Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Green Green Green

About two years ago my brother sent me a t-shirt with Woodsy Owl on it, with the words "Give a hoot, don't pollute!" It's a t-shirt that I wear surprisingly often around the house, as it is the perfect "I haven't got any other clean t-shirt" t-shirt. But South Park spoof notwithstanding, it also perfectly illustrates my Green side, mostly because I like to hope that people are smarter than apes, and will not ruin the planet (by which I mean all of the arable land) out of sheer greed and willful ignorance. Tall order, I know. But it makes more sense than believing in God.

The Netherlands were extolled in Jared Diamond's Collapse for their forward-thinking environmental policies, implemented by a top-down model that's only possible after generations and generations of hive-mind living. It's everywhere: the advertisements that link being Green to getting it on, billboards that encourage you to hold on to your trash rather than litter. Dutch culture, being as clean as it is, makes littering one of the easier vices to police. God knows there are more terrible public service announcements than suggesting Green is the new sexy.

Things I like about the Dutch environmental policies:
  • The statiesgeld: the refund you get for bringing in empty bottles. Ten cents for a beer bottle, and 25 cents for a soda bottle. It's so simple: you feed your empty bottle into a machine, and it spits back a receipt telling you how much money you've gotten for your trouble. Then you present the receipt to the cashier, who knocks the amount off your final grocery bill.
  • Bike money: yes, you can actually get an employer to help you pay for your bike, if you use it for commuting to and from your place of work. Policies differ--where I worked in Maastricht, I could get €300 back. Karel basically got his folding bike for free--it's a bit of a hassle to fill out the paperwork, but given how much bikes can cost, it's a pretty good incentive to push pedals.
  • Thrift culture: it's de rigeur to shop at thrift stores, to get furniture off Marktplaats, and just generally not throw anything away that can be patched up and sold off. It's also because if you don't like what's on sale at the Xenos, you're pretty much screwed because everything new looks like that. So thrift stores it is, for people who want things different.
  • Trash cans everywhere: by necessity, they're around to prevent people from littering. And y'know what, they're not in the way and they are regularly emptied and they actually keep people from littering! The NS, on the ends of the intercity train routes, where the trains are at a stop for 15 minutes, has teams of cleaners that go through the train and empty out the trash cans on it. One wonders how this concept has evaded SEPTA.
Things I don't like so much:
  • Why can't I recycle cans anywhere? Plastic bottle recycling drop-offs are common. Paper-and-cardboard recycling day is clearly marked on the special afvalkalender we get every February (one month too late, DAR...), but if I want to recycle a can of soda, I shouldn't have to bring it all the way to the dump.
  • The road tax: the Dutch have one of the most extreme car taxes in Europe. When you buy a car, you pay a 14% tax for pollution, and depending on how big the car is, every month you get dinged for road usage. And that's not even covering the insane cost of gas. My current estimate of gas prices and conversion rates puts it at a hefty $9/gal--and if that's not an incentive to get a Prius, I don't know what is. You might be wondering why I'm complaining about it, since I don't even drive, but the road tax is actually a serious impediment to our even considering getting a car.
I most certainly missed somethings. Possibly many things. What're your favorite or not-so-favorite aspects of going Green in Holland?

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