How to live without waste

From 500 kilos of waste per person per year to recycling and re-use. That is the future that is getting closer and closer. Reclaiming rare metals, re-using fibers of worn down clothing for new jeans. The knowledge is here, although political willpower is still lacking. Dif report highligts the facts on waste, how to reduce it and what possibilities there are for reuse.


On average, in the Netherlands we produce 500 kilos of waste per person per year.  Of which 275 kilo is sorted waste such as paper, glass, plastic, and plant based materials. 33 kilos is domestic waste, and the remainder is residual waste.


Glass, paper, biodegradable waste, textiles, plastic, metal, and drink cartons. We’re already able to sort a lot at home. Since Marlouce Biemand from Vlaardingen accepted the challenge from Vlaardingen and Schiedam ‘100 families, 100 days, 100% waste free’, she only has 1 kilo of waste left each week.

Waste, the new resource

The government wants the Netherlands to be a circular economy by 2050, a society without waste. ‘Waste is the new resource’, says dr. Adrie Veeken. ‘From clothing we can make fibers for new materials, from empty steel cans . From electronic appliances we retrieve gold, copper, silver, indium, gallium, and lithium. Reclaiming these metals is cheaper, more environmentally friendly, and necessary for our growing global community.’

Political choice

Veeken has 30 years of experience in the world of waste, and knows that a waste-less society is already possible in the Netherlands. ‘The knowledge is here. There are enough tools. But the government and entrepreneurs are not choosing for them. Many see it as a leftist hobby and a threat to the current order of things.’

Creating awareness

In Amsterdam, 28 percent of domestic waste is recycled, in the Hague, 27, and in Rotterdam 24 percent. With collection points for cans and plastic the cities are hoping to boost those numbers. ‘citizens need to be more conscious about their waste’ says Veeken. ‘That’s a task for municipalities. Those who throw all their garbage on one heap can’t to anything but burn it. That is a waste of resources.

100 families, 100 days, 100% waste free

Marlouce Biemans was already sorting her waste before she started the challenge. With 4 kilos of waste per week she was already far below the average of Vlaardingen which is 12 kilos. Through the little scale to weigh waste she started to become even more conscious about her buying habits. ‘A lot of packaging is residual waste. Instead of chips I bough loose popcorn. I made more trips to the market. Our record was half a kilo of residual waste per week. Nowadays it takes us 1.5 month to fill a garbage bag.’ She thinks that Vlaardingen needs to help its inhabitants by collecting biodegradable waste and plastics. With a small collection point in each suburb.

Waste is a resource

Glass, paper, carton, biodegradable waste, small chemical waste, plastic, cans, drink cartons, electrical appliances, building refuse, textiles, and residual waste are all processed separately. It’s a myth that all collected waste still ends up on one heap, so says the organization ‘Milieu Centraal’ (Environment at the Center). Only heavily polluted waste such as polluted plastic, wet paper, and too contaminated biodegradable waste is burned. The ways you can sort waste are outlined on https://www.afvalscheidingswijzer.nl

Paper and glass

Collecting paper and glass has been going smoothly for years now. Producers and consumers are used to it, says the knowledge institute Duurzaam Verpakken (Sustainable Packaging). Collected glass and paper is transformed into new glass and paper.


We’re now collecting about 50% of plastic packaging. Yet it is hard to recover high quality resources from this, since most packaging is made from a blend of plastics. However, where back in the day we could only make traffic cones, these days we can recycle better materials, which can be used for jerrycans, flower pots, toys, lawn chairs, dashboards, door panels, and plastic parts for your car.

Biodegradable waste

The majority of biodegradable waste is still coming from rural municipalities. In cities 40 percent ends up mixed with residual waste. Large cities, according to Veeken, need to come up with more solutions to collect biodegradable waste. Because besides compost, you can use it to make biogas, liquid CO2, bioplastics, and aromatics. And you can collect phosphates, without which there is no life. For our food production Phosphor is irreplaceable in animal food and the fertilization of crops. The global supply is limited, so we need to be careful and frugal.

Clothing, electrical appliances, and bulky waste

The better the economy is doing, the more new clothing, furniture, and electrical appliances we buy. Yet recycling is on the come up. Per municipality there are 3 or 4 thrift stores. ‘My dream is that there is no more waste and that clothing, appliances, furniture, etc that aren’t being reused, go back to the producer,’ says Veeken. As the American company Caterpillar is doing, where every consumer is obliged to return redundant machines. ‘Caterpillar is in the business of refurbishment: they restore and clean old parts and use them in new machines. that way there is no waste.’

Sign-up for our newsletter!

I have read and agree to the terms & condition