Plastics pretty much made our modern world. But they're also clogging it up.
Don't get me wrong. I really like having a water bottle that doesn't rust. But we do produce an awful lot of them. One study suggested that 5 to 14 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year, for instance.
There have been a lot of programs to try to get people to recycle more, many of which you've probably been part of. But getting people to recycle is hard. Recycling in many areas is inconvenient, and sometimes it's expensive, too.
One neighborhood in Amsterdam is trying an interesting solution, though: combining recycling and supporting local businesses.
The Noord district sits across the water from the rest of Amsterdam. It used to be pretty industrial — full of wharfs and shipyards — but in the last few decades, it has been revived as a cultural and arts center in the city. As of early 2015, it's also been the center of a cool recycling experiment too.
The neighborhood is turning bags of trash into what are essentially coupons for local shops.
Amsterdam offers recycling centers where people can drop off their stuff, but it doesn't have door-to-door pickup. Wasted, run by the Cities Foundation, helps fill some of that gap.
Households that opt in get special rubbish bags for plastic waste. Once full, the bags go outside and someone comes to pick them up. A few days later, the house gets a package full of special green plastic coins, courtesy of Wasted.
The project is subsidized by the city council, which currently manages the weekly collections.
The coins can be used to get freebies or discounts from local businesses. Want a half-price beer? How about some free chocolate? Or discount yoga lessons? Those can all be paid for with green coins.
30 local businesses have signed up so far, and they seem to like it.
At the Al Ponte cafe, overlooking Amsterdam's river IJ, a green coin will get customers a buy-one-get-one-free deal on coffee. Cafe owner Silvia Salani told The Guardian that the program not only boosted her standing but also enticed new customers into her shop.
The project is still small and local — only about 700 households have signed up — but it's had a big effect. Since 2015, Wasted has collected roughly 16.5 tons of plastic rubbish.
The project has also changed hearts and minds. About half of the people in this scheme said they improved their habits. About a quarter said they ended up using less plastic altogether.
This idea might not work in every neighborhood. But it's really awesome to see a community and small businesses team up like this.
That's something worth celebrating.