Cooperation as the key to a clean environment


Pilot projects test new approach to litter in Erpe-Mere, Aalter, Ghent and Charleroi

How can we ensure together that there is less litter? This question prompted reflection among Fost Plus members. Given the expansion of their Extended Producer Responsibility, we are testing new actions to combat litter along with two intermunicipal organisations and in eight communes.

The background: reducing the impact of plastic products on the environment

The European Single Use Plastics directive states that producers of certain plastic products, packaging or other items are responsible for the costs incurred by cleaning up and management and as well as increasing awareness of the litter that they cause. The three regions are currently working on a new Interregional Cooperation Agreement (ISA) to transpose that SUP directive into Belgian law.

Who pays the piper calls the tune?

However companies have no wish to simply be handed the bill, just like that. They want to take full advantage of the extension of their responsibility and be able to help determine how resources are used in the most efficient way with a view to an optimal result, namely less litter and more recycling. This is not only smart from a financial point of view but also logical. Firstly, packaging that ends up as litter is pernicious for a brand. Secondly, their recycling targets and targets for the use of recycled material are so ambitious that they do need to re-collect any packaging if they are to achieve them.

Cooperating on the ground

Advantage of scale, exchange of knowledge and cost efficiency. This is a win, win, win in the cooperation model that we foresee. Cooperating with towns, cities and communes on the ground, with local and national policy makers and with the waste sector, but also coordinate with centres of expertise around litter such as Mooimakers and BeWaPP. To demonstrate the advantages of such collaboration, we are setting up pilot projects with the intermunicipal organisation IVAGO (for Ghent) and the communes of Erpe-Mere and Aalter in Flanders. In Wallonia, we are cooperating with the intermunicipal organisations TIBI (for Charleroi) and IDELUX (for the communes of Bouillon, Malmédy, Hotton and Tintigny). This enables us to test the approach in different environments that reflect the diversity of the Belgian landscape. It is a two-way process: we receive insight into how litter operational management is dealt with today and they receive additional resources to set up actions that can serve as a model for a broader approach. A few examples.

Hotspot approach in Erpe-Mere

In the commune of Erpe-Mere, dirty sites were identified by counting litter and a customised approach was worked out.
One of these sites is a shopping and residential street where we are getting to work with infrastructure and targeted communication.
A hotspot approach like this allows us to resolve structural problems. As well as cleaning, better infrastructure and awareness help ensure that the surroundings stay clean. We are learning valuable lessons about having the right rubbish bins in the right place, the participation of local residents and how best to reach the target group.

Clarifying data for Aalter

Of course, every town, city or commune already has an action plan. One that takes into account a wide range of indicators: number of rubbish bins, litter hotspots, volumes collected from the public rubbish bins, etc. But it is not always easy to find the trees through the forest. We facilitate insight into how resources are used by objectifying public cleanliness, among other things. We do this, for example, by means of litter counts or by monitoring fill rates of the public trash cans. In this way we gather more information, which should lead to optimization of the resources deployed.

TIBI focuses on enforcement

The intermunicipal organisation TIBI has long been in charge of collecting and managing household waste in 14 communes in the Charleroi region. TIBI has been responsible for public cleanliness in Charleroi since 2018 and in Aiseau-Presle, too, since 2023. This is unusual, since such matters are in general a responsibility of the cities and municipalities. With our help, they are now expanding their field of action to include enforcement; a service that they are happy to offer all Walloon towns, cities and communes. Because it is a first for an intermunicipal, we, supported by Be WaPP, are setting up an enforcement learning program to outline an enforcement approach. This relies on the recruitment of inter-communal supervisors on the one hand and on the use of video surveillance equipment on the other.

Soon: IVAGO tests AI

The possibilities of artificial intelligence seem limitless. That is why we will work with IVAGO to conduct tests using cameras with AI on their vehicles to measure street cleanliness and categorize different types of trash.  This will allow us to see if automation can help provide better insights into where and what is on the streets and allow for more targeted action (e.g. sweep frequency setting).

Clearly, each of these actions focuses on one or more of the five pillars of a successful litter policy. The cooperation model is to be assessed in the autumn, with a view to the introduction of the new cooperation agreement.