Yes, I only arrived in less than a month and I had to stay in quarantine for 10 days after my arrival. However, during my first 15 days in the Netherlands, I managed to find several differences in topics related to circularity and sustainability, between Portugal and Amsterdam. Can you guess what are they?
As I had the opportunity to share in this post, on August 18th I embarked on an adventure and came towards the Netherlands, where I will stay for 4 months, participating in an Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs programme. But even before starting to make visits to the Circular Changemakers, I founded several differences between Portugal and the Netherlands, directly or indirectly related to the sustainability and circularity areas. Discover the 15 differences that I found in my first 15 days:
1 The biggest Upcycling centre in Europe
One of the places I already had the opportunity to visit, and which I will soon talk about in more detail, is the largest Upcycling Center in Europe, which luckily is in Almere, the city where I’m living in. The centre building itself is an excellent example of the circular economy. Wood, tires, bicycle spokes and so many other materials had a second chance and today embellish and compose this building (have a look at the highlights "Netherlands" by @ BeeCircular.Mag.) This way, the integrity of the materials and their quality was maintained and the life utility extended for many years. At this centre, citizens can leave the products and materials they no longer want and these are processed and used by the entrepreneurial projects associated with the centre, for their creations. Suffice to say that here “nothing is lost”, “everything is transformed”, respecting the quality and value of the materials.
2 Separation in the container between undifferentiated and compound
Something that I was very happy to see is the existence of containers with two divisions: one for the undifferentiated and one for the food waste, which is sent for industrial composting. In Portugal some cities already have specific containers for composting, however, these are still rare in our country. One of the alternatives that usually exist is community gardens, which normally have composters (but they are not always that close) or domestic compost, which does not always fit with everyone. Here, you can also find several projects with community composters, but for those who do not want to get involved, they can always choose the comfort option of having a container at their doorstep, which will be specifically directed for this purpose.
3 trains powered by 100% wind energy
The train, by nature, is already one of the most environmentally friendly means of public transport. However, when powered 100% by wind energy, it becomes an even more interesting and environmentally friendly alternative. And that’s exactly what happens on trains that serve the Dutches. There are also monthly tickets that allow you to travel throughout the country's rail network, outside peak hours, starting at 105 €, which for entrepreneurs is a great and practical alternative for business trips. And of course, do not forget that at the entrance of each station there are always several bicycles (OV-FIETS), managed directly by the railway company, which in addition to currently being produced with 70% of remanufactured materials, are available for only € 3.80 at day.
4 Space for garden clippings
Anyone who lives close to areas with houses with gardens knows that garden shavings can be a living hell. On my street, for example, there are several houses with gardens, and these shavings are often thrown in the middle of the public road next to the containers, preventing the passage and blocking and even damaging cars. There are also those who throw them in the containers, but being a very bulky waste, they end up filling the containers very quickly, leaving them with no space for undifferentiated waste. Here the system is different: the houses are very common as well as the gardens, but on each street, there is a structure, where the residents can leave their shavings, which are then routed more appropriately.
5 Reusable masks? Yes, please!
One of the issues that are probably the most sensitive, at the particular moment we are all living in, is the fact that there is a requirement to wear a mask. Currently (September 2020), it is only mandatory to wear a mask on public transport or in very busy places like certain areas of the airport or the centre of Amsterdam. However, there is a lot of emphasis in keeping a safe distance: it's, for example, often mandatory to use a shopping cart in supermarkets. Naturally, this leads to a substantial reduction in the number of masks ending on public roads. In addition, on the official websites, the mask recommended is non-surgical (washable masks), in order to ensure that surgical mask stocks are not affected for those who need it most (doctors, nurses, etc.). Additionally, it is the only alternative which is aligned with circular logic and since this is a country strongly committed to this transformation, this is the only logical option.
6 Bee-friendly cities and other pollinators
This is a highly bee-friendly country and you can see flowers and gardens everywhere, many of them with species specifically aimed to our pollinating friends. In Almere, the city where I find myself, one can be in any part of the city and is never more than 5 minutes away from a park, garden, forest, forest or canal. This makes it evident that the Dutches deeply value contact with nature.
7 Pride in local products
Once again, the reality I know best is from Almere and I confess that I was very pleased. In Almere, there are several markets and the residents are very proud of them. All the people I spoke to told me that I had to go to the market in the centre of Almere, as it was the best place (and very affordable) to buy fresh products. On one of Almere's official websites, you can even get to know each of the market stalls and the products they sell, something that is not unprecedented, as several projects and local entrepreneurs (in particular circulars) are promoted on the Municipalities' websites.
8 Streets and cities are designed for people, not cars
One of the things I discussed at the aRoundTable event, is that in order to promote the regeneration of communities, their resilience and unity, it is essential to create urban areas for people and not only for cars. In most urban areas, more than 80% of the streets are dedicated to cars and the little remains of sidewalks often still have cars parked. In front of the buildings, there are parking lots, instead of places for children to play and residents to live together. This does not happen here. There is a profound balance between green and urban areas. It is very common behind the houses to have small woods, gardens and playgrounds. At any location in Almere, there are high-quality bike paths, and it is often possible to get to certain localities faster by bicycle than by car. At the edge of the canals, there are several benches placed for people to sit and contemplate nature. Every time I’m on my bike and I pass by someone, people smile and say hello. Investing in this type of infrastructure and in green areas is investing in people: investing in their physical and mental health, well-being, happiness and social unity.
9 Recovery system for plastic bottles
I'm well aware that in Portugal automatic deposits for plastic bottles already exist, offering discounts of around 0.05 cent. Here, things are a little different: When we buy a product in a plastic bottle, we are charged for its value. Upon return, it can reach 0.25 cent. It is a recovery system, not an incentive one, that has been in place for many years. Additionally, for natural orange juices, there are already reusable bottles, which can be reused countless times (if you want to have a look, see the stories highlighted in “Netherlands”)
10 The Electronic points were not removed during the pandemic
I was so irritated about this situation: just before I left, I had to throw away a small appliance. I knew that at “Jumbo” (local supermarket) next to me there was an electronic deposit, so I went there. To my surprise, due to the pandemic, it was removed. I looked at several other places that I knew that have one, but nothing, they were gone. I even went as far as calling the places marked to have this kind of containers and I was informed they had none. Here, you can find them everywhere, even at the smallest supermarkets, being much more accessible to everyone.
11 Reduction of the limit on motorways to 100 km / h to reduce C02 emissions
This year (2020), the Dutch government changed the speed limit on highways from 130 km / h to 100 km / h to promote a reduction in the emission of polluting gases, becoming one of the European countries with the lowest high-speed limit. This reduction may be revised in the future if there is a general increase in the use of electric vehicles.
12 Police, couriers and bicycle messengers
Lead by example: in the Netherlands, even the police often leave their cars parked and carry out bicycle patrols. It's clear that the excellent cycle paths, the bicycle parking lots, the ramps for the “ins and outs” of the sidewalks and the fact that it is a very flat country, make this reality much easier to apply. The police are joined by mail and courier distributors from different companies.
I do not think that our hills and valleys are an excuse for the low investment in these types of roads, as there are many cities that would profoundly benefit from it. For example, in my hometown (Almada), I cannot understand how an investment has not yet been made to connect Almada to Costa da Caparica (beach) via a bike path. If it had been built together with the highway, the route would be mostly flat and would have been an excellent alternative to the car. This is just one of many other examples that would benefit from this type of infrastructure, offering a quality of life to its inhabitants.
13 The vast majority of cities have a public roadmap with the strategy of transition to the Circular Economy and platforms with news, initiatives, local projects, ideas and suggestions.
It's no longer the first time that people share with me that they know practically nothing about what is being done in terms of sustainability, circularity and social justice in their cities and that even if they wanted to know, they would not know how they could do it. Here, in general, the inhabitants cannot say the same, because the municipalities themselves have platforms dedicated to these themes. On these platforms, it is possible to consult the roadmap for the circular transformation of these cities, the best circular practices, the dissemination of local projects, suggested itineraries for these initiatives, among other useful information.
14 A balanced lifestyle
Speaking of Circular Economy is not just talking about eliminating waste and pollution and keeping materials circulating. It is also talking about justice, harmony and balance. The Dutch people attach great importance to the balance between professional and personal life and their lifestyle is healthy and balanced. At 5/6 pm the parks, lakes and woods are filled with families who take their children to play, people doing sports and socializing. This contact with nature leads people to develop a greater feeling of empathy and belonging to it and thus have greater concerns and interest in environmental issues.
15 A confident, self-aware people who know their value
It may not seem like it but this last point has everything to do with Circularity and Sustainability. I have not yet been able to ascertain the real reason, but the fact is that the Dutch people are generally confident people who recognize their strengths without false modesty. The social transformation towards regenerative models can only happen if the citizens who are part of the change know their strengths and trust that they can really make a difference. Otherwise, many projects with enormous transformative potential will remain on paper. We all have countless talents that can make a big difference. It is time to recognize them and put them at the service of humanity, through ideas, projects, companies and products, believing that it is really possible to change the course of history and co-create the best version of the future
Author: Mariana Pinto e Costa