Waste uniting neighborhoods in Amsterdam Noord

How can we tackle the global challenges without leaving our own neighborhood? This is something the ‘Wasted’ project already implemented in Noord – a system where you get a reward for recycling your waste.

Published by Linnea on 13/06/2017

Would you more likely sort your waste if you would be rewarded for it? Finding the link of what brings us from thought to action was what WASTED – a community initiative to foster collaborative waste separation – was born out of.

How does this work? Once you sign up to WASTED, you get free recycling bags with the information kit to start separating your household waste. Before throwing away the separated waste bag, it needs to be approved by the WASTED team. This is done by you scanning a QR code at the recycling bin, taking a picture of the waste bag and uploading it to the WASTED website.

Then you’ll receive a digital WASTED coin, which can be exchanged to discounts and benefits at offline or online stores. This may sound too good to be true, but for the neighborhoods in Amsterdam Noord, this is already a reality. I took the ferry over to the other side of Amsterdam to figure out how this actually works.

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Photo credit: Linnea

Behind the project are the people of CITIES Foundation – an organization founded 10 years ago by a group of students. Sick and tired of being buried in study books they decided to go out into the real world and founded the organization behind WASTED. I met up with Mart Kamphuis and Ieva Punyte who are the project manager and communications coordinator, leading the WASTED project in Amsterdam Noord.

How did the CITIES Foundation come up with the idea of reward for seperating waste?

Ieva: Every city around the world is different. Yet, surprisingly, many of them face comparable challenges. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to all issues, but we got to know that one of the most effective ways to meet various challenges is by engaging with the local community, by understanding local needs and perceptions. 

That’s why one of the main approaches of CITIES Foundation has been project development by community engagement. Just like for WASTED through surveys and questionnaires our team got to know the local environment in Amsterdam Noord and two years ago started the pilot.

Through the time it developed and now as more people and more businesses are joining us, we are undergoing a robust stage of innovation. We are setting new goals and making the project as user-friendly as possible.

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Photo credit: Cities Foundation

Why did you choose to establish the recycling system in Noord and not in other parts of Amsterdam?

Mart: If you look at the recycling data in the Netherlands, it is quite high. But, not so much in the urban areas like Amsterdam. With regards to the district level, the lowest scoring areas are Zuidoost and Noord. Additionally, Amsterdam Noord has a high percentage of low-income families with lower education opportunities. It is, therefore, a good place to start change.

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Photo credit: Cities Foundation

What is the vision with the WASTED reward system – will it replace actual money in Amsterdam or is it just a reward because you are a good citizen?

Mart: As it looks like now, we have around 750-800 households that are engaged with this project and we want to reach 5000 by the end of the year.

IevaWASTED is picking up rapidly and we aim to expand to the whole Amsterdam. But, think rationally, it is quite impossible to change the monetary system, and personally, I don’t think it is necessary either way. The actual value of WASTED is entrenched in social factors and public awareness.  

So, that is why we’re striving for a behavior change. By putting the value to the act of recycling we want individuals to become more aware of their waste disposal behavior, to start seeing the value of getting more sustainable or recycled products and start thinking how to contribute to a sustainable city starting from their household.

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Photo credit: Cities Foundation

About the system, how it works now is that you use the reward to motivate people to separate their waste, but then they will use it, in the end, to consume even more, because they can’t use this reward for anything else. Did you think about this?

Mart: All our partners and local rewarders care about sustainability and environmentally conscious behavior.  We decide together with the rewarders which products they will give for discounts so it varies from food to bike repairs and more. 

We are also trying to connect the WASTED community with the rewarders, so they get to know each other. There are a lot of people in the neighborhood that did not know about a certain local business. But now they are inspired to explore their neighborhood more. That said, WASTED contributes not only to a cleaner but also a more social neighborhood.

Do you feel like this project has helped the community in Noord to grow?

Mart: People in Noord are already quite a community. There are households that separate collectively and share their coins. For instance, there are elders who aren't able to get their separated waste to the bins, so their neighbors do it for them. 

But we are always learning and growing and are trying to see how we can become better. There is not a perfect solution for how you can solve all the problems. But you must co-create and find solutions with the community you are in. 

Ieva: That’s why just because of the community and their positive feedback the project is under way of new innovative developments. The system is becoming completely digitalized and we are adding new waste streams: paper, textiles, and glass in addition to plastic.

Thank you, Mart and Ieva for instigating a greener, more social and connected Amsterdam. 

Words by Linnea.

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