How did Amsterdam become the cycling capital of the world?
At one point, it was overflowing with cars
Cyclists rule the city of Amsterdam with ~1 million bikes. But this wasn't always the case. At one point, the city was overflowing with cars.
You might’ve heard that cyclists own Amsterdam. Toddlers to elderly people- everyone cycles. Motorists in the city are in the minority. The Netherlands has 22,000 miles of cycle paths. There are bicycle civil servants in major Dutch cities.
But this infrastructure was not always there.
Bicycle trips were on a decline between the 1950s and 70s. In Amsterdam, it went from 80% to 20% during this time. Cars were deemed as the future of transportation. Cities were torn down to make way for the roads.
As a result, traffic casualties increased during this time. A lot of children lost their lives in car accidents. This led to the Stop de Kindermoord movement. It literally means stop the child murder.
Citizens resorted to activism and civil disobedience. They held bicycle demonstrations. They closed down streets using their furniture. This resulted in the creation of people-friendly roads. One that came with speed bumps and bends. This forced cars to drive very slowly.
Citizens didn’t stop there.
They demanded more space for bicycles in public.
At the same time, the 1973 oil crisis happened. Arab oil exporters imposed an embargo on the Netherlands. The oil price quadrupled.
To save energy, the Dutch government introduced car-free Sundays. People took advantage of the deserted streets. And started enjoying car-free ways.
The Dutch authorities took notice of that. And started introducing bike-friendly streets in the cities. It began with The Hague and Tilburg.
And then moved to the city of Delft. It constructed a whole network of cycle paths.
And the rest is history.
For this week, I’ve focused on 3 startups that are working on building a circular economy- a model where sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling are promoted.
It’s not practical…We can’t afford to phase out plastic bottles from our lives. Sometimes we forget to carry our own bottle of water. Then there are times when we don’t have an option- our preferred beverage might only come in a plastic bottle. We might dispose of them appropriately but unfortunately, less than 10% of them would ever get recycled. The rest end up in a landfill or reach our oceans. A million plastic bottles are sold every minute around the world. Just imagine the trash that they create.
Recycle your own plastic…French startup Green Big is encouraging users to recycle plastic through its solution called b:bot- a compact plastic bottle recycling machine. The machine transforms plastic (PET) bottles into flakes- a raw material that can be easily used by the recycling industry.
Green Big sells or rents b:bot to the supermarkets, who pay a monthly subscription fee for maintenance and the web platform.
The consumer slides the bottle into the b:bot, which recognizes the container from its bar code.
The machine sorts them into coloured and colourless bottles(they are sold at different rates) and then crushes them into 10-millimetre chips.
Incentivizing at every step…These chips are then transported to plastic processing companies for recycling. Recycling the chips is easier for these companies than the bottles. This increases the %age of bottles recycled. A percentage of the revenue is shared with the distributor, while the consumer earns a voucher of one or two cents, to be spent in the supermarket.
Tile cutters, power tools, ladders…How many times do you use these items at your home? You would probably need it once per year and for the rest of the time, they are stacked somewhere, taking up space. Don’t you sometimes wish that you could just use them and return them? There have been some traditional rental companies but they typically require the borrower to put in a large cash deposit in case the item is broken, lost or stolen.
Airbnb for stuff…UK-based Fat Llama is aiming to do for rentals what eBay did for buying and selling used items. For environmental and financial reasons, they want people to rent stuff that they use occasionally. Borrowing items helps to reduce unnecessary mass manufacturing as well as carbon-intensive distribution systems. It creates a source of revenue for the renter and helps the borrower save money.
Renters list the products on Fat Llama’s platform- things ranging from cameras and drones to camper vans, hot tubs and portaloos.
Borrowers interested in renting the equipment have to set up a meeting with the lender to pick it up.
Fat Llama utilizes risk-profiling technology and identity checks to reduce risk. It also insures each item is rented for an amount up to $30,000 (a big differentiator).
New avenues…The risk profiling technology and insurance allow it to do away with the traditional security deposit method. It makes it easier for people to rent out expensive DJ and photography equipment and generate a risk-free income. The company has recently launched a new enterprise platform that allows major retailers to offer a rental option to their customers. They have started experimenting with the furniture segment.
It’s all related…India produces around 100,000 metric tonnes of solid waste every day. With insufficient waste segregation practices, most of this waste ends up in landfills, putting huge pressure on them. The rising piles of landfills are contaminating natural resources like soil and groundwater. A deep waste management issue is in the making here.
Truly circular…Shailaja Rangarajan started Rimagined in 2016 with an aim to reduce waste and use it to produce usable products such as furniture, jewellery, clothes and home décor. The production unit comprises a group of women artisans from a low-income background- creating sustainable livelihoods through upcycling. From tetra paks and textile waste to motherboards and vinyl records, they upcycle a vast variety of products.
The process starts with sifting and sorting through different types of waste, followed by washing, cleaning and drying.
Based on the available material, they then think of creative ways to design it.
They are then manufactured by women artisans and listed on the website for sale.
Still affordable…The team has worked hard to price the products competitively so that users can consider them as a viable alternative. Each product is also given an environmental score which takes into account the ingredients’ recyclability, the time they would take to decompose and the waste that is prevented from ending up in the landfill.
🙋Trivia of the week
The answer to last week’s trivia is Denmark.
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