Solid Waste in Belgium

The Kingdom of Belgium is one of the most densely populated and heavily industrialized nations in the world. Roughly the area of Maryland, Belgium has a population of 10.5 million. Belgium’s small area and dense population has created an acute environmental awareness, consistently ranking this smaller European nation as one of the top 20 destinations for environmental exports.

Because Belgium is a small and densely populated country, waste collection, treatment and disposal services are highly developed and sophisticated. The waste treatment market in Belgium is mature and hyper-competitive among six mostly multinational waste management groups.

While to date municipal waste has been handled by the public sector and industrial waste by private firms, the landscape is changing. Typically public services are now being considered for privatization. Waste handling and treatment is no exception. This of course could have significant implications for supplying product and services to this sector.

Most waste treatment equipment is imported from neighboring countries. Although the Belgian waste management market is mature, market opportunities do exist in certain niche areas. As the EU sets out new recycling targets for existing legislation and new legislation for additional waste streams, the Belgian waste management market will demand additional equipment and/or new technologies able to sort and recycle new waste streams and components.

International firms may be competitive in an increasingly international waste market if they can provide innovative and cost and labor saving equipment, technologies, or services that will enable local recyclers to technically improve their operations, thereby saving time and labor costs, to cope with a rapidly expanding market. Additionally, opportunities exist for creating new markets for recycled materials.

Market Overview and Trends

The Belgian environmental market (public and private sectors) is estimated at approximately 5 billion dollars divided among wastewater treatment, waste management, soil remediation, air pollution control and environmental consultancy. The market has not grown significantly since the last market report for this sector was published in 2005.

The Belgian environmental market is undergoing much change currently, with the reorganization of the public waste sector, newcomers from Asia, industrial operators restructuring their operations, and a new government since June 2004. Household waste is managed by the public sector through regional and municipal authorities. The industrial waste market is managed by the private sector. However, pressures are now in play to privatize the household waste sector.

Although the federal government deals with nuclear waste and waste transit, the regions handle the majority of waste management issues. Businesses must be aware not only of waste policies dictated at the European level, but also of variations in the actual implementation of these policies that may exist at the regional level in Belgium.

The first stage in Belgium’s approach to handling solid waste is prevention. Belgium, as all of Europe, prides itself on generating significantly less waste per person than other developed countries. This is accomplished through strict product packaging and take-back laws, mandatory recycling, and a general positive public attitude about minimizing waste.

The next stage in handling waste that is generated through selective collection, recycling, and re-use. It is estimated that whether generated by households or industry, Belgium recycles or reuses more than 50% of all waste generated. Belgium has created various organizations efficiently dealing with the various producer take-back obligations and related recycling targets set by the EU.

Although the market for waste management equipment is mature, opportunities do exist for firms that can offer innovative technologies for sorting and recycling waste that are more efficient and better priced than current systems, to cope with a rapidly expanding market.

Significant pressures exist on this final stage of the handling process. For items that cannot be reused or recycled, the first option is incineration. Landfills are the final stage.

While negative attitudes remain about incineration, pressures to eliminate incineration have waned, largely due to the landfill situation. However, as waste-to-energy might develop as a real market opportunity.

Structure of the Market

In Belgium, household waste collection and treatment is managed publicly through local municipalities and regional municipal organizations. Private companies, on the other hand, typically manage industrial waste.

The Belgian market for household waste management services offers few opportunities for new operators or foreign firms.

Composting, anaerobic digestion, heat and power generation via incineration or other forms of thermal treatment, lead to final residue disposal by landfilling. Most of these operators provide consulting services as well and some are involved in the research and development of waste treatment technologies.

The Belgian Recycling Market

EU and national legislation have resulted in a very developed Belgian recycling market. COBEREC is the Belgian recycling trade federation with 125 members divided among its various waste recycling sectors: metals, textiles, paper and cardboard, tires, and plastics. These various waste streams are tied to take-back obligations, except for the textile sector. Textile recycling (90% of collected used textiles) is very labor intensive as primarily manually sorted through humanitarian associations. Traders export recycled textiles (used apparel) to Africa and Asia.

Take-Back Obligations in Belgium

The "polluter pays" policy is being fully applied on both the regional and national levels, and has led to the creation of specific organizations efficiently dealing with the various household and industrial take-back obligations set by EU legislation on behalf of their members-producers. In Belgium, recycling obligations exist for a number of specific types of waste streams, whether driven by EU or national legislation. New and updated legislation and, accordingly, new recycling targets, are constantly being established. Currently, the first generation of take-back obligations is about to end, leaving ground for a second generation.

Take-back obligations are developed only for waste streams deemed to be of particular importance, so international firms can gauge what kinds of recycling equipment are likely to be most highly demanded based on the obligations that already exist and on those that are forthcoming.

Paper and cardboard

Paper sorting equipment is already on the market, however since paper sorting is manual and extremely costly in terms of time and labor, much research is done to optimize cost efficiency of paper sorting and innovative techniques are welcome.


Market potential exists for improvements in sorting systems, as research in recycling will result in the recycling of new types of batteries made of lithium-ion and lithium-polymer.

End-of-live vehicles (ELV)

Current legislation mandates that Belgium reach a 95% components reuse and recycling rate by 2015, a very ambitious goal requiring significant efforts on the parts of all parties involved, including car manufacturers which will need to adapt manufacturing to more recyclable components

Metal recycling is an attractive market with three million tons of metals collected yearly. Together with improved and cost-efficient sorting techniques, the recycled products from shredding also need a ready market.

Used tires

A take-back obligation for used tires has been in place since 2000. There are opportunities here for creating additional markets for the reuse of recycled tires, since tire recycling costs are high.

Other Opportunities

As Belgium continues its progressive closing of landfills over the coming years, producers are likely to face acute cost pressures in regard to waste disposal. Currently, high taxation of treatment centers is forcing Belgian operators to apply high costs for waste treatment and placing them under heavy competition from foreign treatment centers. This results in increased exports of waste to neighboring countries (Germany, in particular) for cheaper treatment and landfilling, a threat to the Belgian waste market by underutilizing highly performing treatment centers and landfills.

Take-back obligations will create demand for:

  1. new technologies and equipment to recycle the final residues, so as to avoid land filling. Such techniques and equipment need to address the following three parameters altogether: technical feasibility, financial competitiveness, and availability of market openings. This is particularly true for plastics final residues resulting from the recycling of ferrous/non ferrous waste-for example, automotive depollution.

  2. More recycling equipment as recycling rates increase, as well as new types of machines to treat new waste streams.

Market Access and Entry

Belgium imports almost all of its waste management and recycling equipment. The majority of these imports come from Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Italy.

These countries have some advantages over other international firms looking to export to Belgium. First, their companies must comply with EU directives regardless of whether they are producing for domestic use or export to other EU member countries.

In addition, there are no internal tariffs for goods moving among EU countries, so other international firms are at a cost disadvantage in that regard. Although most of Belgium’s waste management equipment comes from its European neighbors, Belgian companies are generally receptive to other technologies that are innovative and priced competitively. Waste management firms are always looking to acquire more efficient technologies to cope with a rapidly changing and expanding market.

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