Knowns and unknowns of plastic waste flows in the Netherlands

Delphine Lobelle*, Li Shen, Bas van Huet, Tim van Emmerik, Mikael Kaandorp, Giulia Iattoni, Cornelius Peter Baldé, Kara Lavender Law, Erik van Sebille

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Plastic entering the environment is a growing threat for ecosystems. We estimate the annual mass of known Dutch plastic waste generated and littered and where it ends up. We use two methods: (1) a material flow analysis of plastic waste separately collected from 13 economic sectors (including households, industry and imports) and estimate the amount sent to processing plants or exported and (2) a mismanagement model from observations of litter (on Dutch beaches and riverbanks) plus estimates of inadequately managed exported plastic scraps entering the environment abroad. In 2017 (the most recent complete data set available), an estimate of 1990 (±111) kilotonnes [kt] of plastic waste was separately collected. The top three plastic waste generating sectors (74% of the total) were households, clothing and textiles, and importation. Our mismanagement model estimates that 4.3–21.2 kt enters the environment annually; almost all of which occurs in foreign countries after inadequate management of imported Dutch waste. We highlight unknowns, including the source and/or destination of imported (623 kt) and exported (514 kt) plastics, plastics in non-household mixed waste streams and the plastic fraction of some separately collected waste, for example, e-waste. Our results stress the need for improved monitoring and reporting of plastic waste. Beyond the Netherlands, our recommendations could also help other high-income countries’ decision-makers reach their circular economy goals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-40
JournalWaste Management and Research
Issue number1
Early online date16 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024


  • Material flow analysis
  • mismanagement
  • Netherlands
  • plastic pollution
  • plastic waste
  • waste management


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