Free coffee and half price bike repairs: Amsterdam rewards its recyclers


In the Noord district, residents are offered discounts at local shops in exchange for their plastic waste.


Located just behind Amsterdam Centraal station with views looking out across the river IJ, Al Ponte is a popular cafe serving a constant stream of commuters on their way to and from the nearby ferry port. Not all Al Ponte’s customers pay for their coffees, however. Not in the traditional sense anyway.

Al Ponte is one of the businesses participating in Wasted, a pilot project running in Amsterdam’s Noord district which incentivises households to recycle their plastics by rewarding them with discounts at local businesses.

When prospective participants sign up they are given bags labelled with unique QR codes, enabling the scheme’s organisers to apportion the correct credit to each household once the filled bags have been collected. For every bag of plastics they produce households earn one green coin.

At present the coins are sent to users in the post, although next year Wasted’s organisers want to develop the scheme’s digital currency. As well as reducing bureaucracy, this will enable them to engage online businesses in offering rewards.

At Al Ponte, one coin earns users a free second coffee. Meanwhile, over at BeekhovenBikes Fietsspecialist’s cycle shop three coins earn users 50% off tyre repairs. Discounts on accountancy support, groceries and reiki treatments are also included in the list of rewards offered by the 30 or so participating retailers.

Silvia Salani, who owns Al Ponte, says there are days when only one or two customers have a coin to exchange and others when that number reaches double figures. As well as improving her standing in the community, Salani believes being part of the scheme has been positive for business growth as she sees those who first came in with friends for free coffees returning as paid customers.

Since Wasted was set up in early 2015 by Dutch non-profit the Cities Foundation, more than 700 households have signed up. In a previous iteration of the project, staff from the Cities Foundation collected the plastics from users’ homes and fed them into the municipal recycling scheme. As the project has scaled, however, the city council, which subsidises the project, has taken over the weekly collection.

The city council doesn’t normally offer domestic collection of recyclables, instead providing Noord’s 87,000 residents with on-street containers. With Wasted, however, it has said is keen to support the Cities Foundation’s goal to connect waste management with supporting local entrepreneurs.

Picture from Pexels

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