No laughing matter: nitrous oxide ban causes storage headache

Laughing gas capsules dumped by the side of a road in Amsterdam. Photo:

Police and the infrastructure ministry are working on ways to alleviate processing and storage problems caused by the ban on the recreational use of laughing gas.

Laughing gas, or nitrous oxide, was banned at the beginning of the year and police have so far impounded some 23,000 cylinders of the party drug.

As of this weekend, the ban will be actively policed resulting in the seizure of more cannisters and cylinders, police expect.

The problem faced by the authorities is that the containers cannot be incinerated because of the risk of explosion, which means storage space has to be found.

The Netherlands has only one company able to process the containers, but waiting lists are long. The overflow has been exported to a Belgian firm but that, too, is struggling to cope.

The association of waste processing companies Vereniging Afvalbedrijven has said its members have been finding more canisters among ordinary waste since the ban. More explosions have been recorded as well, which presents a danger to workers.

Deposit scheme

One possible solution would be to introduce a deposit scheme for the canisters, the organisation said.

A additional problem is that natrium oxide, which can still be legally used for medical, technical or culinary use, is a powerful greenhouse gas and that the containers need to be emptied before they can be destroyed.

The recreational use of nitrous oxide was banned following research in 2021 showing a proliferation of  laughing gas-related traffic accidents resulting in dozens of deaths and hundreds of injured.

Police and the infrastructure department are currently looking into ways to solve the problems, a police spokesman told broadcaster NOS.

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