First Impressions of Sustainability in Amsterdam

By Molly Hayward, University Of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Amsterdam is well known as an ‘eco-capital’ and is a prominent example of a sustainable city. This was one of the elements that led to me choosing it for my study abroad. Since arriving, a couple of months ago, I have had time to create initial impressions of how true this is on the ground, these are my thoughts:

Firstly there is a great deal of visible sustainability. The UVA campus has lots of water points scattered around, the coffee machines recommend re-using the compostable cup and there is a notable lack of plastic disposal cutlery available – choosing instead the wooden alternative.

Water fountain in Roeterseiland Campus

Its true what they say about cycling, the streets are crowded with cyclists, and there is a decided lack of cars – especially in the city centre. I have also been very impressed with the public transport system, lots and lots of trams and a very efficient metro system.

When walking about there is a lot of visible signposting towards sustainability, for example less litter perhaps than you would experience in Manchester. There are many street markets selling second hand clothes and unusual household items. We visited the biggest street market in Europe, IJ Hallen, which was well worth the ferry ride.

IJ Hallen Market

The university campus pays homage to sustainability also: not only water point, but revolving doors to keep the heat in, recycling bins, and provision of a basement cycle shed (I am based on Roeterseiland Campus for reference).

The one initial point of contention I think is interesting to point out is, there is no recycling separation at my university accommodation. I spoke to a seminar leader about this and she said that Amsterdam centrally separates recycling as it is cheaper than providing separate bins. This may be true but it definitely feels a bit unnerving and counter-productive to chuck everything into general waste.

Many of these provisions I almost expected, however the one that I really didn’t expect was that the canals are clean enough to swim in. We had amazing weather the first couple of days so we got to enjoy swimming in both the canals (right in the centre of town) and in lakes around Amsterdam. There was even a huge sponsored swim the weekend after we arrived.

Swimming in Sloterplas

Overall Amsterdam is full of green spaces, you can walk most places, and it does seem to deserve the reputation it propagates.

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