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Door-to-door collected waste
The only long-term data sets that enable the volume of household waste to be quantified are those of the Regional Agency for Public Cleanliness (“Bruxelles-Propreté”). These data relate to residual waste and selective waste collected from households since 1991 (the start date of the collection is shown in brackets):
- selectively collected glass and bulky waste at the two regional recycling centres (1991),
- paper and cardboard together with recyclable packaging (1992),
- separate collection of packaging waste (blue bags) and paper/cardboard (yellow bags) (1996),
- Christmas trees (1995), extended to include garden waste (green bags) (2002).
Bruxelles-Propreté makes twice-weekly collections from all households in the regional territory. In addition to household waste, during door-to-door collections it also collects a proportion of so-called “assimilated” or equivalent waste from retailers, professionals, businesses, non-profit organisations, schools and municipal and other authorities, particularly on the basis of commercial contracts. Because this waste is similar in composition to household waste, it is assimilated to it; however, it is hard to quantify separately. According to available estimates, the proportion of assimilated waste varies between 30 and 40%. For this type of waste, Bruxelles-Propreté is not the only operator: an unknown and variable portion of assimilated waste is also collected by private operators. However, because Bruxelles-Propreté is the only public operator for the door-to-door collection of residual waste and sorted bags from households, its data are representative of this channel of collected household waste (in the narrow sense). The analysis of its data is particularly useful for acquiring an understanding of sorting behaviour.
There are no systematic data on the household waste collected through the seven municipal recycling centres. As the collection rate of the two regional recycling centres is not representative of the whole network of recycling centres, nor of all inhabitants of the Region, the waste indicators used for monitoring the tonnages and sorting rate that are presented here are therefore based exclusively on the figures from house-to-house collection.
Household and assimilated waste (collected by the public operator through door-to-door collection, glass recycling points and glass from the hospitality and catering sector): absolute quantities (left y-axis) and share of the combined selective collections (right y-axis). The start dates of the different types of collection are indicated in red.
Source: based on the annual reports of Bruxelles-Propreté
Collected waste tonnages
The waste collected by Bruxelles-Propreté from households showed a constant and regular increase until 2002. Between 2003 and 2008, the annual quantity was approximately 450,000 ton. In 2009 and 2010, the quantity decreased, to then return in 2011 and 2012 to around the 2009 level. The increase observed between 2010 and 2012 was approximately 7,000 ton. Over the period 2002 to 2012, the amount per inhabitant collected from households dropped by 20%. However, this does not mean that the production of this type of waste followed the same trend. Some “assimilated” waste may now be collected by other (private) operators instead of by Bruxelles-Propreté. Other possible explanations are that the decrease in collected quantities of household waste since 2008 is due to the slowdown in the economy, or to changing habits leading to less waste.
Recent studies on the municipal and regional recycling centres have shown that this network collects around 30,000 extra ton of household waste.
In any case household and assimilated waste represents only a small fraction of the waste produced by the Region. Studies showed that quantities of non-household waste, on which only partial and discontinuous data exist, are three to four times greater.
Share of selective collection in house-to-house collection
Between 1996 and 2012, non-sorted household waste streams decreased by 24% in favour of an increase in sorted waste streams. Until 2010, this trend reflected collection arrangements and the gradual extension of waste collection to the entire territory. The collection of yellow bags (paper and cardboard), blue bags (plastic or metal packaging waste and drink cartons, known as PMD packaging) and green bags (Christmas trees and garden waste) was extended to the 19 municipalities in 1996, 1998 and 2012 respectively. Only the Brussels city centre is currently not covered by the collection of green bags (which was initially launched in 2002 in six municipalities with a high proportion of gardens). The network of glass recycling points has progressively expanded over the years and has been duplicated since 2005 (with separate containers for colourless glass and coloured glass).
The sorting requirement for all households, relating first to glass (in 2009) and then to paper/cardboard and PMD (in 2010), has also led to an increase in the proportion of selective collections.
In 2010, the proportion of sorted waste peaked at 28% of door-to-door collections. This was the result of a significant increase in all categories of selective collection. The probable explanation for this lies in the fact that sorting became compulsory for all households in 2010; besides the requirement gave way to intensive awareness-raising campaigns and the introduction of penalties in July of the same year.
The proportion of selective waste collections fell back in 2011 (27%) and 2012 (26%). The decline between 2010 and 2012 in collected PMD (down 5,398 ton) alone accounts for 68% of the overall decrease of 7,963 ton in all selectively collected waste over the same period. In the annual reports of Bruxelles-Propreté for 2011 and 2012, this decrease is attributed to an improvement in the quality of sorting, i.e. a lower percentage of non-compliant waste in blue bags. The reports state that the percentage of non-compliant waste in blue bags was 43.7% at the end of 2010, 33% in 2011 and 27% in 2012. Between 2010 and 2011, moreover, it was possible to recycle an extra 950 ton of PMD.
However, if we base our findings for the 2012 results on the periodic analyses of the contents of waste containers – which are performed according to a standardised procedure – we cannot confirm this explanation of Bruxelles-Propreté. This is clear from the following figures: the percentage of non-compliant waste in blue bags was 26% in November 2010, 23% in 2011 and 29% in June 2012 (source: communication from the Department of Waste: the publications of Bruxelles-Propreté are not publicly accessible).
This shows that the obligation to sort is not in itself sufficient to steer sorting behaviour in the right direction; intensive public education campaigns definitely need to be continued.
If we also include the tonnages collected in the municipal and regional recycling centres, the share of selective refuse collection could be around 30% in 2012. It is clear that the target of 50% set by the European directive for 2020 is not yet achieved. To comply with this obligation, the people of Brussels will need to dispose of additional sorting options in the future.
- ARCADIS, January 2012, Etude économique et géographique de faisabilité relative à l’implantation de nouveaux parcs à conteneurs en région de Bruxelles-Capitale , conducted on behalf of Brussels Environment, final report, 178 pages
- BRUXELLES-PROPRETÉ, 2010, Campagnes d’analyse de la poubelle ménagère octobre-novembre 2010, 2011 et juin 2012 (communication by the Department of Waste)
- BRUXELLES-PROPRETÉ, Rapport annuel 2009, 42 pp; Rapport annuel 2010, 34 pp; Rapport annuel 2011, 19 pp; Rapport annuel 2012, 40 pp.
- ULB-IGEAT, May 2011, Etude comparative sur la gestion d’encombrants dans différentes villes et régions européennes , conducted on behalf of Brussels Environment, 197 pages.