Our mix of policy instruments

Waste and Materials

OVAM English: closing (material) loops requires a well-balanced policy mix that includes a variety of complementing instruments.

Regulatory framework: the Materials Decree

The Materials Decree and VLAREMA entered into force on 1 June 2012 (subject to a few exceptions and transitional provisions). The Decree is the basis for sustainable materials management in Flanders and provides an integral view of the material chain, an approach which is essential for a lasting solution to the waste issue. It implements the European Waste Framework Directive (EC) 2008/98 for waste management in Flanders.

The 1981 Waste Decree was abolished. VLAREMA completely replaced VLAREA and contains more detailed regulations on (special) waste, raw materials, separate collection, transport, the obligation to register and extended producer responsibility.

Separate collection at source

Flanders has deliberately chosen for separate collection at source. The current system of collection of household waste with door-to-door collections, district collections and collection via recycling parks is well established. The separate collection helps to reduce the amount of residual waste and to provide more homogenous waste streams, which serve high-quality recycling.  

Payment for residual waste in combination with intensive communication is crucial for stimulating separate collection. 

End-of-Waste

The demarcation of the waste phase in the life cycle of a material is a crucial part of the Materials Decree. The aim is to use or reuse as many materials as possible in a way that’s safe for people and the environment.   

Flanders implemented the criteria from articles 5 and 6 of the EU Waste Framework Directive as the keystones for assessing waste status. These apply to metal scrap, glass, copper scrap and fertilising products from secondary materials.
In addition, Flanders has formulated its own, specific criteria for the multi-stream approach for:   

  • soil materials (excavated soil, dredged sludge, soil slurry and bentonite sludge) 
  • fertiliser 
  • soil improver 
  • construction material. 

Flanders has evaluated the health and environmental impacts of the materials and their applications to identify those that required more stringent controls and ex-ante assessments by authorities.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Some materials can be monitored in a more general manner, to detect emerging issues that may require an adjustment of policy over time, thus spreading the administrative load. For all materials, however, enforcement by means of regular inspections on the ground is a necessity. 

Landfill and incineration bans and taxes 

The Flanders landfill and incineration bans aim to stimulate high valorisation of waste. The following waste may not be used for landfilling or incineration:  

  • waste which, by reason of its nature, quantity or homogeneity is suitable, in accordance with best available techniques, for reuse or recycling 
  • mixed waste that is suitable for sorting.  

Landfill and incineration bans apply to both household and industrial waste.  

The prohibitions apply both to landfill and incineration within Flanders, and to collection and disposal for landfill and incineration outside Flanders.  

A landfill ban applies to:  

  • mixed municipal waste 
  • waste collected for recovery 
  • combustible or recyclable fractions from sorting or pretreatment 
  • old and expired medicines.  

The basic principle of landfill and incineration taxes is that the polluter pays. Waste taxes therefore function partly to finance, but mainly have a guiding function. This guidance is effected by differentiating taxes by type of processing and type of waste. In Flanders, environmental taxes must be paid for:  

  • landfilling of waste 
  • incineration of waste 
  • sorting and pretreatment of waste (since 2003).  

Additional environmental taxes are due when Flemish waste is landfilled, incinerated, sorted or pretreated outside Flanders.

Extended Producer Responsibility

Belgium has been an early adopter of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policies, with many Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs) already established in the nineties. Belgian EPR policies are based on 2 obligations:   

  • duty of acceptance 
    The producer is required to take back from consumers, free of charge, the end-of-life products it has put on the market. Collection is partly based on reverse logistics, in which final sellers act as collection points, and partly on municipal public collection infrastructure. The producer is responsible for the proper treatment of the waste.     

  • take-back duty  
    This applies to packaging waste. Here, the producer is required to achieve legally imposed recycling targets. In contrast to the duty of acceptance, the producers do not have to collect every type of packaging. They may choose to collect a selection (e.g. glass, paper and cardboard, PET bottles, etc.), provided they meet the set targets.     

In the future, Flanders will also charge producers for the waste streams that most often end as litter.  

Pay-as-you-throw

There is a pay-as-you-throw scheme in place for mixed household waste. The tariffs for the collection of mixed household waste are set by local authorities. However, since 2012 tariffs for household waste have been standardised. Local authorities must adhere to minimum and maximum limits to avoid large differences in tariffs between municipalities. The minimum tariff provides a minimum incentive for residents to sort their waste at the source. The maximum tariff is there to ensure that residents are not tempted to discard their waste in a neighbouring municipality. 

Investments in recycling parks

In recent years the Flemish region has invested in a dense network of recycling parks. Both a population standard and a distance standard are applied:  

  • 90% of the population lives within a maximum radius of 5 kilometres from a recycling yard site that is accessible to them  
or  
  • one recycling yard per municipality with more than 10,000 residents.  

The recycling parks allow residents to dispose of more than 30 different waste streams for recycling or dedicated treatment. These parks are run by the municipalities, the majority of which work together in intermunicipal waste associations to collect and recycle waste. Currently 26 intermunicipal waste associations operate in Flanders.

Cooperation agreements between municipalities and reuse centres

Municipalities may enter agreements to cooperate with accredited reuse centres. By doing so they receive an annual subsidy from the Flemish government.  

Since the late 1980s, more than 120 reuse shops have been established, offering used goods such as furniture, electric and electronic devices, leisure items, toys, textiles and clothing. Reuse shops employ people that have difficulty in finding jobs in the regular labour market. 

In 2002 the reuse shops and centres joined forces to establish an umbrella organisation, De Kringwinkel (the reuse shop). Since then, all reuse shops adhere to the same quality standards with regards to management, service and decor. Optimising the organisation in this way, together with clever marketing campaigns, has paid dividends.  

Today, reuse shops attract a regular flow of customers from different backgrounds, which has resulted in annual revenues of around €61 million (2019). Reuse targets for the sector remain ambitious. In 2022, the reuse shops should be selling 7 kg of goods per resident.