Wasted is a local initiative in Amsterdam that aims to motivate citizens to recycle their household waste. The startup implemented a neighbourhood currency that rewards recycling with discounts at local businesses. Our Dutch friends at Pop-Up City tried out the step-by-step system and spoke to project manager Sietse Gronheid about Wasted’s success.

The Wasted initiative came about after completing a research project on waste streams in Amsterdam. “We found out that many citizens in Amsterdam lack motivation to recycle their trash, especially in the neighbourhood of Amsterdam-Noord,” explains Wasted co-founder, Sietse Gronheid. “That led to our decision to develop a convenient solution for citizens to recycle their waste.”

Eager to participate, we tested the Wasted project ourselves, by collecting plastic waste from our office and going through the standard process of the recycling program.

The process begins as soon as you sign up on the Wasted website to become a “recycling neighbour”. Once you have registered, Wasted trash bags are delivered straight to your front door. It is important to use these bags to separate your household trash, glass, paper, plastic and textiles because they are needed to measure the amount of waste you are recycling through the program.

Man creating an account at his laptop
Ari creates his account to become a “recycling neighbour”.
Man holding a bunch of fresh trash bags
Shortly after, the Wasted trash bags are delivered straight to his front door.

Recycle for good

Since plastic waste is the problem we need to tackle the most in urban spaces, our Pop-Up City team filled the Wasted trash bag with plastic waste from the office. Sietse draws reference to the overabundance of plastic waste. “All in all, buying, using and throwing away less waste in general is still the most sustainable option,” he explains and pleads: “Please don’t purposely buy things wrapped in plastic! We are currently working on a system that will reward people for avoiding plastic packaging in the first place.”

Man holding a full wastebag
At home or at the office: We produce far too much plastic waste every day.
Man cycling at the port site, holding a wastebag on the carrier of his bike
Transporting the filled bag to the nearest container.

After our bag is full of trash, our colleague Ari takes it to a public container in the neighbourhood. Before you throw your bag in the container, you scan the container’s Wasted QR code. It will bring you to a webpage where you can instantly take a picture and upload it. Shortly afterwards, you will receive a digital coin as a reward.

“We started out with real coins to test our reward system,” Sietse says. “It was very successful and the Amsterdam municipality supported us to scale it up. The chips are still valid, but in the meantime we developed a digital currency so people can participate more easily.”

Man on bicycle drops plastic trash bag in Amsterdam Wasted recycling container
A Wasted sticker and QR code mark the recycling container.

Coins get you perks at local businesses

The best thing about the system is that you can instantly get rewarded with just a single bag of recycled trash. We went straight to a local café and exchanged our Wasted coin for a cup of coffee. Most businesses provide a “purchase with” offer, therefore, Ari paid for a piece of cake and enjoyed a free cappuccino along with it.

“The reward system would not be possible without local businesses that really want to help support recycling in their neighbourhood,” Sietse says graciously. “Shops and cafés also profit long-term, as recyclers that claim their rewards are likely to come back and spend more money in the neighbourhood.”

Man standing at a bar, holding green coins
The Wasted coins, physical or digital, are good for offers at partnering businesses.
Green coins located next to a glass of coffee
Ari enjoys a free coffee, thanks to his recycling efforts.

Social impact through recycling

With its local waste currency, Wasted has helped Amsterdam citizens beyond just making recycling fun. For example, if you save up your coins, you can get a free ticket at the cinema in your area. This way, people with lower income get to participate in cultural events. It’s clear that Wasted is making a social impact worth talking about.

“What makes Wasted unique is our approach in rewarding people for good behavior,” Sietse says with a smile. “It’s more effective than punishing people for their lack of effort.

A man and a woman sitting at a coffee table at the waterside
The Wasted initiative makes recycling a piece of cake.

We certainly enjoyed participating in the program and are interested to see how it evolves over time. It’s urban innovation projects like Wasted that can truly help tackle our waste problem in neighbourhoods and cities worldwide.

Click here to learn more on Wasted, its reward program and impact.