Belgians top recyclers in Europe, but they pay no waste charges

Madrid residents also exempt from waste collection fee

As charges for recycling green bin waste are introduced by the country's largest recycling firm, Panda, The Irish Times looks at waste costs and habits in other cities.

Brussels: Belgium boasts that it is top of the European league for recycling packaging waste, with 87 per cent of plastic bottles, glass bottles, packaging and cartons now processed for recycling.

Rubbish triage by householders is mandatory and contravention of the rules is subject to fines. But there are no charges for rubbish collection which is organised by the communes.

The packaging waste recycling is coordinated by Fost Plus, a body representing and funded by the packaging industry. Every year, it recycles some 680,000 tonnes of packaging.


The recycling industry has welcomed EU commission proposals that will require, by 2030, 100 per cent disposable plastic containers on the market. But it calls for the additional incentivisation of the process notably with VAT reductions on products sold in recyclable plastic.

The commission is expected to publish its legislative version of its proposals shortly. – Paddy Smyth

Madrid: Residents do not pay anything for their rubbish - organic or recycled - to be collected. City hall's environmental department oversees the service, which it contracts out to a private company.

However, since 2016, there has been a charge for some non-residential properties in Madrid for rubbish collection. Highly-valued commercial and industrial properties, making up a fifth of non-residential real estate in the city, pay the so-called urban residual activity charge.

According to Madrid city hall’s payment scheme, a property of this kind worth €338,000 would be liable to pay €268 annually for rubbish collection.

In Barcelona, a similar system is in place, with only certain non-residential properties having to pay for rubbish collection. – Guy Hedgecoe

Athens: Like the TV licence, refuse charges in Greece are levied - as part of a general municipal tax - through household electricity bills, so payment of them cannot be avoided. The municipal tax is determined by multiplying the registered surface area of the residence by the local rate, which can vary from municipality to municipality. A home of 160 square metres in Corinth municipality, about an hour outside Athens, can expect to pay around €61.50 in municipal charges every two months, for example. Water and sewerage charges are billed separately by the municipality.

In Greece, however, there is no door-to-door refuse collection, either for households or businesses. Dumpsters - green for general waste and blue for recyclables - for collective use are located on street corners. The low level of public awareness on recycling, coupled with the inadequate supply of dumpsters, means recycling bins are often contaminated with normal waste. According to the most recent EU statistics, only 17 percent of Greek municipal waste is recycled, the third lowest rate. – Damian Mac Con Uladh

Budapest:: Most Hungarians pay for rubbish collection as part of a monthly fee that bundles together basic services for their house or apartment block. In Budapest, the portion of this charge for garbage disposal is usually equivalent to about €12, and there is no extra fee for using the now-ubiquitous bins for recycling plastics and paper.

One decades-old spring recycling ritual in Budapest is each district’s “lomtalanitas” or “clear-out” day, when people pile up unwanted items on the street for whoever desires them. Sofas, old stereos, faded paintings and battered musical instruments can be found among the mounds of useless detritus. Refuse collectors take away whatever is left behind, at no extra charge to residents. – Dan McLaughlin

Beijing: Until China stopped taking waste from overseas on January 1st, it imported millions of tons of waste annually from Ireland and the rest of Europe, as well as the US.

It is in the way waste is managed that you see that China is still a developing country. Most efforts to divide rubbish in households are still fairly rudimentary, but once the garbage is collected, groups of people with flatbed tricycles separate everything and package it carefully into organic waste, cardboard, plastic, etc. Little goes to waste.

Now there are increased efforts to make people recycle more, especially at home. The ban on imported waste has led to a shortfall in scrap plastic.

“We have enough rubbish ourselves to replace the foreign waste, we don’t need to import waste anymore,” said Xiang Wang, who works for a trading company.“We have built our own systems to recycle. This should have happened earlier. It has been a process and didn’t just happen overnight.”

Clark Li, who works for an art gallery, said recycling waste is one of the reasons air pollution is so bad in China.

“China has put the priority on people’s health now,” said Mr Li.

One man surnamed Feng, who works for a medical equipment company, said the ban on importing foreign waste will force people in China to start sorting their waste themselves at home.

“There will be special companies that recycle the waste, and a new industry will be formed as people start separating their rubbish. The government has done a lot of promotion about waste recycling, but it is not working well as I can see. But when the recycling industry starts to to take shape, people will become more aware. We don’t need to import waste because we make enough of our own - China is getting rich,” said Mr Feng. – Clifford Coonan