Copenhagen has taken an innovative and adaptive approach to waste management. Its motto is — less waste, more separation. The system works because it it's flexible — taking into consideration the differing needs and habits of every citizen and business around the clock. For example, people can return paint waste to the paint shop or medicine waste to the pharmacy. Waste drop off points are local and have flexible hours of operation. The system has reduced CO2 emissions by 40,000 tons CO2 and generated 1,000,000 MWh of additional energy — enough to power 70,000 homes annually — by turning waste to energy.

What is it?

Copenhagen's "Waste Plan 2008" is a detailed plan to reduce waste and improve management over the period of 2005-08. The Plan is revised every four years and covers a twelve-year period to ensure it delivers long-term solutions. It is very flexible and is constantly adapting to input from businesses and the community. The City has five objectives for waste management:

  1. There must be less waste and less hazardous substances in the waste.
  2. Waste resources must be better utilized, reducing the amount of waste to be incinerated and put in landfill
  3. As much of the environment must be protected as possible for the money
  4. The waste system must be adapted to the city
  5. The waste system must be logical and well known

How does it work?

The Copenhagen waste system works in three ways:

Waste prevention

  • Promoting prevention through information on either how to avoid waste or how to sort your already generated waste;
  • Local regulation clearly stipulates the duties as a citizen or a business concerning waste behavior;
  • Encouraging less packaging, reuse of products through the establishment of recycling schemes (for furniture), composting schemes or other activities that lead to lower quantities of waste;
  • By participating and partly funding Agenda 21 projects, where citizens with special interest in waste prevention set up local schemes and activities to focus on waste and pin-point ways people can dispose of their waste in the right way.


  • The city has strict agreements with waste contractors — both private and public — that ensures only separated waste is removed. Households and businesses that fail to separate their rubbish will not have it removed;
  • Bags and bins are provided for households, for businesses they are not;
  • Bottles, cans, newsprint, paper and cardboard and almost all construction waste are collected at the source;
  • A Caretaker scheme has been essential in helping the community and business dispose of waste correctly. Waste caretakers – located in street blocks - help residents and businesses dispose of waste correctly, by providing advice. This has enabled:
  • Shops to take waste back
  • Options for the disposal of hazardous waste; it can be delivered to recycling centres, the caretaker, a number of shops, and to the Eco-Collection Vehicle.
  • The City seeks continuously to encourage the separation of rubbish – for example, by establishing more civic amenity sites and local recycling centers. Many Copenhageners cannot get to the sites, and therefore the City is working on establishing smaller and car-free district recycling centers in the neighborhoods;
  • There are also local environmental centers that inspire citizens to participate in local projects on, for example, waste separation, traffic and organic food.


Public companies operate the plants for incineration and landfill.

  • Incineration: energy recovery is achieved through the incineration of domestic waste and some types of bulky waste. In 2004 39 % of all waste from the City was incinerated. Incineration plants generate power and heat for thousands of households, and in so doing put to use the energy contained in the waste. The amount of heat and power generated from waste in Copenhagen in 2004 corresponded to the consumption in 70,000 households: 210.000 MWh power and 720.00 MWh heat.
  • Special treatment: Copenhagen is increasing awareness of chemicals, informing businesses about alternatives and making it easier to discard them correctly: A team at the EPA work with businesses on correct handling and disposal of chemicals. Fluorescent tubes, low-energy bulbs, and solarium tubes may contain mercury and must be handled carefully. Most hazardous waste goes to landfill.
  • Waste from building activities: must be separated for recycling. Due to the high levels of building activity that take place in Copenhagen, building waste is by weight the largest waste type. 85% of the building waste goes to recycling. As a minimum, the City wishes to maintain this rate. New initiatives aim to increase the recycling rate.
  • Landfill applies to waste that cannot be further treated and requires a safe place to prevent environmental damages, such as asbestos, impregnated wood and pvc.


Copenhagen has 33,000 sites where waste is picked up. This makes up 3,000,000 pick-ups annually. The remaining costs cover waste treatment and administration of the many schemes. The figures below show cost distribution over the different types of waste. Costs cover collection, treatment and administration. Costs for collection of domestic waste are by far the largest making up 50%; however, collection of hazardous waste is the most expensive scheme in cost per ton. This is due to the fact that treatment of hazardous waste is far more expensive than treatment of domestic waste.
Generally it is cheaper to recycle waste than to incinerate waste.

Next steps

At many construction sites, there is room for improvement of waste separation. The City of Copenhagen is working closely with developers, contractors, and haulers to have more building waste separated. There may be a need for adapting the rules for separation to match the successes in other areas.


  • Adaptable: Making the system adaptable to the individual habits of households and businesses is the key to success
  • Providing options: Finding creative and practical ways for people to dispose of their waste easily and correctly
  • Easy separation: It must be easy to separate waste. User-friendly systems, clear information and involvement of citizens and businesses are key words in the waste strategy. Users must know how to separate waste and why. Waste from households makes up around one quarter of all waste in the City. A large portion can be recycled if it is separated at source.