Despite recycling efforts, more plastic ends up in incinerators

Photo: Dutch News

More plastic is ending up in incineration plants and producing harmful CO2 emissions despite efforts to promote recycling, caretaker environment minister Vivianne Heijnen has said in a briefing to MPs.

In 2022, some 52% of discarded plastic was burnt, compared to 49% the year before. Much of the plastic waste was contaminated by food residue or chemicals, making it unsuitable for recycling. There was also insufficient capacity at recycling plants, Heijnen said.

Heijnen also announced on Tuesday that the Netherlands has withdrawn from the Plastic Pact, an international initiative to make the packaging chain more sustainable.

Some 110 businesses in the Netherlands participated in the pact but, the minister said, enthusiasm is waning and most “did not respond to requests for information from researchers. This made the Plastic Pact “not the best way to innovate,” she said, although cooperation with supermarkets and other parties will continue.

Other initiatives to boost recycling have since been introduced, such as a deposit on small plastic bottles  and the decision by some local councils to opt for more efficient plastic separation at recycling plants

However, in December, the caretaker government effectively abandoned the system of charging deposits on single-use plastic cups and food boxes by announcing that environmental inspectors will no longer check up on compliance with most of the rules. 

In addition, offices, sports clubs, and schools need not fear inspectors’ visits if they continue to use plastic throwaway cups – a ban should have come into force in January – Heijnen told MPs in a briefing at the end of last year.

Her decision followed three parliamentary votes in favour of changing the rules in October, put forward by the SP and the VVD. A extra charge for single use plastics was introduced in July, despite criticism that it was unworkable and that companies were simply pocketing the cash.  

The minister said on Tuesday new measures, such as standardising household waste collection, will be up to the next government.

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