In November 2013 Ida Auken, the minister for the environment, introduced a new Danish strategy for waste for the next decade, stating: "We incinerate an enormous amount of waste in Denmark; waste which the Government could get much more out of by more recycling and better recycling."

Waste is a consequence of economic activity: the more vigorous the economy, the more waste is produced. However, waste can contain materials and resources that it makes sense to recycle. Denmark has come a long way in terms of environmentally responsible waste management and waste incineration. However, it is also one of the countries in Europe producing the most waste per inhabitant. In 2011 Danish households produced 447 kilograms (kg) of waste per person. This corresponds to every Dane throwing away more than 8kg of waste every week.

Over the past 20 years, by far the majority of Danish waste has been recycled. Between 1994 and 2011:

  • the recycling rate went up from 55% to 61%;
  • the incineration rate went up from 21% to 29%; and
  • the percentage of landfilled waste dropped considerably from 22% to 6%.

The low percentage of waste being landfilled is due to a combination of bans against organic waste in landfills and taxes on landfilling.

Resource efficiency is also high on the agenda outside Denmark. All EU member states have agreed on the Seventh Environmental Action Programme – for which the slogan is "Living well, within the limits of our planet" – and on a roadmap for a resource-efficient European Union. Globally, the world's heads of state and government continue to debate the green economy and resource efficiency. Denmark is playing an active part in these negotiations.

The Danish government has therefore decided to move towards perceiving waste as a resource that can be reused and recycled, rather than merely something to throw away.


Over recent decades, Denmark has incinerated almost 80% of its household waste. Even though this has made an important contribution to green energy production, materials and resources have been lost that could otherwise have been recycled. The government now plans to change this – it has set a goal that by 2022, 50% of household waste will be recycled. This means that the recycling rate for household waste in Denmark must more than double in less than 10 years. To achieve this ambitious goal, in future the government will need to focus not just on the waste that it is separated at present (eg, paper, cardboard and glass), but also on other household waste, including food waste.

The municipalities will play a pivotal role in realising the new waste policy and the government has stated that it is confident that, in partnership with the Danish public, they will succeed. Citizens and businesses will still continue to produce waste and will still be able to get rid of it. Waste incineration will continue to contribute to energy supply. However, in line with its 'Denmark without waste' policy, the government proposes that over the next 10 years, Danes will become much better at recycling materials and resources and returning them to the economy. This will be a significant step for the green transition in Denmark.

The government hopes that Denmark will protect its resources and materials and recycle more household waste, while incinerating less. This will entail more materials being sent back into the economy, with benefits for the environment. At the same time, efforts must be organised cost effectively and appropriately in a societal context.

The new approach for waste builds on a strong Danish tradition. For many years, Danes have been aware of the world's diminishing natural resources and have been trying to exploit and protect them sensibly. The government takes care of groundwater, so that clean water can be drunk direct from the tap. It has also drastically cut discharges of nitrogen into watercourses and the sea, and has ambitious goals for reducing pesticide loads from agriculture.

Increasing prices of materials and resources will make it more attractive to develop and apply solutions that make the use of raw materials more efficient. Many Danish enterprises are working to produce and develop just such products and solutions. Therefore, new market opportunities may arise for Danish businesses that can deliver technological solutions and know-how.


In line with its strategy for implementing its 'Denmark without waste' policy, the government has proposed the following overall focus areas:

  • Danes will incinerate less waste and become better at exploiting the value and resources that waste contains.
  • Danes will reduce the environmental impact from waste, such that economic growth does not have a corresponding impact on nature and the environment.
  • Recycling will be high quality and hazardous substances will be separated from waste before it is recycled.
  • The government will ensure the reorganisation of waste management through stronger public-private collaboration. The municipalities have primary responsibility for waste schemes, especially for household waste. Private enterprises have competencies and knowledge to develop technological solutions. Therefore, it is important that municipalities and enterprises work together to develop new waste solutions.
  • The government hopes that initiatives will be flexible and will closely monitor developments in waste, particularly for recycling household waste. The government places priority on local room to manoeuvre to find the right solutions. Some municipalities have already come a long way in their efforts, while others have yet to start.

The government will evaluate the strategy in 2016 and assess whether there is need for further measures.


Together with the other frameworks and initiatives, the goal to double household-waste recycling (and the associated initiatives) is expected to lead to a significant increase in total material recycling in Denmark. A cost-effective conversion to more recycling requires that both the waste sector and households have time to reorganise themselves. The government's strategy covers initiatives for 2013 to 2018, although the goal for household waste itself is in 2022.

The main obstacle to fulfilling these goals is likely to be the fact that incineration plants economically may be unable to afford not to use their incineration capacity and thus will have to continue to look for waste to be incinerated in the plants. At present, waste is imported into Denmark in order to utilise the capacity of the incineration plants.

For further information on this topic please contact Søren Stenderup Jensen at Plesner by telephone (+45 33 12 11 33), fax (+45 33 12 00 14) or email ([email protected]). The Plesner website can be accessed at