Organic waste: the start of something beautiful

Vegetable, fruit and garden waste is more than just compost, as the resource and energy company Meerlanden demonstrates at its Green Energy Factory (Groene Energiefabriek) in Rijsenhout, just south of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. Meerlanden uses the organic waste from nine municipalities and 4,000 companies in the region to produce green gas, CO2, heat, compost, citrus fuel and water.

In 2010 the resource and energy company Meerlanden changed its course: the company wanted to make better use of organic waste. They started out by conducting thorough research. The researchers collected best practices from all over Europe, and from all the techniques they came across, they picked those that could best be combined in a Green Energy Factory. During this phase, the company worked closely with specialists in the field of process engineering and circularity. In 2011, the Green Energy Factory was built.

The factory processes vegetable, fruit and garden waste in five steps, each of which yields an output. A special Swiss-made digester processes 53,000 metric tons of the incoming 55,000 tons of organic waste. Sixty percent of the organic waste is used to make biogas, which is then purified to create ‘green gas’. This is used to power more than half of all Meerlanden’s vehicles; the remainder makes its way to households and industry in the surrounding area. The CO2 is captured from the biogas and delivered to various greenhouse horticulture companies, which use it as a growth enhancer. Recently Meerlanden has also started applying a technique to extract oil from citrus peel, producing a fuel that is used instead of diesel in Meerlanden’s own weed control equipment.

Compost and heat

Annually, the innovative tunnel composting system yields 2.5 million bags of compost. A large proportion of the heat produced during the process is captured, totalling around 10 million kWh. More than a quarter goes to a nearby greenhouse horticulture company, enabling it to make a saving of 320,000m3 in its gas consumption. The composting process also produces 4.5 million litres of condensation. This water is used for street cleaning and anti-icing brine on the roads.

The output of the Green Energy Factory in 2017

Meerlanden is researching possibilities to increase the output from the 55,000 tons of organic waste it collects each year. A project is currently underway to extract even more heat, plus a study on whether the waste could yield even more raw materials, such as fibre for use in the paper industry and fatty acids for the chemical production of bio-based materials.

Recouping investments

When a new method is found to extract additional materials from the organic waste, Meerlanden immediately considers who a possible purchaser might be, and makes contact. The collaboration with companies in the region and municipalities is the basis of the Green Energy Factory’s success: it shows there is a genuine demand for the factory’s output.

Of course, Meerlanden won’t recoup its investments from one day to the next. The company receives financial support from the municipalities in which it is active, and a Stimulation of Sustainable Energy Production (Stimulering Duurzame Energieproductie, SDE+) grant from central government. There is also income from the sale of the green gas, CO2, heat, compost and water, or at least savings are made when these resources are used internally.

Involving citizens

Meerlanden also encourages citizens to become involved in the factory. The company developed an online platform called ‘The start of something beautiful’ (‘Begin van iets moois) to show residents in the region what happens to their household waste. The organisers hope to stimulate citizens as well as companies to sort their waste more effectively.

Organic waste in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area and the rest of the Netherlands

Meerlanden processes waste in nine municipalities in the Schiphol, Bollenstreek and Zuid-Kennemerland area. According to the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area’s Raw Materials Atlas (Grondstoffenatlas), most organic waste in the region is disposed of with the non-recyclable waste. This is largely because in the city of Amsterdam hardly any organic waste collection takes place. There are, however, some local initiatives and various pilots, such as (‘city compost’), the installation in 2017/2018 of 45 ‘worm hotels’ in the city, and organic waste collection in the Java-eiland district (see article in Dutch), which was introduced in 2016 in collaboration with a group of motivated local residents and businesses (58 tons of organic waste collected in 2017).

In 2018, organic kitchen waste collection was started in part of the IJburg district (Steigereiland) at the request of residents themselves. In mid-2019, this is to be extended to the whole of IJburg. If the scheme proves to be a success – with at least 30% of residents participating – the plan is to launch organic kitchen waste collection in the Oostelijk Havengebied and Oostelijke Eilanden areas in 2020. The district of Zuidoost is investigating whether households that use a mini-container for non-recyclable waste could also start using one for organic kitchen waste in 2019.

The organic kitchen waste that is currently collected in Amsterdam is used to produce five products: biogas, which is used to fuel lorries; residual heat and captured CO2, which is supplied to greenhouse horticulture companies; water, which is used for anti-icing brine on the roads; and compost, which is sold as certified compost for agricultural use. Many new applications for organic kitchen waste are also in development, such as clothing made of fruit and vegetable fibre, and nutrients for livestock feed. There is great potential for the future.

Following on from Meerlanden’s Green Energy Factory, other waste processing companies have developed comparable initiatives. Examples are HVC in Middenmeer and Indaver in Alphen aan den Rijn.

Firm targets

The Dutch Waste Management Association website provides examples of successful organic waste measures here (in Dutch)

Role of the Board

The Amsterdam Economic Board helped to set these developments in motion by conducting thorough market research and bringing together the parties concerned within the scope of the Board’s material transition programme. This is the collaborative programme in which waste streams such as textiles are combined and upgraded at the scale of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area to create new material streams.

Read more

This is part 7 of a series of articles on the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area’s resource transition programme.


11 December 2018

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