Taking waste management in Leiden to the next level

Recycling – it’s one of the first things most people think about when thinking about a more sustainable way of living. It is something which is accessible, achievable by the individual unlike some of the more grand scale concepts of a green earth. And waste management is definitely a huge sector. Every household in the EU produces around half a tonne of household waste per year!

Yet even a system as familiar to most people and as established in society like recycling must be under constant evaluation and if possible subject to improvements, for we still have a very long way to go in sustainable living.

Let’s take the example of Leiden, Netherlands. While this city provides separate containers for inhabitants to dispose of their residual waste, paper and glass, it currently does not have a separate disposal for plastics. Simply expanding this system and adding a plastic container would already be a fantastic improvement by itself.

But of course, it should not end there! Because many neighborhoods in Leiden have a very high population density, they gather the household waste in containers. To dispose of their waste you simply scan your pass which every household gets, and put in your waste bag.
Many containers already have the possibility to weigh how much waste was put in, which creates the perfect opportunity to elevate the waste disposal system to a next level.
With the introduction of the adapted system, people would pay a basic starting fee for waste disposal, plus a calculated fee for the amount of waste you produce. The price per kilogram would be lower for plastic and paper than it would be for residual waste, which stimulates not only the separation of waste but also stimulates reducing the amount of waste created.

But this isn’t the first instance where a similar system would be applied. We can take a look at the city of Kürten, Germany. Here the residual waste has been weighed since the year of 1997, which has led to a decrease of waste by a third, and since the introduction of a weighing system the amount of waste produced has stagnated, even though the population has been increasing.

A big part of this project is that it get people thinking. They might do it for the monetary benefit of course, but being actively busy with sustainability in this way can very well be the gateway for people to start thinking about sustainability in other parts of their lives as well.
Maybe they want to know what is actually done with the plastic after they separate it. You could stimulate this interest, by showcasing practical uses such as the posts (called groins) you see at nearby beaches.

Groins made from recycled plastic.
Groins made from recycled plastic.

The transitioning to a new, more sustainable world cannot be done alone. Even though it may seem small, this project can be the start of getting everyone involved. Perhaps even help elevate the way of thinking of many people, to create the more sustainable society we need.

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4 thoughts on “Taking waste management in Leiden to the next level”

  1. Hi Lucas,

    I think your post is really interesting and the fact that the city of Kurten has managed to decrease waste by a third is incredible. I do support recycling and I think that a circular economy is the future. However, last week we visited the Rotterdam AVR, the company that creates energy from waste in a sustainable way. The AVR manages to burn all our waste and use it for a better purpose. They even said that plastic only fuels the fire that burns the waste more. I am not sure if we really have a problem concerning waste (separation).

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  2. I also think the circular economy is the future. However I do not agree with Jozefien. The AVR is still emitting CO2, still leaves a residue of dangerous toxics and needs a lot of waste to create this energy. They continuously need “new waste” to keep it going. Which stimulate citizens to produce more waste to receive energy. In my opinion the AVR keeps the consumers consuming more or the same instead of creating a different opinions on keeping products within the economy and re-use the products. So how sustainable is the AVR for real?

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  3. In my student building we have glass and cardboard/paper containers at a distance of approx 50m. I know a lot of my neighbors think this is too far to take out the separated trash and they just dump it in the main container (honestly, sometimes I do it too). Okay, for us as students with the monthly rent including waste fees there is no advantage for separating the trash. But isn’t this going to continue when the distance between people’s households and the containers are increasing? The municipality of Leiden is installing all of the big underground containers but I could foresee a kind of laziness in students like my neighbors that overrules any sustainable motives for separating trash…

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  4. Do you feel there is a risk that such systems are more costly than normal trash systems and what governments will be willing to pay such a bill for a system that, in my opinion, may suffer from its own complexety.

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