General

This website contains information about the Volgermeerpolder  which lies close to the village of Broek in Waterland. The Volgermeerpolder  is the largest waste disposal site in the Netherlands.  In 2011 it became accessible to the public. This website is an initiative of Stichting Burgerkomitee Volgermeer, a local action group that has been active since 1980.

Volgermeer

The 100 hectare Volgermeerpolder is the largest waste disposal site in the Netherlands. It is located within the Amsterdam city boundaries of,  and is situated just outside the village of Broek in Waterland. in the protected area ‘Landscape Waterland’. This is  area traditionally used for farming and is of great cultural, historical and agricultural value.

Now that the Volgermeerpolder is open to the public, it has become part of a network of paths and trails for cyclists, walkers, horse-riders and canoeists in Waterland. The cycle path connects  Broek in Waterland and the north of Amsterdam. The old bridge, the lock and the broad watercourse in the Volgermeer mark the former export route of peat and the import route of waste. These historical elements link the new Volgermeer landscape with the historic landscape of Waterland.

Peat and peat extraction 

Waterland is a peat area. Peat is a type of soil made up of semi-decayed plants from after the last ice age about 10.000 years ago when the western part of the Netherlands was an area of vast marshes. The dead plants gradually formed a peat layer which retained rainwater transforming the marshes into a bog. In Waterland the peat bog grew to be about 10 meters in depth. From 1000 AD on, the bog was drained for agriculture and housing. This made it sink to 1metre below sea level to become the now familiar Dutch landscape of peat meadows.

Peat from the Volgermeer was extracted between 1920 and 1955. It was an important fuel source for the city of Amsterdam.

The statue  of the peat-digger by the sculptor Heleen Levano, commissioned by Burgerkomitee Volgermeer, is a lasting memory of this time. Foto Ria Houweling

The peat was transported by boat through the lock and under the drawbridge, now both restored,  via the village of Broek in Waterland, to the city. Because of the peat digging a new wetland area developed, with deep waterways between narrow strips of peat where the turf was stacked to dry.  

 

Landfill

After1927, the waterways on the Volgermeer were filled with household waste from Amsterdam which raised the polder to around  5 meters above water level. From the 1960s on, a great amount of  industrial and chemical waste was also brought to the Volgermeer. At least 10.000 chemical waste barrels containing various toxic substances including dioxin were dumped. Dioxin is considered to be one of the most toxic substances ever created by man. 
 

The Volgermeer landfill site spanned an area of 100 acres, making it the largest chemical waste dump in the Netherlands. (see projection on map of Amsterdam)

 

Burgerkomitee

Protests from the residents of Broek in Waterland, united in the Burgerkomitee Volgermeer, led to the closure of the landfill in 1981. 

Sanitation and development 

Covering

 The toxic waste has sunk into the peat soil that remained in the area after the peat digging. It appears that the toxins have become almost completely stable due to this absorption. Because of this  a fairly simple way of cleaning up the site was chosen. The whole area has been covered with a layer of plastic foil, thereby isolating the toxins.

Monitoring

The groundwater is constantly monitored to ensure that the pollution does not spread. 

HDPE Protective Foil

The wet covering layer Is an important feature of the solution. It is economical, ecologically interesting,  and is well-suited to  Waterland. It consists of several layers. The most important feature is a 2 mm-thick compact plastic membrane specially developed for landfills. More than 80 acres of this sheet was used, melted together to form one impermeable sheet. This, together with a mesh of dykes, forms the base of the wet layering cover.

Wet island in Waterland

The wet layering cover is well-suited to the landscape and natural environment of Waterland. Clean rainwater can be collected on top of the landfill, creating a ‘wet island’ in Waterland. This nutrient-poor rainwater will the Volgermeer drastically, from a polluted landfill into a valuable site for many species of indigenous plants and animals and a fine recreational area.

Peat development in four phases

Rainwater is an excellent base for many species of flora and fauna.  The water will eventually encourage peat-forming vegetation to form a  ‘natural cap’ covering the area. The base of peat formation is wet soil. After sowing or planting reeds a dense root bed develops. Over time the water level rises and the root beds form floating mats that sit on top of the water. These floating mats collect rainwater, thus creating a species-rich vegetation of peat moss, sundew and bog lint. These plants are characteristic of a living bog. This closes the circle: peat bogs are back in the Volgermeer.

Landscape

The new Volgermeer is considerably higher than the surrounding landscape. In this area a network of dykes retains rainwater, favourable to many species of plants and animals and peat development. This raised water landscape is a permanent reminder of the history of the Volgermeer. Cyclists and horse riders can traverse the site on specially designed paths. Spoonbills, ducks and avocets have already been sighted; frogs and dragonflies will soon  be part of the population.

The Dutch Tundra Vole

is expected  to inhabit the reed beds. The Volgermeer is not only wetland. A large part of it is covered with a dry layer of soil which will develop into butterfly-rich grasslands. In some places, fields of boulders have been  made to provide a suitable habitat for the harmless cold-blooded grass snake. The highest points of the dry areas provide stunning views over flat Waterland.