Waste separation in the Netherlands: why it’s the best

The Netherlands is one of the most sustainable countries in the world, with one of the best waste management systems in Europe. Here’s how the Dutch go from litter to glitter, from wreck to tech, from waste to replaced. ♻️

I sometimes wonder why the colour of the Netherlands is orange, when a lot of what they do is painted green. From crazy renewable energy projects to citizen-led initiatives against food waste, the Dutch are famous for their Go-Green attitude.

READ MORE | 17 ideas that make the Dutch sustainability super-heroes

A clear example is waste separation in The Netherlands. Waste separation is part of a bigger Dutch commitment to have top-notch waste management policies, and pro-environmental citizens.

So, how does waste separation in The Netherlands work exactly? Well, there are a lot of layers and levels to examine, so let’s get to it!

How do they do it?

So, how do the Dutch do it? Is it all policy and government? Or do the citizens play a role in this? Definitely both, but household waste separation in The Netherlands is definitely a strong starting point.

READ MORE | Recycling in the Netherlands: an international’s guide

Dutchies are very keen on separating their waste, and municipalities encourage people to do so. Every city has different rulings, knowing the system of your city can save you from getting a fine, and lets you be part of the solution!

National and international commitment: the Dutch leading the way

Sometimes the ‘green priority’ of the Netherlands is put in the hot seat. Other times, it’s put in the spotlight as the gold standard.

A 2012 report by the European Commission graded 27 EU countries on different aspects of European waste management legislation. “Waste generated, waste collection, waste recycling and recovery and landfill creation”, were some of the criteria analyzed.

The Netherlands ranked at the top of this list. Just add it to the list of things the Dutch are great at!

They take recycling so seriously they say it twice. Image: Depositphotos

Something also worth taking a look at, which goes beyond the scope and focus of this article, is how The Netherlands prioritizes following the ‘waste management hierarchy‘.

This hierarchy “indicates an order of preference for action to reduce and manage waste from most favourable to least favourable actions.”. Also called the ‘Lansink’s Ladder’ (named after the ex-Dutch politician that proposed it back in the 70s), is visible in Dutch waste management actions.

In short: policies and citizen involvement work together for the least amount of waste in the Netherlands.

Waste separation in Amsterdam

All Dutch cities are different, but let’s take a closer look at recycling and waste management in the Dutch capital.

Most neighbourhoods have different bins used for different types of waste. Amsterdam has bins in the following categories:  glass, paper, plastic packaging and drinks cartons, shoes & textiles, and ‘residual waste’.

READ MORE | Amsterdam scores last place for environment — Rotterdam most unhealthy city in the Netherlands

Most people separate their waste and place it in the corresponding bins themselves. Some neighbourhoods do not have bins, which means people have to take out their trash for collection on specific days, no earlier than 21:00. Doing it before can result in a fine.

Specific types of waste, like household chemicals/waste (leftover paint, expired medicine and/or used light bulbs), can be taken to places like supermarkets or pharmacies for proper disposal.

Lastly, bulky waste, like kitchen and washing appliances, can be left out in specific locations for pick up, on specific days as well.

Waste separation in the Netherlands: a priority for all, for all the good reasons

I come from a city that has the highest levels of air pollution in Mexico. Some people blame the government, others blame the citizens. Whoever is to blame, the top and the bottom are not working together. The opposite is true in the Netherlands.

Both the authorities and the people seem to be on the same page. The Netherlands didn’t make it to the top of the charts in the waste management scene on policies alone. It starts at the household level, where Mevrouw van der Schaap takes her time to separate paper from glass.

It seems that people know that going green is the right way to go, and the state facilitates this with proper rulings and facilities. While there is always room to improve, it is safe to say that The Netherlands sets a valuable standard for the rest of Europe, and the world.

What do you think of waste separation in The Netherlands? Tell us in the comments below!

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in February 2018, and was fully updated in November 2022, for your reading pleasure.

Feature Image:Depositphotos
Renan Alejandro Salvador Lozano Cuervo
Renan Alejandro Salvador Lozano Cuervo
Pannenkoek en poffertjes connoisseur/expert. Mexican that came for the graduate education, stayed for the stroopwafels and bikes. Ask me how to make the perfect guacamole, and about the hot spots in The Hague.

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What do you think?


  1. Unfortunately for me that’s not completely true – I’m living in Alkmaar and find waste disposal extremely hard there. I have one main garbage bin in my street, no glass disposal or paper disposal anywhere near, organic matter is not picked up in my street and plastic isn’t either. Very sad when you want to do good for our planet!

  2. I am an avid supporters of segregation, in my neighbourhood we have all the bins needed except for the old clothes but in some places in Amsterdam don’t even have a bin for plastic waste.

  3. And since sexism swings both ways, I think that you should be aware that in many households, it is not “Mevrouw” taking the time to separate it all out, but is indeed “Menheer.”

  4. When it comes to separate b io from everything else, then this is true, we do have two bins one for bio and one for non-bio. However, when it comes to recycle paper, plastic, glass or oil, the number of containers in my area (outskirts of Leiden) is really inssuficient. As a result, I do not recycle plastic, neither oil. This, of course, is just one observation applying to one particular area in The Netherlands, so it does not represent the norm, of course. However, this: https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/indicators/waste-recycling-1/assessment-1 is a study done by the European Environment Agency, and no, Netherlands is not top 1.

  5. Having lived in Amsterdam for over 10 years I can tell you that this is BS. Every single day I see locals dropping the most random garbage either in the bin or, even better, on the pavement. They theough glass, tree branches, plastic, kettles, old shoes and what not all at once in the same trash. I live right next to one of those underground bins and see this happen several times a day. But turns out if you leave a cardboard box next to the paper collector because it’s full, they’ll happily report you to the Gemeente. Oh the Dutch green hypocrism…

  6. I have mixed feelings about this. Yes the government offers many options for waste separation. However, many people don’t use these options. Living in Amsterdam myself, I see continuously trash next to the bins outside. People get spoiled and expect that the government will clean it up anyways. Of course this is not everybody. Luckily there is a big group that gets more and more aware of the environment and with that their waste management.


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