Re-thinking our Waste Systems
Munipical waste generation in developed countries has reached striking numbers in the past 20 years. In 2015, the total waste generated per capita in the European Union amounted to 474 kg, Denmark ranking as the most waste generating country (789 kg per person) and Romania as the least (247 kg per person). These numbers, among other statistics, reflect our appalling consumption patterns and imply that we urgently need to reconsider our habits in order to tackle waste-induced environmental problems. On the other hand, they strongly suggest a revision of our waste management methods.
Numerous problems with traditional waste management (landfill etc.) and the increasing benefits of new methods, such as recycling and up-cycling, has encouraged Danish municipalities to take various measures, encouraging source separation. Today Copenhagen municipality is recycling 36 % household waste - the number will increase to 45% in 2018.
Multifunctional Urban Spaces
Effective recycling, to a great extent, relies on effective sorting practices. To help active waste sorting, we as urban planners can play a crucial role by designing new solutions that encourage people to sort their waste responsibly. Most waste sorting stations do not look appealing. They’re tucked in the backyard, hidden from the public realm. But do they have to be distinctly secluded from everyday life? Shouldn’t sorting be a bigger part of our daily lives and be brought to public attention? How can we encourage sorting through spatial configuration? Could it be a social activity? How would that look like?
Copenhagen city center is the most densely populated area in Denmark, housing thousands of commuters and tourists on a daily basis. Consequently waste generation due to excessive consumption is becoming an imminent issue. The inner city areas either need to be better equipped to handle the increased amount of waste or need to expand their existing waste sorting solutions. Through integrating waste sorting into public spaces, metropolitan cities like Copenhagen can increase the quality of public streetscapes.
Changing User Behavior Through Design
Another critical issue most cities face is the shortage of space, which calls on planners to design innovative solutions, addressing multiple problems. Synthesizing recycling stations with public areas helps solve different urban issues. On the other hand, sorting habits relate directly to user behavior, which we can alter with various nudging methods. Creating urban spaces is as much about proposing a new user culture as it is about good design. Design without end-user collaboration fails to influence user behavior through spatial elements. In our recent project in Valby Have we collaborated with the inhabitants to design a site-specific multifunctional solution in a public space. If you want to know more about changing user culture through citizen involvement and spatial design look at our other project: Nørrebro Outdoor Education.