We need to make the city’s waste valuable again through smarter and cleaner waste collection. That would enhance the livability of neighborhoods, but it would also enable more reuse of goods. The waste chain of the city center needs to be reinvented.
Over the recent holidays, Amsterdam looked like Naples on the Amstel. My neighborhood was strewn with piles of trash from cafés and restaurants, from home-improvement projects, from bed-and-breakfast guests, from stores and from residents. The overflowing ‘bottle bank’ was practically buried under a pile of trash. Due to the holidays there had been no household garbage collection for an entire week. That is too long for the bustling and lively city center. As a resident, I can’t understand how that could happen. There must be a much smarter way to deal with our garbage?
Every day, twelve large garbage trucks come rolling down Amsterdam’s busy Zeedijk. But residents are only allowed to put out their garbage bags twice a week. Something about that doesn’t really make sense. Two out of ten trucks in Amsterdam are heavy garbage trucks. That’s presumably not different in other European city centers.
Not happy with litter
Not only during the holiday season, but throughout the whole year, litter is a problem. Within an hour after the garbage has been collected, new bags already begin to appear on the street. The rats couldn’t be happier. Business owners in the city center are tired of having their shopping streets filled with piles of cardboard already by 5 pm. Residents are sick of all the trash at their doorstep. No one is happy about it.
There is no such thing as waste
As it is now, the waste is of no value to the circular economy, which is supposed to convert our household waste and discarded products back into valuable raw materials. The business community realizes that there is no such thing as waste and that today’s waste contains the resources for tomorrow. The Netherlands is among the top-three countries when it comes to the recycling and composting of household waste. And yet, the waste stream that flows in from the growing cities is too varied, and too little of that waste gets sorted in advance. Just collecting the waste already costs so much that there’s no financial scope left to pay for the recovery of the valuable components it contains. Incineration is the only remaining option.
Of all the garbage collected in Amsterdam, 80% ends up being incinerated to generate “green electricity”. Each year, the AEB (Amsterdam’s energy-from-waste plant) processes 1.4 million tons of waste. Every day, 600 garbage trucks dump that waste into its storage tanks. While the incineration itself is clean, the process is not sustainable. More of the waste from cities needs to be reused.
Smarter and cleaner
The city center’s waste chain needs to be reinvented to enable more reuse of our waste at home, to process the waste stream with fewer garbage trucks and to deal with the nuisance of garbage and litter on the streets. The collection technology needs to go underground in small compactors – preferably with a separation of valuable residual streams at the source. Those waste compactors contain sensors that signal when the container is full and needs to be replaced.
The lower the collection costs, the more opportunities there will for upgrading the waste to reusable raw materials. Amsterdam is perfectly suited for transporting those waste-compacting containers by barge. With each collection round they make by water, Amsterdam Mokum Mariteam and Icova/Shanks already eliminate 44 garbage trucks from the road. That should be possible in other places as well.
A new concept will only work if it proves to be convenient for residents and business owners. That means: close to home, always available and free of technical hassles such as badges or passes. The out-of-control privatization of waste collection is leading to too many garbage trucks in the city. Municipal policy literally needs to create room for new concepts for both waste collection and waste collectors and give privileges to smarter waste-processing companies.
We need to make the city’s waste valuable again through smarter and cleaner waste collection. That would enhance the livability of neighborhoods. And it would help us increase our reuse of waste beyond the paltry 20% that gets reused today.
Walther Ploos van Amstel.