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Changes to Brussels rubbish collections from 15 May with compulsory orange bag
From 15 May, Brussels residents must put certain food waste into orange compost bin bags and not the previously-used white ones.
The measure will first apply to those living in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert, Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, Uccle, Auderghem, Watermael-Boitsfort, Jette, Ganshoren, Saint-Agatha-Berchem, Evere, Haren and Neder-Over-Heembeek.
According to minister for the environment and public cleanliness Alain Maron (Ecolo), these are greener, more sparsely populated municipalities are already further along in terms of sorting.
Residents of these municipalities will soon receive a guide in the mail with the new collection days.
Schaerbeek, Molenbeek, Anderlecht, Saint-Gilles, Forest, Etterbeek, Ixelles, Saint-Josse, Koekelberg and the rest of Brussels-City will follow later.
Not all food waste can go in the orange bags – leftover meat, prepared meals and bread must still go in the normal rubbish because they attract rats and other unwanted animals.
Excess cooked meat and fish can go in, but meat bones and fish bones cannot. Likewise, mussel shells and egg shells must also go in the residual waste bins.
Collection will take place just once a week – a fact that irks some residents. “When it gets warmer, it starts stinking and we get flies,” one such resident told Bruzz.
“Keeping such an orange bag inside for a week is really not viable in summer, and neither is a white bag, because even if the orange bag becomes compulsory, it will always contain some food leftovers, such as fish bones.”
Another resident agreed, saying that “what stinks has to go out the door twice a week”.
Brussels MP Bruno Bauwens also has reservations about the new collection process.
"We did a poll," he said. "And most people don't know anything about it yet.
"If they already know about it, they seem willing to sort, but it has to be feasible. For people with tiny kitchens, who don't have a garden or terrace or only a terrace for the children, it’s a problem.
"We are not anti-orange bag or anti-sorting. Our big concern is that people have to keep their food waste for a week, mainly in the orange bag, but also in the white bag. So you get two bags that are going to stink. I saw worms in my orange bag this week and it’s not even summer yet."
Kitchen waste accounts for 40% of the weight of the white bag and can also be easily processed into compost or biogas.
But today, an estimated 500,000 tonnes of unsorted waste from white bags (for residual rubbish), companies and litter are put into incinerators every year.
Although this produces electricity, combustion releases considerable amounts of greenhouse gases, which goes against the Brussels region's recent climate goals of reducing emissions by almost half their 2005 levels by 2030.
The government wants to reduce the flow of waste to the incinerator by a third, which is why the sorting process has changed.
The new process also puts the region into early compliance with a European directive which states that biological waste must be collected separately from 2024 onwards.
The orange bin bag for food waste was first introduced in 2017, making it the fifth colour after white, yellow, blue and green.
But more than five years later, in some neighbourhoods, residents say they are the only ones on their street actually using them.
“Surely sorting your waste is the least you can do for the climate,” said one resident who has been using the orange bag since it was first introduced in a pilot phase eight years ago.
In another effort to decrease the amount of rubbish ending up in the residual stream destined for the incinerator, food cans and drink cartons were also added to the list of approved items for the blue bag.
While this measure was first introduced in 2021, it will become mandatory on 15 May just like the orange bags.
Maron sayid that less waste in the white bags means more capacity for sorting organic rubbish.
The scaling back of the white bag collection will be done in phases, according to his spokesperson, with the most densely populated municipalities being spared at first. Additionally, nothing will change for residents of apartment blocks with large collection containers in basements.
Maron said that there will be sanctions for those who do not comply with the new sorting rules only after the summer.
Free lockable orange containers are being distributed via Bruxelles Propreté and the municipalities in order to bring people on board, with the hope being that residents will also use them to put the orange bag on the street.
While this is extra work for the rubbish collectors, it also prevents the bags from being ripped open by foxes, cats or birds.
But reactions on social media to the free bin have been critical: ranging from too big to too small, too plastic, too impractical, and prone to theft.
Mayors are also not entirely happy with the new plan, with mayor Christian Lamouline (Les Engagés) of Berchem-Sainte-Agathe saying that the timing is particularly bad.
“The fact that waste is sorted is a good thing, it’s also required by Europe, but an adjustment period is needed,” Lamouline said.
“People must be given time to learn to sort and acquire the right reflexes. Let us do that pedagogical work first and then, after six months or a year, reduce the number of collection rounds in all municipalities at once.”
Lamouline fears that Berchem-Sainte-Agathe will become dirtier because of this whole plan.
“On the one collection day, there will be so many white bags that not all of them can go with the rubbish cart, there will be more fly-tipping and if there is a strike, the bags will be left lying around for an extra week,” said Lamouline.
Mayor Benoît Cerexhe (Les Engagés) of Woluwe-Saint-Pierre is also calling for a postponement of the once-weekly collection of the white bags and mayor Emir Kir of Saint-Josse objects to the evening collection rounds, which will soon resume.
Trade unions are against the whole reform plan in its entirety, calling it “rushed” and adding that “there is still so much to be clarified,” according to Nisrine Chihi of SLFP-VSOA.
“If there is only one collection of organic waste per week, people will start throwing their kitchen waste in the white bag too,” Chihi said.
“We asked to wait, say until September. Then you can test the system first and then the rubbish collectors can still take their holidays, because for them, the new scheme means heavier bags and longer rounds. But Maron wants to force the issue.”
The unions want to see how Brussels residents and rubbish collectors react and “depending on that, we'll decide whether there will be strikes or other actions”.