA and runs his own consultancy for the rest of the week.

“I was appointed in 2008, but not in a full-time capacity. This was my wish and if the DWMA had not agreed, I would not have accepted the position,” he recalls.

Hoogendoorn boasts an impressive waste CV. As well as having been employed as a civil servant in the ministry of the environment, he has worked for Van Gansewinkel, the biggest waste company in the Netherlands, and until a few months ago served on an advisory committee looking at the Circular Economy.

Looking at the wider picture, he emphasises that the Netherlands’ recycling rates were not achieved overnight. “It was around 1990 when we had a real focus on the recycling of waste. The then minister, Hans Alders, had written to the Dutch government to announce 29 waste streams should undergo evaluations in order to prevent further waste. Also, by changing the system in 1990, we set a target of diverting 12 million tonnes of waste from landfill.”

The start of the 90s in the Netherlands also saw plans to build incineration plants. “We had to close down old and smaller plants in cities because of the high emissions,” recalls Hoogendoorn. “This took a long time due to the mix of policy measures, including the landfill tax, and the obligations to collect bio waste.

The whole package

“This resulted in more incineration along with less landfill and more recycling with priority streams such as WEEE, ELVs and batteries, so the whole package resulted in what we have today, which equates to less than two million tonnes going to landfill every year, with roughly six million tonnes going to energy from waste and 80% recycled.”

The MD points out that: “It’s important to mention it took us about 20 years to reach these levels.”

‘Lansink’s Ladder’: a proposal put forward by Ad Lansink, a lecturer in chemistry and biochemistry before being elected to the Dutch Parliament, also played a crucial role in shaping waste policy. Lansink’s Ladder was one of the first schematics with the disposal of waste at the bottom of the ladder and prevention at the top.

Comprised of six rungs – disposal, recovery, recycling, reuse and prevention – Lansink’s tool helped shaped early thinking in the recycling movement that started in the Netherlands in 1990.

The Netherlands is now reportedly “fine tuning the system” and working at further reductions in levels of waste going to landfill.

In fact, the blunt-speaking Hoogendoorn adds: “We don’t think you can further reduce the levels of waste going to landfill; particularly when it comes to materials such as asbestos. You can try and recycle it, but it is not realistic. The best thing with asbestos is to put it into bags, cover with a layer of soil and control its storage.”

It is not only over the issue of hazardous waste that the MD is refreshingly frank. He also has a down-to-earth take on ambitious plans to increase recycling levels in the Netherlands.

“Current figures show we are at 51% and, if we want to introduce 75% by 2022, we will need to improve household recycling by separate and better techniques, but I have doubts and I don’t think we are going to make it,” states Hoogendoorn. “We should try and introduce the thinking of separate collection. There is still a weak point in the separate collection points with big differences between rural areas and big cities like Rotterdam. The social behaviour is different.”

However, being realistic doesn’t mean that the DWMA’s MD is not hopeful for the future.

“I am in favour of recycling targets. They are a point on the horizon and it means we have to make a tremendous effort to achieve a better performance. Cities can do more than they do now, but we need better collection points.”

He predicts that, to achieve higher recycling rates by 2022: “You can only reach significant improvements if you are prepared to pay far more then you pay now. At the end of the day, it is a political decision. What percentage of recycling do you want and how are you going to pay for it?

“At the moment we are facing a pretty strong economic growth of 2% and that means we can afford more buying power and spend more for waste collection.” He asks the rhetorical question: “Are we prepared to pay more?”

EU package

Returning to the wider picture, Hoogendoorn says the eyes of the DWMA members are firmly on the revisions being made to the EU’s proposed CE package. What should commissioner Frans Timmermans’ priority be?

The DWMA put this question to Dutch and European players in the waste industry, and top of the European wish list were suggestions such as “better implementation of existing legislation” and “additional landfill bans”. However, the most popular measure among the Dutch waste companies is said to be “compulsory percentages of secondary raw materials in new products”. The DWMA says it is squarely behind full implementation of and compliance with existing European waste legislation and the harmonisation of environmental, public health and quality issues within the European Union.

The aim to cut back large-scale landfilling of waste in Europe is a view expressed by DWMA members, along with the opinion that the EU should challenge member states to increase efforts on waste prevention, closed-loop recycling, and materials and energy recovery.

“The DWMA supports legislation that stimulates eco design to minimise the loss of materials and energy from production and consumption chains,” says its MD.

In 2014, while the UK was still dithering over the CE and its implications, the DWMA boldly signed up to the concept by calling itself a ‘partner in the circular economy’.

At the time, it stated: “The waste sector plays a crucial role in creating the circular economy and the members of the DWMA have the expertise that is needed. Cooperation is essential. The circular economy can only be built if all the parties involved work together and assume joint responsibility.”

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