The majority of the people in the world live in urban areas. The idea of city life has always been attractive for people. However, the consequences of growth – like traffic congestion, urban extension, waste, and environmental pollution – have negatively affected the quality of living.
In Europe, we currently use 16 tonnes of material per person per year, of which 6 tonnes become waste. Although the management of that waste continues to improve in the EU, the European economy currently still loses a significant amount of potential ‘secondary raw materials’ (such as metals, wood, glass, paper or plastics) in current waste streams. In 2010, total waste production in the EU amounted to 2.5 billion tonnes. From this total only a limited amount was recycled, and the rest was landfilled or burned, of which some 600 million tonnes could be recycled or reused. (1)
Recycling has become essential to cities around the world because the amount of waste that we create is constantly increasing as the world population grows. Cities will need to become more aware of the impact have on other regions and ecosystems.
The concept of a “Green City” defines a community which takes into consideration the impact on the environment along with the effort to minimise the use of energy, water, and food and the elimination of waste from air, pollution (eg, carbon dioxide), methane and water pollution. A green city is a city with a habitable environment, a strong economy, and a social and cultural sense of community which is capable of reducing its environmental impact. It can also be used as a model for other cities around the planet. (2)
The European Commission has recognised the important role that local authorities play in improving the environment, and their high level of commitment to progress. Every year since 2010 “The European Green Capital Award” is given as an initiative to promote and reward these efforts, to incentive cities to commit to further action, and to inspire exchange of best practice among European cities. (3)
In 2015 Bristol became the first UK city to be named as the European Green Capital. The recognition rewards the effort that the city and its citizens are making to improve the urban environment and create a healthier place to live in.
Coloured houses of Hotwells (Bristol). Picture taken by Cristina Ortega
Between their achievements, Bristol has been recognised for a double increase in the number of cyclists in recent years and it is committed to doubling this number again by 2020. Bristolians have reduced the amount of waste they produce by 29%, increased recycling and composting from 13% to nearly 50% and reduced landfill by 75%. Bristol now recovers energy locally, from 25% of its waste.(4) As a signatory to the Covenant of Mayors in 2009, the city has set ambitious targets to reduce energy use by 30 % and CO2 emissions by 40 % by 2020 and 80 % by 2050. (3)
Bristol is considered one of the worst cities in the UK for car drivers because it has a lot of narrow roads with speed limits and expensive parking zones around the city which can cost £20 per day (5). Local charities such as Sustrans have been inspiring people to see the potential of travel in Bristol in a more sustainable way.
The organisation has been supporting the Local Authority creating “A good transport Plan” for Bristol, which aims to show how getting around the city could be cleaner, cheaper and more efficient if a reliance on fossil fuels is reduced. Sustrans have improved Bristol’s public transport network by making buses more affordable for people, with ideas including mobile and online payments to help to speed up boarding, the restructuring of roads, the opening of more local railway stations and the development of waterways and ferry services that will make public transport accessible to everyone. (6) Since the investment that Bristol has received to make it into a cycling city, almost 57,000 people working in Bristol now commute by foot or bike. (5) They also show that the local businesses overestimated the number of customers visiting their shops by car – they estimated 44% and in reality it was only 22%. As the majority of people reach the shops on foot or by bike they are more likely to visit and return this helped to improve local businesses. (6)
The city is not focusing on transport only. Between their achievements you can find projects like the Council working with 130 primary schools to give every child the chance to plant a tree, the monthly bloggers share tips on how to get started with food growing, help to find projects and community gardens and food within your area, provide free advice on reducing your energy usage and costs and local projects and organisations which fight to reduce plastic use, litter and waste. (4)
Bristol Suspension Bridge. Picture taken by Cristina Ortega.
Communities should use cities like Bristol as a model to work towards adopting a policy to reduce, recycle, and reuse consumed goods. If we want to be more sustainable, we need to expand the meaning of the concept. It is not just about building green spaces and businesses with strong public transport. It is about looking at a city as a whole, including the well-being and the participation of its residents.
- European commission. Waste site. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/
- Useful definitions. College of Engineering. The University of Texas. Available at http://engineering.utep.edu/greencity/def.htm
- European Commission. European Green Capital. Available at http://ec.europa.eu/environment/europeangreencapital/about-the-award
- Bristol European Green Capital. Available at https://www.bristol2015.co.uk/t
- Bristol is “the worst city in the UK for car drivers”. Available at http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/Bristol-worst-city-UK-car-drivers/story-21739513-detail/story.html#ixzz44ykD0ZaF
- A Good Transport Plan for Bristol, Sustrans on behalf of Bristol Green Capital. Available at: http://www.sustrans.org.uk/sites/default/files/images/files/A%20Good%20Transport%20Plan%20for%20Bristol.pdf