How We Do It: Netherlands Recycling

by farrah on April 22, 2013 · 17 comments

Happy Earth Day! In honor of this environmentally aware holiday, I thought I’d talk a little about what it means to be green in the Netherlands when it comes to recycling.


Back in South Carolina our method of recycling consisted of this: Whatever we thought was recyclable was tossed in a huge blue Mr. Rubbish type bin (the kind with wheels and a handle on the front) and it was placed at the end of the curb to be picked up once a week along with the garbage. The same sized garbage can waited diligently by its side to be dumped week after week. Life was easy and uncomplicated. We were doing our job. We thought we were doing something.

I never really sat down and thought about how much garbage a family of 5 made. Even though we had 3 kids in diapers that didn’t really impact us since they were all in cloth diapers and alleviated any landfill-style guilt. When you move though- it really dawns on your how much crap you have and how much junk you have to get rid of in the process. We had tons. Tons and tons and tons. It was embarrassing.

Then of course, once you move you have garbage all over again. You have boxes, bags, wrapping paper- not to mention all of the extra stuff from having to buy NEW stuff. We were overwhelmed with trash and not a clue as to what to do about it.

Did we ever get schooled.

First of all- there is a very elaborate, organized and detailed calendar that you receive in the mail. We have two conservatively sized containers that replaced our two huge bins. One is for garbage, and the other is for garden refuse. And get this- pick-up is TWICE A MONTH.  We went from once a week with two huge bins to twice a month with one skinny garbage bin. There are six forms of recycling and the below chart tells you when the pick-up will be for that type:


In addition:

There are special bags which you need to obtain to participate in two of the recycling methods. One bag is specifically for plastics- and the other is specifically for diapers. At this time, I have still not figured out where to acquire either- but I am really hoping to get on board soon. The first photo above is what the plastics day pickup looks like.

New to this operation is a skinny black container on wheels with a blue lid for paper recyclables (namely cardboard/food packaging). Be careful though! Large boxes that don’t fit in the container will be left behind. You can’t just lean it up against the container- you have to cut it up and make sure it fits in the bin. In fact, I have learned this with everything. If it’s not IN the container- it’s not going anywhere no matter how obvious it is that it goes with the bin.

There are recycling bins here and there- as well as a pay to use landfill in the area. We have had to break down and use the landfill from time to time- but now that we’re better about recycling the paper and plastics- our trash output has decreased and we *almost* make it to trash pick up day without anything left over.

I feel like I need a degree just to keep all of this straight.

So not only does most everyone participate in some- if not ALL of the recycling days/themes/etc, they have been doing it with no grief, and no questions asked for about two years since project implementation. Something this well-organized, detailed and involved really seemed to me that it must have been around forever to have so many people on board. I was absolutely shocked when I learned that this has been a relatively new process and people are just doing it. They aren’t protesting (according to my neighbor friends), they’re participating- gladly- and rather tidily too I might add.

I like that the boys see us doing this. I like that they will grow up aware of consumer output and what our responsibilites might be when it comes to taking care of our earth. I’m impressed with what the Netherlands is doing even though all of this is a large amount of information for a new expat to take in. Especially when the ‘how to’ is all in Dutch.

Do you recycle? What do you think of the program in your area?


{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Elizabeth April 22, 2013 at 8:16 am

The trash situation was very overwhelming when we first moved to Germany. Here’s our break down:
Gelb: plastics, metals, wax coated things like milk cartons. Pick up is twice a week. Gelb bags are available from the Rathaus which is like city hall.
Blue: Paper, cardboard. No bags, just a blue bin. Pick up is once a month.
Biotone: Food and yard scraps. Wrap food in old newspapers. Pick up is every Thursday.
Glass: glass has to be walked to a glass recycling container. Not too far and I like to walk anyway.
Restmull: Smallest of the bins. For all other trash. Pick up is every other Monday. I was utterly shocked and amazed to see the little amount of actual trash we use here vs. the US. We did not recycle at all in the US due to a an experience C had at a landfill (think I told you about that one). We easily took out a bag of trash every other day in the US. Here, we may take out one bag a month if that.

While it may be overwhelming at first, once you get used to it (and set an alarm on every computer and phone you own so you don’t forget to take up a bin-especially the paper that only comes once a month), it becomes automatic. It will feel very strange and wrong when we get home to just throw things away.


2 farrah April 22, 2013 at 12:21 pm

I can only imagine how into it your girls must be! And I really hope that we keep it up. I remember when we moved from MI to SC it was SO WEIRD to throw out a pop can. Gah! I can’t believe we did that.


3 Angela@JumpingWithMyFingersCrossed April 22, 2013 at 10:54 am

I love this! I love how nobody is protesting, I can’t imagine the same thing happening here. We just have a blue bin where we throw everything. I really want to do more.


4 farrah April 22, 2013 at 12:22 pm

As far as I know- they just do it. I’m sure there was some grumbling but I am amazed at how many people participate!


5 Rachel M April 22, 2013 at 2:11 pm

These are the kinds of things that I think will make returning to the US hard because so many Americans feel it is our right to be wasteful. I get sick of the American attitude that recycling is somehow connected to politics and that if we implement an organized system somehow we are catering to a certain group or “letting them win”.
I just can’t see it taking effect in the US. Many areas of the country have tried charging per bag of trash to encourage the three R’s but then the lazy morons just resort to illegal dumping. It is so frustrating!


6 farrah April 22, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Once it becomes a way of life- it should just be ‘how it is’. Sure it will be tough for one generation to adapt- but we need to suck it up for the next. If they grow up with this as the ‘normal’, it won’t be hard! I wish everyone saw it that way.


7 CK April 22, 2013 at 2:21 pm

I’m amazed of how little recycling your previous town had!

The Swiss city we lived in has garbage pick up twice a week and you must use specific blue bags (from the grocery store) that cost a fortune… this then forces you to recycle. All plastic, glass, milk cartoons, cans, batteries… you are responsible to bring this to drop-off bins (mostly in or near grocery stores). And then there is monthly pick up for paper (and other large items, but you need to refer to a calendar as it varies per month).

France is very similar to Switzerland, but there is more picked up at curb side and it’s more frequent!

In Canada, garbage pickup is every other week; however, the green bin (food scraps, papertowel, etc) is picked up weekly. The blue bin (plastics, can, glass) and black bin (paper) is picked up alternating weeks.

Taxes helps with creating and deploying recycling programs…


8 farrah April 23, 2013 at 11:14 am

Actually… a friend told me (in our same area in SC) her husband once watched a blue recycling bin dumped in with the rest of the garbage (!) so after that he was kind of like- what’s the point?! I think that for that reason- and the idea of ‘paying to dispose of our own reusable goods’ (perish the thought) is just something that the US will have a really hard time 100% getting behind, sadly.


9 Cynthia April 22, 2013 at 4:26 pm

I love recycling! We have garbage pick up weekly and recycling and yard waste bi-weekly. It really is a great part of our routine, BUT we always fill our recycle bin before pick-up and part of me wishes they picked up more often. We don’t have glass curbside recycling so I decided to do it. We got a little blue recycling bin and we fill it and I take it to the recycle center when full. We didn’t do cloth diapers so maybe I feel a bit guilty about it and am a crazy recycle queen now! Thank you for sharing. I love their colorful calendar and symbols. It makes me think they have a very specific order of things inthe process for recycle I g after it is pick up. Makes me wonder how they handle our mixed bin recycling here??


10 farrah April 23, 2013 at 11:15 am

I’d be curious. As I stated above we had a mixed bin and someone saw it getting dumped in with the regular trash- so at that point you’re like, why am I doing this? More people need to get on board- but they also need to believe in the process! I wish we had started sooner!


11 Leighann April 22, 2013 at 5:16 pm

we are huge recyclers at our house and in our little town in canada we don’t have garbage pick up, we have to go to the dump. We have recycling every two weeks so we make sure most of our stuff goes in the recycling. It just makes so much scense.


12 farrah April 23, 2013 at 11:16 am

It totally does! Makes sense to by not having garbage pick up- I admit I am still spoiled there.


13 Christie Tate April 23, 2013 at 12:14 am

Why can’t we do this here? I love this post. I learned so much.


14 farrah April 23, 2013 at 11:16 am

Thanks! I agree. I wish the US would get on board to a much larger scale. I wish…


15 Kristen April 24, 2013 at 2:06 am

We have one small trash can, one GIANT recycling can (my girls could both live in it) and a compost pile. The girls’ school is a green school too. They recycle and compost and it has taught them so much and they come home and teach us. I think teaching the habit at a young age is definitely a step in the right direction.


16 Kerry b April 26, 2013 at 1:45 am



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