Whether or not to separate plastic

Facts and insights

Whether or not to separate plastic

Why and how?

From the beginning of this year, plastic will in a large number of municipalities, no longer be collected separately. Since the first of January, all plastic waste will be separated by a separation machine at the waste facility. This process is called post-separation. Are you wondering why that was not possible before? Want to know if separating plastic packaging waste ever made sense at all? We figured it out for you.

How much plastic are we talking about

According to calculations by the ING Economic Bureau, the Dutch use more than 1,500 pieces of plastic food packaging per year, per person alone. That’s an average of four packages a day. A total of 26 billion plastic food packages per year. How many do you use per day?

Environmental benefit versus costs

It’s obviously seems a shame not to separate these huge quantities of plastic for recycling. However, challengers of segregated waste collection, claim that separation hardly brings environmental benefits, costs a lot of money and ultimately leads to even more plastic in the public domain.

A valid argument is that machines can separate plastic a lot more effectively than humans. We as humans make many mistakes when collecting plastic packaging, cans and drinking packages. As a result, collected plastic waste is often severely contaminated with food scraps or by things that don’t belong in them (chip bags, coffee cups and plastic toys for example). This makes it more difficult to recycle. More than half of the separated plastic waste is therefore disapproved and still ends up in waste incineration after


In addition, the quality of reusable plastics is crucial. Not all collected plastic can be used to make something else. Some types of plastic, such as polystyrene from which plastic cups, meat bowls of foam and snack trays are made, are difficult to recycle due to the regular waste processors.

PET-bottles, on the other hand, can for a limited number of times, be used to make new bottles. Plastic that is used to make packaging for detergent can be reused. But food safety laws prohibit the use of recycled plastic for food packaging. And machines have a hard time separating the different types of plastic.

Most plastic waste is shipped off to Asia

Also a common argument for not collecting plastic. But this argument at least is not valid anymore. In the past, the Netherlands exported a lot of plastic waste, especially to China. Since China launched a campaign against the import of materials that are harmful for the environment in 2018, the Netherlands has recycled more and more of its own collected plastic waste in our own country and the countries around us. The European Union has even banned the export of non-recyclable plastics since the beginning of this year (2021).

What has changed?

The answer is: sorting machines to separate all our waste afterwards. Since 2017, separation machines not only remove cans, but also plastic from the residual waste. Today, these installations work so efficiently that they extract more plastic from the waste than we can as people can separate on forehand. And they can now also precisely collect the plastic that can be used for new products.

Recycling is not an end in itself

However, the fact that it is possible to recycle (part of the) plastic is not a reason to use unlimited (disposable) plastic. By reusing plastic, it may reduce the need to make new plastics, but it does not ends the use of too much plastic. Besides, recycled plastic is of poorer quality and falls apart faster.

The only thing that really helps is to cut back and use less (disposable) plastic. Looking for inspiration on how to do that?


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