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Sort it out: what to do with your rubbish in Brussels
According to the City of Brussels, every inhabitant of the Brussels-Capital Region produces on average 1kg of waste a day. Multiply this by the 1.2 million people living in Brussels in 2017, and you’re left with an awful lot of rubbish.
Recycling and reducing the amount we waste is clearly important. Not only does sorting incorrectly create tons of environmental and administrative problems for the region, it could also resort in a hefty fine. So here are some key points to help you sort your rubbish in Brussels. If you live in Flanders or Wallonia, different rules will apply.
Brussels uses colour-coded bags to sort its trash. These are widely available in supermarkets and smaller shops around the city. The blue bag is for PMD – or plastic, metal and drink cartons. The rule of thumb is ‘if in doubt, throw it out’ in the white general waste bags rather than putting it in the blue bag. According to waste management authority Bruxelles Propreté, all plastic waste must be placed in the white bag. Only plastic bottles, milk and drink cartons, aluminium and tin cans should go in the blue bag. Aluminium and tin includes all drinks cans and tin cans – like chopped tomatoes and tuna come in – plus pressured and spray cans, like whipped cream and deodorant. You can also throw in aluminium pie plates and metal lids from glass jars and bottles.
As a general rule, when the top is smaller than the bottom, it can be recycled. So yoghurt and margarine containers are out, but water, milk, yoghurt drinks, detergent and shampoo bottles are in. Their lids are also OK, but take them off and put them in separately. All recyclables have to be empty, but you don’t have to rinse them out. If you crush the bottles, you can fit more in the bag. You are paying for the bags, after all.
Commonly misplaced blue bag items: butter wrappers, yoghurt pots, plastic bags and aluminium foil – these must all go in the white bag.
Most paper, including newspaper, mail, magazines, books and cardboard boxes (broken down) go here. Your paper and cardboard items must be clean and dry, and any item that doesn’t fit into the yellow bag must be folded and firmly tied. Newspapers and magazines can also be piled separately, but then they also must be tied or placed in a cardboard box. Bags must not exceed 15kg.
Remove the plastic wrapping from magazines or advertising leaflets first – this then goes into the white bag, not the blue PMD bag.
Commonly misplaced yellow bag culprits: paper tissues, kitchen roll, stickers, juice boxes, carbon paper, wallpaper, greaseproof paper and cellophane.
While mostly relevant to those with a garden who want to get rid of dead leaves, grass cuttings, weeds, shrub trimmings and branches, the green bag also applies to apartment dwellers with withered flowers or plants and unwanted Christmas trees. Garden waste goes to the Brussels compost centre, so non-compostable garden waste shouldn’t go into the bag.
Commonly misplaced green bag material: soil, sand, animal waste, stones, gravel, canvas, fences, posts, cement or plastic hedging, slabs, tree stumps and trunks.
Recently introduced to all of Brussels’ communes, the orange bag is for food waste – which makes up 40% of the contents of the white bag. Put your food scraps, vegetable peelings, teabags and coffee grounds, paper towels and mouldy fruit in here. Not suitable for ashes, egg shells, bones, shellfish or compostable packaging. Residents of 10 municipalities are eligible for free plastic orange containers for their organic waste.
Only bottles and jars can be recycled, and you’ll need to separate the clear from the coloured. So no mirrors, broken drinking glasses, lightbulbs, ceramics or any other kind of glass – this is bulky waste (see below). Put the appropriate glass items in a box or bag that you can reuse week after week. DON’T put in plastic or tin lids (they go in the blue bag!). Then drop them off at one of Brussels’ many bottle banks (map here) or a container park.
While this bag is, for the most part, the catch-all bag for everything that doesn’t belong in the bags above, there are still some waste items that can’t go in here.
Medicines: these should be taken back to the pharmacy for safe disposal. Cardboard packaging and paper instructions go in the yellow bag.
Construction/renovation waste: this includes rubble, scrap, wood and the Styrofoam that often comes with packaging (see full list).
Large volume waste: waste that’s too large to fit in a white bag usually becomes ‘bulky household waste’. These items need to be disposed of at a container park, or you can call and organise a pick-up (you’re entitled to one pick-up of 3m3 bulk a year).
When is your date with the garbage truck?
Collection days vary depending on where you live – these collection times are precise to your address, so better to check, as putting your garbage out at the wrong time can result in a fine. You can do this online: just type in your address, and print out your individualised calendar.
Sorting Memo: a printable memo sheet that you can hang on your fridge
Recycle! app: informs you about all things waste management in Brussels