When doing the research for our blog article about recycling in Denmark, we realised that there’s more to this topic as one might think at first glance. That’s why we won’t stop focusing on the different recycling systems in the world anytime soon. Since Metal Packaging Europe, the association behind Cans for Life, has its headquarter in Brussels, it’s no surprise that we continue the new series with Belgium, which just happens to be among Europe’s recycling champions. Here we go:

Pioneering Waste Legislation and Policies as a Tradition

Belgium has always played an initiator’s role in the field of waste legislation and policy. This is no different today. Belgium takes on its pioneering role again: the amount of waste produced hasn’t increased since 2000. How is that? Let’s travel back in time to the 1980s when the country issued a waste decree setting goals for waste separation, composting and the reduction of household waste. Since then it has been steadily extended and today, the emphasis of Belgium’s waste management policies is on recycling and reducing waste in general.

In the early 1990s a national compost organisation was established. But: the compost wasn’t of good quality due to the lack of waste separation. So the separate collection was introduced. By now, this step has helped to reduce Belgium’s CO2 emissions by 480,000 tonnes. It was in 1998 that legislation finally prohibited incineration of recyclables as well as sending unsorted, recyclable, and pharmaceutical waste to landfill. What a great decision for metal packaging – after all, it’s infinitely recyclable, and thus, deserves no place in incinerators or landfills. Gradually landfilling continued to decrease and is now almost non-existent.

Put Some Colour in Your Recycling

How about the current situation? In Belgium, waste management is a local and regional responsibility. Each region and commune has a different system of collecting, sorting and recycling waste.

Fost Plus is the organisation in charge for promoting, coordinating and financing the handling of household packaging waste. In order to let Belgian residents keep track on the respective rules, they provide all important information, for instance, locations, opening hours and rules of nearby container parks. But don’t worry: basically there’s a place for everything, some types of litter are even collected at your house. This is extremely well-conceived since it makes life much more comfortable for consumers. And it pays off: every year, Fost Plus recycles around 700,000 tonnes of packaging, which is almost 90% of all packaging that finds its way onto the Belgian market. All in all, nearly three fourths of residential waste is reused, recycled, or turned into compost.

But how does all this actually work in practice? Here in Brussels, for instance, we use a colour-coded system for household waste, which means that there’s a rubbish bag for everything: white, blue, yellow, orange, green and even pink bags pave Belgian streets on fix dates waiting for their collection. But attention everyone, who dares to put them out too early: you’ll have to face large fines. And if you miss out on the waste collection you’re obliged to bring them home again. In order to stay on the safe side when it comes to collection times, just check them online or put up your individualised calendar.

Metal Packaging and Recycling Make Up a Dream Team

Our favourite packaging material is a perfect match with blue. The blue bags are for PMD which stands for plastic, metal and drink cartons. But in this case plastic only involves plastic bottles, every other packaging made of plastic has to be collected in white bags. The same goes for aluminium foil – in case you ever wondered if this product belongs to the metal packaging family or not. Good to know: all recyclables have to be empty, but you don’t have to rinse them. Wanna become a pro in Brussels’ recycling game? Head over to this overview or download the Recycle! app providing helpful information about waste collection in your municipality.

By the way: did you know why the recycling rates of metal packaging are so high? It’s because metal packaging can be easily separated from other waste with magnet separators. Plus, recycling is crucial for metal packaging as metal is a permanent material. When metal products reach the end of their life, the materials can be recycled into new products again and again. Thus, Belgium decided not to adapt to the deposit systems other European countries such as Germany have, since this would remove valuable resources from the material-to-material loop.

It’s All About the Money

Of course, it’s not enough to promote recycling but also important to reduce waste. In Belgium, there is one simple rule when it comes to garbage: the more difficult it is to process and discard the waste, the higher the tax. On top of the complicated-cases-list are organic materials, followed by plastic bottles and drinks cartons. The benefit of such a system: it makes people think more about what they buy and throw away.

Do you know of other countries which introduced reasonable approaches to succeed in reducing waste?

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