Bear in mind: Waste Management

Last year I spent my vacation backpacking through the incredibly vast country of Canada. If you are searching for a land with untouched nature, a large variety of wildlife and nice people, then search no more. You will feel like you are coming home when you visit this beautiful land. No words can really describe all the experiences and sights I fondly remember of the Great White North.

Our main journey took us from the modern metropole of Vancouver to the cold mountaintops of the Canadian Rockies. As soon as we left the big city we started to notice something in streets. Or rather,

Bear Country Sign
Bear Country Sign

we noticed an absence of something in the streets: trash. The rural areas, the smaller cities and the natural parks are all virtually spotless. My friends and I attributed this to the friendly – and apparently well mannered –  people of Canada at first but when we pitched our tent at a local campsite for the first time, we were explained why the Canadians dispose all of their trash when our neighbor stopped by for a chat. ‘are you gonna throw that away when you go to sleep?’ He said, pointing to a bag of half eaten crisps next to our tent. ‘If you don’t, the bears will smell it and come for it tonight’. Our first reaction was to laugh, thinking we were on the receiving end of a well-known local joke directed to naïve tourists. But when we noticed he was serious it all made sense. The

Canadian Bear-Proof Garbage Bin
Canadian Bear-Proof Garbage Bin

Canadians dispose of all their trash in a thorough way because it is a bear country. As we continued our trip, we soon noticed special garbage cans on every street that are designed so that bears cannot get in them and signs everywhere that warned you to dispose of your trash so the bears would not be attracted to it. These things contribute to the state of British Columbia, where this took place, being one of the leaders in sustainable environment management.


This all made me think. The Netherlands is clean country in general but when you look at the rural areas, the forests or the suburban areas, you can see that a lot of trashed has just been tossed in the streets. We as Dutch people do not really face any direct consequence for not disposing waste properly like the Canadians do with the danger of attracting bears. The incentive to dispose waste in a proper way is no more than good manners and a sense of appreciation for a clean world.

But what if we do have a kind of danger that forces us to dispose our waste properly? What if we do have an imminent incentive to throw away all of our trash? I think the dangers of men induced climate change can be framed exactly into this much needed incentive. Of course, throwing a piece of gum in the trash instead of throwing it on the street will not do much for climate change. But it is the mindset of producing less waste and the proper disposal of it that we as a society need. I personally think that the perception of climate change as a threat, as a hungry bear, can be a way of getting people into the right mindset and will lead to a generally more positive way of dealing with waste.

1st image
2nd image


Sustainable business to survive

We take, we make, we use and we waste. We live in a mainly fossil fuel based economy. We threaten biodiversity and we contribute to climate change. In short, our current society is not sustainable. This while our world population is growing, world wealth is going up, demand is increasing and resources are becoming scarce. But planet Earth is not infinite. We are exceeding planetary limits. At the moment, humanity is using the equivalent of 1.6 planets to provide the resources we use and to absorb our waste[1]. This means that it will take the Earth one year and six months now to regenerate what we use in a year. Even worse, if everyone would consume as much as the average US citizen does, 4 Earths would be needed[2]. We are destroying our valuable unreplaceable planet.

It should be clear that things have to change in the way we think about products, technologies, processes and business if we want to have a livable planet for our next generations. To make this change, sustainable business is essential. Sustainable business is a way of business where the effectiveness of a company is combined with the protection of the environment and where social and economic issues are addressed. People, Planet and Profit, also known as the triple P’s, are central. The products and business processes are such that there will be no negative environmental impact as a consequence of their existence[3].

Unfortunately, the current belief for many companies is that the more environmental-friendly they become, the more it will ruin their ability to compete with other companies. They believe that sustainable business will only cost money, time and effort and will not result in financial benefits. This is not true. Sustainable business does make financial sense. In contrast with the general thought, sustainable business reduces costs. Savings will come from finding efficient ways to reduce resources usage and waste production. It will also increase the competitiveness of a company. A consumer research carried out by the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) concluded that a company which is known to be respectful to its environment and society makes consumers 58% more likely to buy their products and services. A good reputation will positively influence the speed with which a company enters or develops within the market. Thereby, sustainable business will increase employee retention and recruitment because people want to work for companies which are mindful to the environment and society.

If sustainable business is indeed so beneficial, why haven’t we already made the change? The answer is barriers. The biggest one is financial short-termism. Business focusses on how to obtain the greatest economic growth today while sustainability is a long-term investment. Another important one is inappropriate regulations. At the moment, there is insufficient regulation which will stimulate change and encourage sustainable business.

But we don’t want to say sorry to our future generation as Prince EA does in his video below. Together, we can and should make the change to a sustainable planet. A change of necessity. A change where we need sustainable business to survive…

[1] (10-01-2016 14:19)
[2] (10-01-2016 12:12)
[3] (10-01-2016 20:30)

The green alternative: shared bikes

More than 75% of the European population lives inblog file+uitlaatgassen urban areas .  To make sure that these urban areas function properly and grant their citizens an high quality of life, the air quality has to be maintained at decent standards. There’s a lot of pollution in cities, because of the transport of goods and the transportation of the citizens which makes it difficult to maintain these standards. Urban traffic is responsible for 70% of the pollutants in the environment.  Cities have to provide other, less polluting, alternatives for transportation. Luckily, there are plenty of initiatives that introduce new and greener transport alternatives.

For example the initiative in la Rochelle. La Rochelle provided a bike sharing initiative which is completely intergraded within the public transport network. The city wanted to reduce the car use for short-distance trips. Over 6000 car trips were avoided and the CO2 emission reduction can be estimated between 720 and 2290 kilogram. This initiative is as green as possible. The only con is that a huge amount of bikes that are provided for free get stolen. This is a returning problem since the first initiative of shared bikes with the white bikes in Amsterdam.

blog white bike amsterdam
White bicycle initiative Amsterdam

Luckily, the technology has gone through a lot of improvements which can improve the initiative of shared bikes.

The non-profit organisation StudentENMobiliteit in the city of Ghent offers rental bikes to students for only 40 euros a year. They rent about 5000 bikes a year to students, but a lot of these bikes get stolen. Therefore the organisation designed a theft prevention system, whereby chips are attached to the bikes blog fiets. With these chips the bikes can be located after they are stolen. Besides these chips there will be some “lokfietsen”. These bikes will be watched and when they are stolen, the thief can be arrested on the spot. In this way StudentENMobiliteit can get a thief profile which will help to prevent theft in the future. This project had some decent outcomes. The relocation of bikes after they were stolen increased with 10 percent. The use of the rental bikes increased with five percent and the number of visitors who came to the city centre by bike increased as well.

The problem of pollution and traffic jams are all over the world. There are a lot of initiatives for shared bicycles and all of the solutions are alike. Even across the globe, in the Philippines, they came up with almost the same solutions for the pollution problem as in Europe, which proves that this is the best solution for the problem.

The chipped bikes of StudentEnMobiliteit will lower the threshold for other municipalities to also implement this initiative in their city. In the past the costs of public bicycles transcended the benefits. With these chips is it possible to trace the location of a bike after it is stolen. Hopefully this will stimulate other cities for this initiative as well. When short distances will be travelled by bike instead of the car, there will be a decrease in pollution. This technique can also be applied to other bikes, like service bikes for short distances. In the end the air within the cities will be of much better qualities, all thanks to the chipped bikes.

blog city bike

Start by the beginning: Climate adaptation and food security.

The recent Climate Conference in Paris has shown that climate change has grown into an issue that is taken seriously on a global scale. Nations seem to be increasingly willing to work towards a more sustainable, climate neutral future, and awareness amongst the people has grown significantly. Countries such as Germany have greatly invested in the development of solar panels, recycling efforts are taken, and a great amount of innovative initiatives are carried out to store excessive rainfall during heavy storms. Even though such measures are efficient and must be carried out, they appear to have one thing in common: their need for resources. These kinds of measures simply cannot be afforded by Third World countries, which are most vulnerable to the issues of climate change due to their reliance on agriculture. Therefore, in this blog, I would like to draw attention to the effort called conservation agriculture, or go smart farming. It is an agricultural technique that was introduced in Africa in 1999, and since then has proven to be very cost-effective while increasing food security for a great share of people. Not only has this led to a remarkable success in, for example, Zambia; it also shows that successful and influential solutions do not necessarily have to be costly.

A country like Zambia greatly relies on agriculture and has seen its precipitation patterns change over time. Extremely long periods of draught followed by extreme rainfall often leads to runoff, thereby leaving the agricultural soil robbed from its nutrients and fertility. However, conservation agriculture is a technique that allows Africans to conserve a great amount of the nutrients that are inside the ground, using three concepts. Firstly, the African farmers aim to disturb the soil the least possible, thereby leaving nutrients in the ground and allowing natural tillers, like earthworms, to stay in the ground of the farm land. Furthermore, they are encouraged to remain their soil covered by left-overs of the plants previously grown. This protects the soil both from the sun and from runoff when heavy rains occur, while at the same time it gives back nutrients to the soil. The third concept is to intercrop grains with nutrient rich legumes and, eventually, trees, that ensure there will be enough nutrients stored in the ground. In the long run, this increase in nutrients and vegetation creates a more stable environment for crops to grow in, even during longer periods of draught. The clip below will provide you with a short explanation if needed.

Of course, conservation agriculture will not be the end of Africa’s issues regarding food security. However, it has shown to be profitable in a substantial amount of cases, and thus could be an answer for smallholder farmers to grow their crops in a sustainable way. In my opinion, better regional analyses and an increase in educational efforts could already do a lot for countries struggling with their food supply. Only then, conservation agriculture could proof to be useful, and will allow people to work with nature while at the same time limiting the effects of climate change. After all, the increased vegetation will allow more CO2 to be captured both by the vegetation and the soil.

As of today, I believe the climate change debate is so focused on the future that we seem to forget there are so many people out there that are already suffering from the detrimental effects of the issue. I am not saying that we should not worry and take care of our future, which is great. However, more effective windmills or solar panels are not going to help the people already in need: it is these little agricultural adjustments that could greatly change the lives of many people, not just in the first world, but in the third world as well. It is the remarkable cooperation between the farmers, the conservation farmer units and the Ministry of agriculture in Zambia that has allowed conservation farming to spread to the extent it did thus far. However, as the Western World has been one of the main polluters, I do believe that we should take more responsibility for the climate issues experienced elsewhere, and help countries or organizations to further spread initiatives such as those of Zambia. That would truly be a way to reach a sustainable future!

Our Area Study Blog

In January 2016, students from the course “Area study: Sustainable Leiden 2030?” will be working in groups to assess the Duurzaamheidsagenda 2016-2020 – an ambitious document full of initiatives that will turn Leiden into a sustainable city by 2030. This course is part of the Minor Sustainable Development, provided by the Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML) at Leiden University.


As part of the course, the students will contribute to this blog and write about their findings around the initiatives for each of the themes (biodiversity, climate adaptation, energy, mobility, sustainable business and waste), or other relevant observations and findings throughout the course.