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Foundation and powers

OVAM stands for Openbare Afvalstoffenmaatschappij voor het Vlaams Gewest (Public Waste Agency of Flanders) and is responsible for waste management and soil remediation in Flanders. It is a public Flemish Institution, established after the decree of July 2nd, 1981 covering waste management and prevention. Waste removal and soil remediation were included as well. In 1995, Flanders got a more specific legislation on soil remediation : the soil remediation decree. The Flemish Minister of Environment is responsible for waste management in Flanders.

Ovam works out and implements its policy. The soil remediation decree provides the Flemish government with a powerful instrument to fight historical as well as recent soil pollution. One of its objectives is to remediate historical soil pollution within a period of 40 years. The soil remediation decree equally offers a range of possibilities to prevent new soil pollution or to remediate right away.

The Flemish Region is responsible for environmental policy. The competent minister can count on a number of institutions for the preparation and implementation of that policy. OVAM is one of those institutions. Under the slogan, ‘Better Regulation Policy’, the Flemish Government has outlined a course to adapt relations between the government, citizens and companies to the modern-day challenges. This resulted in a first management agreement for OVAM for the period 2008-2010.

Waste Management

Over the past 25 years, the way in which we handle waste has fundamentally changed The policy advocated by OVAM is continuously evolving. Where the policy was initially focused on cleaning up waste and setting up an effective infrastructure for waste management, it has now evolved towards a focus on prevention. Properly developed waste management does not automatically lead to sustainable production and consumption. Consequently, ‘sustainable materials management’ has been declared as OVAM’s focus of action.

Waste in figures

In 2006, the total quantity of household waste fell by 2.9% from 2005. The target of a maximum of 150 kg of residual household waste per inhabitant per year is now within reach. The average total amount of residual household waste for final treatment is 153 kg, so we will need to step up our efforts in this respect over the coming years.

For 2005, we observed a record high in the quantity of primary industrial waste at 24,949 kilotons as the result of an increase in construction and demolition waste. Nevertheless, it does seem that there has been a positive de-coupling between the
production of waste and the Gross Regional Project.

Prevention and Planning

There are scores of actions aimed at preventing waste. OVAM supports or has taken the initiative with:

  • Eco-efficiency scan programme
  • Producttest.be
  • Social Forum for Environmentally Responsible Consumption
  • Ecodesign Award 07
  • Flemish Environment Input-Output Model

Furthermore, OVAM is supporting a systematic approach to Flemish waste management policy with:

  • Environmentally responsible household waste management
  • Environmentally responsible materials use and waste management in the building industry
  • Dredging and spoil
  • Sludge treatment
  • Biowaste
  • Recycling and incineration of (animal) fats
  • Market promotion of recycled materials
  • Guidelines for sustainable waste management for ‘Wood waste’, ‘Medical waste’ and ‘Mow materials’.

Producer Responsibility

Producers must take their responsibility in the area of waste. Therefore, OVAM requires acceptance obligation. This obligation places the responsibility for collection and processing in the waste phase in the hands of those who market the product. The manufacturer can meet this obligation via an individual waste prevention and waste management plan or jointly with the manufacturers organisations in an environmental policy agreement (MBO).

At the European Level

OVAM is active in the European forum and does all it can to ensure that Flemish
policy is deservedly recognised internationally. OVAM has thus succeeded in placing greater accent on prevention, reuse and recycling in the new Waste Framework Directive.
Furthermore, OVAM supports new European Member States in their implementation of European legislation and was working on a Twinning project with the Bacau region in Romania.

Sustainable Materials Management

A comprehensive overview of the waste and materials chain is crucial to find a permanent solution to the waste issue. It would be much more logical and exhaustive to consider the materials chain for a service or product as a whole. The input of raw materials, the prevailing production and consumption patterns, the closing of material cycles, etc… all contribute to the waste problem. Thus, OVAM established the Flemish Network for Sustainable Materials Management to work with partners from all parts of society to find solutions.

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Soil Management

In the course of 2007, OVAM worked to develop a new implementation order for the new soil remediation and protection decree. As a result, the Flemish Government approved the accompanying 'Order of the Flemish Government establishing the Flemish regulation on soil remediation and soil protection' on 14 December 2007. This new Vlarebo entered into force on 1 June 2008.

Soil Data Management

Anyone looking to transfer land must have a soil certificate. In 2007, OVAM delivered 199,878 certificates. Over the past 11 years, 26,990 plots were studied and included in the ground information register.

Policy for Risk Areas

A soil investigation is required for the transfer of a risk area or the termination of a risk activity. If it appears that there are signs of soil and groundwater contamination, OVAM can then order a descriptive soil investigation. The plot must always be cleaned up within the delay stipulated by OVAM. Otherwise, the party responsible for the cleanup may be declared to be in default and an official cleanup may then follow. 2007 was a busy year for soil remediation. A project was launched at 361 locations and OVAM delivered 257 final declarations.


OVAM has set a number of priorities in its soil policy:

  • Redevelopment of 'brown fields' which are abandoned or underexploited industrial sites
  • Implementation of a logical residential area policy
  • Arbitration in complex contamination cases
  • Remediation of the water bed, in accordance with the European Water Framework Directive
  • Implementation of the Flanders Action Plan for Cadmium

Optimisation of Soil Decontamination

Companies and other parties responsible for soil remediation can conclude a Company-specific Agreement to help them stagger the soil remediation work and, thereby, also the costs. OVAM concluded three such agreements in 2007.

During the course of 2007, Vlabotex was recognised as the soil remediation organisation for the dry cleaning sector. This organisation will tackle historical contamination (dating prior to 29/10/1995) via soil remediation and a fixed annual contribution for 30 years. The necessary resources have already been reserved.

BOFAS, the Soil Remediation Fund for Petrol Stations, began 77 soil remediation projects in 2007. Furthermore, the collaborative agreement was changed to allow for the submission of additional requests for financial contribution for six months.

Interventions, Removal and Soil Remediation

OVAM is involved in the removal of waste products and soil remediation. Such intervention requires the presence of a serious risk for humans and nature and release or failure of the perpetrator to act.
In 2007, OVAM opened 138 new dossiers for soil remediation and removal of waste products for a total cost price of 29 million Euros.
The scope of such interventions varies widely. Both small cleanups for innocent private owners as well as projects concerning hundreds of plots are carried out. OVAM strives to integrate its cleanup activities into a broader redevelopment project. This ensures the creation of significant added value.
Good communication with all parties concerned is crucial.
Dealing with accidental pollution is also an important mission. This is included in the updated soil remediation decree allows OVAM to step in more rapidly and with greater efficacy.

European Policy and International Collaborations

OVAM is also involved in a number of cross-border projects on soil. One example is the BeNeKempen project on the issue of heavy metals in the Kempen region. Flanders and the Netherlands have joined forces on this project, which was finalised in november 2008. Other examples of cross-border actions are:

  • Snowman
  • European Soil Framework Directive
  • Secondary raw materials and excavated soil
  • Human biomonitoring - environmental measurements