We will only attain ecological conversion when it becomes socially desirable.* CITIES found a way to make it desirable both socially and economically.
Circularity and connectivity are what almost all living systems have been based on since the big bang. Why almost? People are still firmly accustomed to the linear thinking – we take, we make and we dispose. However, CITIES foundation – an independent organization based in Amsterdam Noord – challenged the hereditary thought of linearity and has been gradually paving the way to a true recycling culture.
Two years ago, along with its underlying mission to accelerate the transition to a circular city making, CITIES developed WASTED – a project that generates value to the act of recycling while strengthening social ties between engaged local protagonists. WASTED is a locally rooted tool for a global change. It aims at a long-lasting impact – the behavioral shift towards an increase in plastic waste separation, awareness of individual waste consumption and ultimately a more circular recycling future. Very soon the WASTED pilot will enter the new robust phase – along with the launch of the new website, the WASTED system will become fully digitalized, it will expand separation scheme to new streams: paper, textile, and glass in addition to plastic, and it will open up to the whole Amsterdam Noord. First steps are already made, and it looks that the process has a high potential of making Amsterdam the first fully circular city.
WHY IS WASTED SPECIAL?
Not every smart solution is about technology, but every smart solution is about people.Technology progresses daily, the know-how and advanced techniques for recycling have been in place for years already. However – some screws are still missing – only a very limited portion of the urban population makes that actual effort to separate their waste. CITIES, through its community-based project development, came to a conclusion that the generation of the real value of any smart solution is deeply entrenched in social factors and public awareness. That’s why the novelty of WASTED lies in its people-focused attitude. Scalable solutions through community activation and engagement are the backbone of the project. As a result, its ambition to strengthening recycling habits goes hand-in-hand with generating local knowledge, stimulating social ties and encouraging multi-actor, cross-sector collaboration between residents, institutions, businesses, nature, energy and waste. Ultimately, by acting locally, WASTED generates a far-reaching multidimensional effect.
HOW DID IT COME TO BEING?
The project took shape in April 2015, after launching its pilot version in Vanderpekbuurt, Bloemenbuurt, Overhoeks – three neighborhoods in Amsterdam Noord. While maintaining a close contact with residents and local entrepreneurs, WASTED set a new social contract for waste separation through its most influential facet – the reward system. The system has connected individuals, who have decided to change their waste disposal behavior, with the local business that supported environmentally sustainable action. This has revolved around the generation of a local currency valued on plastic waste. And, it happened in a very straightforward manner – individuals, who subscribed to the project online and became WASTED Neighbors, started separating their waste and keeping track of such action with WASTED. The act of plastic waste separation was ergo rewarded by physical plastic coins that later could be exchanged to discounts and benefits at WASTED Rewarders – various stores, shops, and cultural institutions in Amsterdam Noord.
As more subscribers and rewarders joined, the system started generating multiple gains. It has not only accelerated environmentally conscious behavior and sustainable consumption in Amsterdam Noord, but, essentially, it became a tool for social inclusion. The WASTED system has been meant to be used by everyone regardless their socioeconomic backgrounds. This, therefore, has enabled individuals from the low-income families to enjoy discounts and generate additional material benefits without being discriminated. Consequently, a number of individuals outside the ‘green niche’ of society, those who are unlikely to start recycling without an extra incentive, have started separating, which proved a great success of the project.
Furthermore, as a complementary branch to the reward system that generates environmental, economic and social benefits for local communities, the WASTED team has invested a lot of its energy in education; to assemble knowledge and supervise conscious action. Practically, this activity consists of a series of workshops and presentations, through which individuals are invited to co-create plastic objects, explore the role of plastic in the daily life and discover the value of waste separation.
Today, WASTED celebrates its 2 years anniversary with more than 800 households and 50 rewarders. Notwithstanding these pleasing numbers, WASTED comes to the point where it needs to innovate.
NEW DEVELOPMENTS – SOON!
People drive innovation. WASTED proved powerful in stimulating environmentally conscious action and social awareness. However, the pilot version also proved to be limited due to its manual operations and a focus only on plastic separation. That’s why, to keep up with an increasing number of WASTED community and remain accountable, avoid costly and time-consuming manual work and provide the possibility to redeem rewards not only offline but also online, WASTED has no other choice but to innovate.
WASTED innovation comes in two ways. First, through surveys and questionnaires, the WASTED team got to know that people are not only able but eager to separate more than plastic. Therefore, WASTED adds glass, paper, and textile in addition to plastic to its rewarding scheme. Second, to make the system less time-consuming, it has been undergoing digitalization phase – the former plastic coins are being transformed to digital ones, which means that less time would be spent while receiving and exchanging them into discounts and benefits at local rewarders. The digitalization means that people, who decide to separate their plastic, paper, glass, and textile, need to do only one thing extra – scan a QR code at the waste collection container and snap a picture of a full waste bag before throwing it into the container. After that, the WASTED team validates the picture and WASTED subscriber receives a digital coin that can be exchanged for various discounts & benefits at a number of locations and web-shops. The list of rewards and discounts is going to be continuously updated by the WASTED team, which means that there will be a continuous growth in the number and types of rewards.
All these advancements will materialize as soon as the new website is launched. This will represent the new face of WASTED. Furthermore, it must be underlined that CITIES seeks to develop its strategies in close collaboration with the Municipality of Amsterdam, as strategic partners, building on each other’s strengths and capabilities. That’s why together with the support of the Municipality, WASTED is also putting in place a smart system of bin allocation. In this way, by assessments and surveys, the WASTED team is able to see in which areas people tend to separate the most, and which need more community activation and engagement.
Don’t miss the opportunity to join the new WASTED phase and become a part of sustainable recycling culture in Amsterdam Noord and beyond.
The article was originally published here.
*Alexander Langer; 10.9.1994, Speech held at the Talks from Toblach/Dobbiaco, 10 September 1994