Comprehensive urban waste regulatory system



Country: a) Northern Europeb) Denmark
Type: Policy, 1
Area: City/Town, 100,000 - 1 mill.
Actors: Local government, Economic sector
Funding: Local government, Economic Sector
Topics: Solid waste
Objectives: Waste avoidance
Waste recycling
Waste treatment
Instruments: Pricing and tax structure


The Danish waste management system had undergone a radical change in the 1980s. The municipalities had become responsible for all waste and, in consequence, they had to look for waste reduction and recycling potentials. Furthermore, they had to establish a comprehensive regulatory system in order to direct the streams of waste to appropriate facilities. On urban and local levels these principles and legal acts have to be transformed into suitable collection schemes as the municipalities have the regulatory power to set up specific instructions for the collection, sorting and handling of individual material fractions. The Danish, and the Copenhagen, practice of waste management has to be regarded as a model for the following reasons:

Concept and implementation


Since the 1980s the principles of waste management in Denmark have undergone some radical changes. Whereas previously the upgrading of the technical infrastructure of waste disposal had been the dominant theme of waste planning, the recent waste management is directed towards the minimisation of waste volumes and the assignment and utilisation of waste disposal. Until the early 1980s, waste regulation aimed at providing an optimal infrastructure for the waste volumes and their regional distribution, which meant that in the first place waste planning was concerned with determining the needed dimensions and locations for waste treatment facilities. At that time the price of waste depositing and waste incineration was relatively low and there was no need to search for cheap waste recycling facilities. Since the amendment of the Act on Environmental Protection in 1985, the focus has been shifted to the implementation of regional and local planning, and to individual surveys into each waste fraction. The studies identify the individual potentials of recycling and, thus reduce the volume of waste for incineration and landfill use. The national waste management goal sets guidelines for an overall recycling level of 60-65%. However, to a wide extent it is up to the municipality to discover how to reach this target on different types of waste and to decide which waste fraction demands priority. In order to establish a comprehensive waste management, the municipalities became the authorities for all waste from all sources, including private households, institutions, industries, service trades etc. Thus the municipalities became obliged to secure capacity for the treatment of all wastes.

The next step was to tackle the waste volumes from industries and to determine rules for waste disposal schemes for all such waste fractions. Since 1989 the assignment and utilisation duties oblige all waste producers to declare their means of waste disposal. Municipalities can demand the pre-sorting of wastes by the waste producers. Furthermore, they can appoint transporters for the transport of wastes, and they can also determine to which facility the wastes should be delivered. The municipal provisions are stated in municipal regulations which cover all municipalities attached to an inter-municipal partnership. Currently, the municipal waste activities of Copenhagen are carried out by the R98 company. The area covered by the R98 also includes the City of Frederiksberg as a cleansing area. The combined population amounts to 560,000.

In Copenhagen R98 operates the following collection schemes for households:

  1. household waste;
  2. bulky waste;
  3. garden waste;
  4. newspapers and periodicals;
  5. glass;
  6. hazardous household waste;
  7. household bio-waste (currently a test scheme);
  8. syringes;
  9. waste food from restaurants and other facilities;
  10. health care wastes.

The greatest change according to the assignment requirement appears in connection with landfills. Previously, the City of Copenhagen had nine sanitary landfills and 26 inert landfills. However, the approval policy for these sites has been dramatically changed since the waste law amendments of 1985 and 1989. In 1992 only one sanitary landfill and two inert landfills were approved due to efforts made in recycling.

The regulation of commercial and industrial waste defines some obligations for the waste producers, carriers and receiving stations. All waste producers are obliged to sort the waste into different fractions according to the below mentioned standards. All carriers of waste are registered by the municipality, and the waste carriers are obliged to monitor the correct sorting of waste and for transportation to approved receiving stations or treatment plants. The waste carriers are to keep records of each waste transport, containing information on the type and amount of waste and on the transportation: from where to where. The receiving station or treatment plant is obliged also to register the type and amount of waste and to control the use of registered carriers. This information is used as a central element in waste management planning in Copenhagen.

The regulations for industrial and commercial waste include the following administrative standards for pre-sorting:

Volumes of more than:

  1. 2 cubic metres garden waste per month;
  2. 150 kg or 300 bottles per month;
  3. 500 kg glass per month or per construction project (especially windows);
  4. 20 kg paper per week;
  5. 10 kg cardboard per week;
  6. 50 kg or 2 cubic metres plastic (PE) per month;
  7. one ton of tiles per construction or demolition project;
  8. one ton of asphalt per construction or demolition project;
  9. one ton of concrete and asphalt per construction or demolition project;
  10. 10 kg of PVC plastic per construction or demolition project;
  11. 10 kg of preserved wood per month or per construction or demolition project;
  12. 100 kg waste food per week;
  13. all electronic waste;
  14. all terminated vehicles;
  15. all hazardous wastes.
Residues are sorted into two different fractions: waste for incineration and waste not suited for incineration.

The waste model used for commercial and industrial waste is designed in accordance with the ”polluter pays principle”, i.e. the sorting, collection, transport and treatment is paid for by the users of the system. However, changes in these waste management schemes have not led to any rise in waste management costs among the majority of industries and business.

The levy system for household waste contains behavioural regulating elements in order to stimulate good recycling performance by the waste producers and to improve the working conditions for the waste collectors. Domestic waste collection represents the central revenue gathering system. All other collection schemes are free of charge. The basic principle in the levy structure is that the levy is related to volume instead of weight. Household waste is sorted and collected according to three geographical levels: address, neighbourhood and district. In pilot areas organic waste is collected separately and later composted. In the near future the City of Copenhagen will consider collecting bio-waste on a larger scale for the production of bio-gas.

Results and Impacts


The regulation and the growth of recycling in the beginning of the 1990s led to a dramatic change in Copenhagen waste treatment policy. The share of recycling grew from 17% in 1988 to 81% in 1998. There had been great differences between the main sectors as recycling increased from 9% to 19.6% in households, from 22% to 34.9% at the commercial and industrial sector, and from 16% to 90.8% in demolition projects.

The new Copenhagen waste management policy mainly affected depositing as the share dropped from 48% to 11% in 1992 and remained nearly constant through 1998. In households a slight rise was measured, from 2% to 2.9%, whereas the commercial and industrial sector dropped sharply to 4.8%. The greatest turnover took place in the demolition sector. In 1998 only 0.6% of the waste volume was deposited in landfills, compared to 89% in 1988.

The percentage of incinerated wastes rose from 35% in 1988 to 39.7% in 1998. In 1992 84% of household waste had been incinerated compared to 76.9% in 1998. The drop in the commercial and industrial sector was from 54% to 40%. The demolition sector contributed with 8.3% in 1998.

The results in waste treatment and recycling must also be seen in the light of increasing waste volumes. The overall waste amount in the City of Copenhagen has increased from 783,800 tonnes in 1988 to 1,163,672 tonnes in 1998.

A continuous effort is needed to maintain and improve this structure in the waste treatment. At the same time, the waste management system is meeting new challenges. The total amount of waste has risen in tandem with economic development. Today, new waste minimisation strategies need to be developed. A central aspect of this will be an effort to limit the generation of waste in the first place. How can we stop the increase in waste volume, and what means are to be brought into action to bring about a decline in the total amount of waste?

In addition, the residues from waste treatment are in focus today. Various substances contained in residues are problematic in relation to the spread of residues from incineration. Special attention to the use of potential environmental contaminants affecting the quality of residues from incineration or the amount of residues from flue-gas cleaning is a necessary approach towards the phasing out the hazardous substances contained in waste and preventing environmental contamination.

Enviromental Affairs in Copenhagen

Copenhagen City Council is the city’s supreme political body. It consists of 55 members elected for four years. The Council lays the guidelines for work done by the committee members.
Since the 1st of January 1998 the Municipality of Copenhagen has had a system of governance, which is lead by committees. There is a finance committee and six standing committees, each with its own area of responsibility. Normally, the committees make decisions relating to their area, but overall policy decisions are still made by the Council.

Environmental protection is a part of the Energy, Water and Environment Committee. The Environmental Protection Agency of Copenhagen (Miljoekontrollen) has a staff of approximately 150. The area of responsibility is planning, the administration and inspection of soil and water, air protection, noise control, pests and vermin, risk management, waste management and physical planning.

In the area of waste management the municipal authority has handed over the operation of waste treatment facilities to inter-municipal partnerships (e.g. landfills, recycling stations, receiving stations for oil and chemical waste, waste-to-energy plants). The present structure of waste management was founded in the early 1970s as the largest private waste company was granted the concession for municipal household waste. The Copenhagen Cleansing Company of 1898 or R98 (Renholdningsselskabet af 1898) is a non-profit company which was formed in 1898 by a group of property owners in Copenhagen under the condition of a 1 million Danish crowns (DKK) loan guarantee by the municipality. At the time it had the task of improving the hygiene situation and disposing of the waste of its members. Since 1972 R98 has the concession on the collection of household waste in the municipalities of Copenhagen and Frederiksberg. Currently, R98 is governed by a council of 67 members appointed by the City Councils of Copenhagen and Frederiksberg (13 members), two property owners associations, two tenant associations, and representatives of the employees. The management of the R98 is executed by a board of 12 members.

The municipalities define which types of collection schemes should be established, whereas R98 initiates and operates the schemes. R98 is obliged to obtain approval on annual accounts and the next year’s budget on an annual basis. All costs to operate the concession are paid by the users of the waste system through taxes levied on property owners and landlords.

R98’s areas of operation can be divided into the following core activities:

  1. activities with concession;
  2. commercial activities;
  3. commercial activities that are operated by subsidiary companies.

R98’s commercial activities include:

  1. Collection and processing of commercial and industrial wastes in free competition;
  2. Collection and recycling of oil and chemical wastes;
  3. Processing of polluted soil;
  4. Composting of garden and park wastes;
  5. Recovery of construction and demolition wastes;
  6. Consultancy on waste and recycling systems;
  7. Export of waste systems and know-how;

Sale of recyclable paper and cardboard.

Source of Information


Larsen, Ib / Borrild, Kit 1991: Waste management in Copenhagen: Principles and Trends, in: Waste Management + Research, No. 9, pp. 239-258

Larsen, Ib 1994: Common framework for the setting up of waste management plants - the Danish experience, in: Waste Management Policy Unit of the European Commission (ed.) Waste management planning in the European Community, Luxembourg

Scharff, Christoph / Vogel, Gerhard 1994: A Comparison of Collection systems in European Cities, in: Waste Management + Research, No. 12, pp. 387-404

Hahn, Niels Jorn / Lauridsen, Poul S. 1995: Competitive Public Waste Collection in Copenhagen, Paper of the conference "Recycling in Megacities" Berlin, December 4th 1995, (ms.)

Ministry of Environment and Energy / Spatial Planning Department 1995: The urban environment and planning - Examples from Denmark, Copenhagen

Personal communication with Birgitte Ettrup, April 2000


Firstname:Hans Christian
Telefon:++45 / 33 / 66 58 00
Telefax:++45 / 33 / 66 71 33
Copenhagen Environmental
Protection Agency
Flaesketorvet 68
DK - 1711 Kobenhaven V


Copenhagen :

The City of Copenhagen covers an area of 88.2 square kilometres. It is a densely populated city with 5,316 residents per square kilometre. The Copenhagen Municipality is the seat of the Government and Parliament, as well as of a number of supervisory institutions. It is the centre of finance and commerce.

After the dissolution of the Greater Copenhagen Council in 1990 the municipality of Copenhagen has assumed responsibility for certain regional tasks for the central parts of Greater Copenhagen and the neighbouring areas of the region of north-eastern Zealand. The City has a considerable proportion of older and small-sized houses which were built before 1945. Housing areas consist mainly of residential blocks, while single-family houses only have a share of 7% of the buildings. The population of Copenhagen consists of a relatively high proportion of elderly and young people. The number of households is 265,850.



Project was added at 21.06.1996
Project was changed at 21.08.2001

Extract from the database 'SURBAN - Good practice in urban development', sponsored by: European Commission, DG XI and Land of Berlin
European Academy of the Urban Environment · Bismarckallee 46-48 · D-14193 Berlin · fax: ++49-30-8959 9919