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In One Amsterdam Neighborhood, Businesses Reward Recyclers with Coffee and Yoga

In One Amsterdam Neighborhood, Businesses Reward Recyclers with Coffee and Yoga

Jed Oelbaum

Image courtesy of Wasted Labs

Image courtesy of Wasted Labs

Wasted Labs, a “neighborhood laboratory for plastic waste upcycling,” is teaming up with local businesses in one Amsterdam borough to reward residents who recycle. In exchange for discarded plastic, the organization gives out tokens, redeemable for special deals on products and services in the area. Cafes, supermarkets, a bike store, and a yoga studio are among the businesses that offer benefits to Amsterdam-Noord’s eco-minded citizens.

By providing participants with direct incentives, the lab aims to promote plastics recycling, drawing people closer to both their own consumption habits and their own neighborhoods.

“We want to engage those who don’t usually care about recycling, while building a social contract between the community and business owners that goes beyond the traditional consumer relationship,” Francesca Miazzo, founder of the Cities Foundation, which funds Wasted Labs, told the Guardian.

Image courtesy of Wasted Labs

Image courtesy of Wasted Labs

For their part, businesses see the program as a way to give back and attract new customers who share their values. Around 30 establishments currently offer  redeemable rewards, which “cost” between one and eight of the green recycled plastic coins issued by Wasted Labs. For example, one token will get you a free cup of coffee with the purchase of a meal at Café de Ceuvel; for six coins you and a friend can participate in an instructional coffee-roasting workshop.

Wasted gives each of the nearly 700 participating households special bags to collect their plastic. Every bag is marked with an identifying QR code, which can be scanned to keep track of how much plastic you’ve donated. The more you recycle, the more coins you receive from Wasted Labs.

“People start to realize how much plastic they produce on a weekly basis and it is pretty distressing,” Miazzo told the Guardian.

Image courtesy of Wasted Labs

Image courtesy of Wasted Labs

So what’s Wasted Labs doing with all that plastic? The organization uses donated waste to manufacture modular plastic bricks, which can be used to build things like park benches, flower pots, or performance stages. The bricks are lightweight, durable, and can theoretically be melted down and reformed an unlimited number of times. By using these blocks to fill needs in the borough, the program provides a model for neighborhood upcycling, where plastic becomes an enduring local asset that doesn’t need to go far to be repurposed.

For now, the lab is developing a second pilot project; they also provide workshops on plastic and recycling, and educational resources to schools.

While the project in Amsterdam-Noord has so far been popular and by many standards successful—more than half of participating households reported developing better waste-related habits—Wasted Labs struggled with funding in 2016. But the teams at Wasted and the Cities Foundation have taken steps to spread their work and ensure their idea is bigger than any one pilot program: The project’s findings and processes are available as open-source documents, so anyone with the inclination has the tools to build a neighborhood plastics upcycling lab in his or her own community.

Amsterdam-Noord. Image by Metro Centric via Flickr

Amsterdam-Noord. Image by Metro Centric via Flickr

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