Tag Archives: Waste

The future in my backyard

A circular economy; an economy where everything is re-cycled and reused, where waste doesn’t exist and where energy comes from renewable sources. Is this type of economy realistic? Companies and municipalities are aiming to be fully ‘sustainable’ in a couple of years. However, is it truly possible within the current system to be fully sustainable?

Six principles of a circular economy:

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Source: http://www.circle-economy.com/circular-economy/

Yes it is. Two years ago I made a documentary about the closed-loop community at De Ceuvel in Amsterdam Noord. De Ceuvel is a self-sustaining community just 10 minutes away from Central Station. It is a piece of heavily polluted land that is leased by the municipality for ten years to a group of entrepreneurs. The land used to be part of an industrial area and was used for the dissembling of ships.  Now, decades later, this group of creative and social enterprises have thought of a plan to make this waste land into one of the most unique and sustainable urban developments in Europe.

ceuvel2
Source: http://delva.la/projecten/zuiverend-park-de-ceuvel-amsterdam/

Special purifying plants will clean the heavily polluted soil, so there is no need for expensive soil sanitation techniques. This biomass will again be used to make products and energy. In order to be able to move around without disturbing the plants, they created floating platforms connecting the different studios. The studios are made of old housing boats that would have ended up in the junkyard but are now fully upcycled to brand new working spaces. Moreover, after ten years the (clean) land will be given back to the municipality and the housing boats can be easily moved to a different place.

Furthermore, solar panels are installed to generate energy from the sun. Green roofs and water collection systems are introduced to collect, purify and store the rainwater. Moreover, it is a platform for experimenting with new technologies for more sustainable solutions. So yes, this experiment shows us that it is possible to be self-sufficient and working towards a circular economy.

ceuvel1
Source: http://delva.la/projecten/zuiverend-park-de-ceuvel-amsterdam/

There are plenty of examples of small scale projects that are (close to) self-sufficient and are operating within the ideas of a circular economy. However, bigger entities such as the municipality of Leiden are also saying they want to take this step. My question is how far does the municipality want to go in becoming more sustainable? Are they willing to move away from current techniques and invest in more sustainable ways of operating? I state that it is possible to create these kinds of communities on a bigger scale, but we should move away from traditional systems and ideas. We should look at these innovative small scale projects and see what factors bigger entities can get from them.

How possible do you think this is? What struggles will they encounter compared to smaller projects?

To get some inspiration and see how De Ceuvel was actually build up, check out the documentary I made over here:

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An advantageous deposit system

Did you ever wake up with a headache on a Sunday afternoon, to the unmistakable stench of old alcohol? Dehydrated and miserable, you get out of bed and start walking towards the kitchen, where you discover a total mess from last night’s party. Feeling rather hopeless, you start cleaning up by collecting the empty bottles and hope the hangover soon will pass …

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I think most people who ever hosted a house party have experienced this. However, there may be a small light at the end of the tunnel.

In the Netherlands, you can return big plastic bottles and beer crates at supermarkets and get a refund of the deposit you payed when purchasing. This system promotes litter reduction, and energy and resource conservation, through giving consumers an incentive to recycle. However, as already much discussed, the system has more potential.

When you recycle only one bottle, you save enough energy to charge your mobile phone 12 times. In Scandinavia, an extended deposit system also includes small plastic bottles and beer cans. This results in a high recycling rate, which is even better for the environment. In Norway, the recycling rates for plastic bottles have been around 95% the last years, according to Infinitum. This contributes to cleaner cities and especially parks where people spend time drinking on warm summer days.

Brunnengruppe im Vigelandpark (Frognerpark), Oslo, Norwegen

“May I have your empty bottle?” is a question you are likely to hear, usually asked by a homeless person, if you hang out in Frognerparken in Oslo. The homeless person gets a few kroners (Norwegian currency), and you do not have to worry about your waste.

I think an extended deposit system is more sustainable and has many advantages for the environment. The Netherlands is a country with enough resources to realize this. People could be educated and stimulated through the media to recycle everything – always. Or as we would say in Norwegian: “Pant alt. Alltid.”

The video below is an opportunity to practice your Norwegian. It is only 1 minute long. Translation:

– The waste of an empty box like this cannot matter, you may think. It is like a drop in the ocean. But if there weren’t a drop in the ocean there wouldn’t be an ocean at all.

One! You take the bottles and the cans

Two! Not some, but all of them, and put them in the bag

Three! You identify the deposit machine

Four! You take a little breath before the finale

 

Five! Then you take the bottle or the can, you put it in the wall, and then it comes back!

Then you take the bottle or the can, you put it in the wall, and then it comes back!

How does it feel then? It feels so good!

How does it feel then? It feels so good!

– Because a returned box becomes a part of a cycle, just like a river, that is forever useful. Wish it were I.

It feels so good!

And then, to come back to the light at the end of the tunnel, if you were still wondering about that – you could take the empty bottles and cans with you to pay for your aspirin, of course.

Taking waste management in Leiden to the next level

Recycling – it’s one of the first things most people think about when thinking about a more sustainable way of living. It is something which is accessible, achievable by the individual unlike some of the more grand scale concepts of a green earth. And waste management is definitely a huge sector. Every household in the EU produces around half a tonne of household waste per year!

Yet even a system as familiar to most people and as established in society like recycling must be under constant evaluation and if possible subject to improvements, for we still have a very long way to go in sustainable living.

Let’s take the example of Leiden, Netherlands. While this city provides separate containers for inhabitants to dispose of their residual waste, paper and glass, it currently does not have a separate disposal for plastics. Simply expanding this system and adding a plastic container would already be a fantastic improvement by itself.

But of course, it should not end there! Because many neighborhoods in Leiden have a very high population density, they gather the household waste in containers. To dispose of their waste you simply scan your pass which every household gets, and put in your waste bag.
Many containers already have the possibility to weigh how much waste was put in, which creates the perfect opportunity to elevate the waste disposal system to a next level.
With the introduction of the adapted system, people would pay a basic starting fee for waste disposal, plus a calculated fee for the amount of waste you produce. The price per kilogram would be lower for plastic and paper than it would be for residual waste, which stimulates not only the separation of waste but also stimulates reducing the amount of waste created.

But this isn’t the first instance where a similar system would be applied. We can take a look at the city of Kürten, Germany. Here the residual waste has been weighed since the year of 1997, which has led to a decrease of waste by a third, and since the introduction of a weighing system the amount of waste produced has stagnated, even though the population has been increasing.

A big part of this project is that it get people thinking. They might do it for the monetary benefit of course, but being actively busy with sustainability in this way can very well be the gateway for people to start thinking about sustainability in other parts of their lives as well.
Maybe they want to know what is actually done with the plastic after they separate it. You could stimulate this interest, by showcasing practical uses such as the posts (called groins) you see at nearby beaches.

Groins made from recycled plastic.
Groins made from recycled plastic.

The transitioning to a new, more sustainable world cannot be done alone. Even though it may seem small, this project can be the start of getting everyone involved. Perhaps even help elevate the way of thinking of many people, to create the more sustainable society we need.

Use the canals of Leiden in our favor

Oude Singel 56, the place where I live, I got a window with sight on the “Oude Singel”, one of the many canals in Leiden. I live there with seven other students and next to my house are several other student houses. In those houses live up to 32 students. The canal houses in the centre of Leiden are way too expensive for normal citizens and they are almost all inhabited by students. Of the 400 houses located on the Oude Vest and the Oude Singel, more than 350 of them are student houses. This was the circumstance when I got an idea in my mind which I will explain in this blog.

 

You will wonder why I’m talking about the city centre and about the canals, and you will wonder about the link between all the tags? The common factors of these students living in those house are that they do not own a car, they live next to or near canals, they create bulky waste as all other citizens do, and they move house a lot. But they cannot bring their stuff by car to the second hand shop or the recycling centre. When I’m studying and looking trough my nice window.  I can sometimes see a boat cleaning the canals, and in the canal cleaning boat[1] I see a lot of applicants or bicycles or sometimes even furniture.

 

If the canals were not cleaned it would look like[2]:

As shown canals and waste have a strange link with each other. But what about using the canals in our advantage? Instead of taking out the bulky waste after it is damaged by the water and thus hard to repair. Give the citizens of the city centre a service for their bulky waste. Use a pram, see media 3. A pram can be electric and is easy navigable through the canals of Leiden. Citizens within the canals, most of the time without a car, can place there bulky waste and applicants next to the canal on a specific day for each canal another day for a time period, for instance, each second monday of the month.  The pram can then deliver the bulky waste to the recycling centre as shown in media 4.

Praam

Map leiden

 

This plan is in my opinion realisable, quite a lot people work for the different cruise companies in Leiden. However, those employees only can work there during the summer months, because the other months there is not enough demand for city cruises. Besides that, there is near to zero traffic on the canals out summer season so the prams can easy collect all the bulky waste.

 

To conclude, if this plan is realized the second hand shop “het warenhuis”[5] can expand one of the proposals of “Quickscan Duurzaamheid gemeente Leiden”[6] due to more applicants delivered. No traffic jams created by trucks collecting bulky waste, more jobs for shippers. A a low threshold service delivered to the inhabitants of the city centre. Which all lead to more recycling, more sustainable bulky waste collection and makes Leiden a nicer place to live!

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.

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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.

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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.