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Comparison of Incineration and Landfill

Comparison of incineration and landfill approaches to waste disposal in relation to a specified urban area.

The Netherlands is the most densely populated country of the European Union with a population of 17 million people and a population density of 488 people per km2. It is one of the mostly densely populated countries in the world. The total size of the Netherlands is small, at only 41,500 km2. Amsterdam is the capital, but the government resides in The Hague1. This posed a major problem for the government, as in a country with such limited space what could they do with their waste? The government also had to face the fact that as their residents became wealthier more goods were produced and consumed, leading to even greater waste generation.

The Dutch approach follows Lansink’s ladder, after the priorities initiated by the politician Ad Lansink in the Dutch parliament in 1979. This means that the Dutch try to deal with waste in the following order; Prevention and reusing waste are the top priority (avoidance). Recycling and high-quality energy recovery is the second priority (recovery). The least preferred is burning waste and dumping waste on landfill (disposal). This was brought into Dutch law in 1993.2

Lansinks ladder

Reducing landfill

In 2013 the Netherlands only landfilled 1.5 to 2 million tonnes of waste annually. That is only a 2% to 3% of the total waste generation of some 60 million tonnes per year. Essentially only wastes for which no recycling or incineration option exists, are landfilled. 3 The Netherlands government achieved this through;

1. Introducing landfill bans in 1995 and gradually extended to 64 waste categories.

2. Introducing a landfill tax in 1996 and gradually increasing it until it was abolished in 2012.This has played a very important role in achieving the low landfill rates as it made it expensive to dump waste. The tax was ended in 2012 as it was thought that it was no longer needed because most waste was being recycled or used in energy recovery.

3. Increasing the amount of recycling taking place in the Netherlands

Using energy from waste

In 1992, the City of Amsterdam created Afval Energie Bedrijf (AEB), a waste-to-energy enterprise that operates as a self-contained entity but is owned by the City. AEB's mission is to recover as much energy and materials as possible from municipal waste while protecting the environment In 1993, AEB began operating a large incinerator on a site at the western end of the city in the area known as Westpoort.

This incinerator has a capacity of 900,000 tons of waste and sludge, and produces about 525 GWh per year, which corresponds to a continuous capacity of around 64 MW. Currently;

  1. AEB is the world’s largest Waste-to-Energy company on one single location.
  2. AEB has around 400 employees.
  3. The company comprises the Waste-to-Energy Plant (AEC), the Waste Fired Power Plant (HRC), the Hazardous Waste Depot and the Amsterdam Waste Points.
  4. They produce 1 million MWh of electricity annually, enough to service 320.000 households.
  5. Also a lot of heat is generated: up to 600.000 gigajoule a year over the last years. This heat is used for district heating: hot water and central heating of Amsterdam households.
  6. The design of the high efficiency Waste Fired Power Plant is partly based on technological innovations. Thanks to these innovations the energetic efficiency of the plant is over 30%, by far the highest in the world of waste to energy conversion.
  7. AEB also harvest the waste they receive for a source of raw materials. Valuable metals such as iron, copper and aluminium are extracted before burning. The remaining matter is used as fill material in the construction of roads. And products are also extracted from the flue gas. These are used in the asphalt industry. Additionally, gypsum is extracted and can be put to use in construction.
  8. AEB Amsterdam converts 99% of the 1.4 million tons of municipal and industrial waste that is being delivered annually, into sustainable energy and raw materials.
  9. AEB has also helped to CUT CO2 emissions because the plant has several functions at the same time – waste disposal, electricity generation and heat generation. 4

The UK government is keen on energy from waste as a method of reducing the amount of landfill and the production of energy. The experience of the Netherlands is generally positive, but it needs to be considered that this method is more expensive than landfill and also leaves some wastes that need disposing of inn the form of ash and potential air pollution.

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1- Holland, 2018, Facts and figures – accessed August 2018 at

2- Ad Lansink and Steve Watson (22014) - Ask Ad: climbing Lansink’s Ladder accessed August 2018 at

3- Heijo Scharff (2013) Landfill: A Victim of Dutch Success? accessed August 2018 at

4- AEB Amsterdam – Energy from Waste, accessed August 2018 at


Written by Rob Gamesby April 2020



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