Let’s be honest. For many people, recycling is a tiresome process. You have to separate the trash, have several different bags, take each one to a container in several trips… How easy it was in the old days when everything went into a black bag and that was it. But in spite of these difficulties, and thanks to awareness campaigns, in Spain a notable 76% of plastic, tins, cartons, paper and cardboard containers are recycled. But there’s still a quarter of the country that hasn’t adapted. In Amsterdam they may have found a way to encourage recycling that’s as ancient as it is effective: the economic stimulus.
Wasted is the company that manages this service. The idea was born in 2015 from a very simple concept: giving virtual money and discounts in exchange for recycling. First, users should register on the website, and they then receive a kid with 12 trash bags. When they fill the first one –whether with plastic, paper or textiles– they take it to the regular container, scan its QR code and upload a photo of the bag to send to the company through an application. For each bag, the user receives a virtual coin, green in colour, that he can exchange services or goods in the northern and eastern parts of Amsterdam. Each service or article will cost a certain amount of coins.
Among the 150 different things that can be acquired are a yoga class, a second soft drink, two extra sauces during a meal, a 10% discount in a café, a Reiki massage treatment, a workshop about how to make the perfect cup of coffee, a 50% discount on a bag of snacks, a copy of a key… It’s more like a coupon for extra services than a coin like the euro.
The project is growing slowly but surely. It was launched in 2015 but just for plastic. Since then it has collected more than a ton of thais material. At the end of 2016 there were 700 homes that had joined the programme. According to the most recent data, in a little more than half a year an additional 500 homes have signed on. Based on the average number of people per family and home in Holland, thais means some 2,600 people are taking part. In June of 2017 the firm added the option for paper, textiles and glass: in these few months it collected 153 kilos of paper, 103.5 kilos of textile and 175 kilos of glass.
There’s also been an improvement in what people know about the trash they generate. According to a study by Wasted, 52% of the participants said they had learned to improve the way they treat trash, while 23% had reduced their overall use of plastic when they realised how much they were using each week.
These ideas and approaches increase recycling rates. The independent consulting firm Eunomia, in its analysis Investigating the Impact of Recycling Incentive Schemes, claims that a 2014 study showed that these systems increase recycling by an average of 8%, and that in some places the rate is as high as 32%.
If they were to be applied in Spain, we might see something never seen before. If 100% of the people recycled, it would be historic, because each Spaniard generates an average of 460 kilos of waste each year. The only solution over the long term is to lower this figure. Look at the Swedes. A little less than a year ago their recycling plants were without garbage to generate energy, and they had to import it. The British paid between 40 and 50 dollars per ton for the Swedes to recycle their garbage. Now that really is an economic stimulus.