7 Quirky Sustainable Practices that Vancouver’s Forgetting About

Posted by Alex Florian & filed under Sustainability Issue 2014.

Recycling to pay subway fares in Beijing - Credit: Xinhua
Recycling to pay subway fares in Beijing - Credit: Xinhua

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About a month ago I was in Texas and have to admit, it really surpassed my expectations about what sustainability in the south would look like.  Austin has a bicycle share program where you pick up a bike at one station and leave it at any of the other stations around the city.  Everyone with me had heard of the idea, but I thought it was just brilliant.

With Schema’s new issue around sustainability, I’ve found a few other innovative sustainable practices from around the world that we should know about.  I think Vancouver is doing great things, don’t get me wrong!  We’ve got an efficient transit system, recycling programs and the renouncing of most (or at least a lot of) grocery store plastic bags across the city, but these are the ideas from around the globe that are beating us on the fun scale.

1.  Beijing – Recycle to ride

The first machines opened in 2012 and over 100 will be installed in subway stations in the coming years that allow you to pay toward your subway fare with recyclable plastic bottles.  The aim is to take some bottles off the streets and keep them from trash bins, reducing waste.

2.  The United Kingdom – Swishing and Shwopping

Yes, these sound like made up words.  Swishing is the gathering of friends to swap clothes.  According to the website, the technical definition of swishing is to rustle, and the swishing community likes to define it as rustling clothes from friends.  There are helpful tips of how to host a swishing party if you’re interested.  Shwopping similarly promotes the recycling of unwanted clothes, but is run by the international company, Marks & Spencer.  They have bins located in their stores to drop off unwanted clothing when buying new clothing.  They work with Oxfam to either resell, give to developing countries, or recycle the fibers into new materials.  This promotes a culture of giving every time you take, and helps take some of the waste out of shopping, which is especially helpful when you’re like me and like to shop. A lot.

3.  South Africa – Track your tree

Grootbos, a South African nature reserve and lodge gives guests the opportunity to plant a tree and then provides the coordinates so that they can track the tree’s progress on Google Earth once they return home.  This Future Trees program would be really cute for families with kids who are on vacation anywhere and want to make a lasting memory.  Call me corny, but new couples? Planting roots? It’s way better than those love locks that end up getting cut off bridges.

4. The United States – Pay-As-You-Throw

Thousands of communities across the U.S. are using the Pay-As-You-Throw program of The Environmental Protection Agency.  It charges citizens to per either bag, can or weight of waste, depending on what communities decide.  This creates environmental sustainability through an incentive for people to produce less waste, and recycle more.  It also helps economic sustainability by using the waste and recycling revenues to cover the cost of the program.

5.  Japan – Urban agriculture

Japan does it right.  One third of the countries agricultural output is urban!  This has huge benefits for urban residents and the environment with fresh produce, more permeable surfaces and a cooling effect on the air.  Not to mention it saves energy by reducing the miles food has to travel to be sold.  What I love is that it provides more green space within the city for leisure activities.

6.  India – Clean with cooking oil

The Welcomgroup Bay Island Hotel in Port Blair has multiple sustainable initiatives; one being that they convert cooking oil into soap.  I thought this is brilliant because I use an olive oil based soap myself and never thought about where that oil could come from.  They’re also filling their septic tanks with seawater. Bravo to the Bay of Bengal.

7.  The United Kingdom – Design a farm

Asda Supermarket and Unwins in the U.K. have created a “Gro-sure” challenge that encourages knowledge of local gardening practices in youth.  The competition is made fun by allowing kids to design the garden for their school and are judged on their design’s imaginative use of space and clever gardening ideas. Plus the prize is the implementation of a garden that the school can enjoy for years to come, not to mention the celebrity status for being the 12 year old to win that garden.

Let us know if you’ve got any other fun ideas. I’d love to hear them!

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