Belgium

How Belgium is Doing Sustainability Right

Caroline Westberg is a student at the University of South Carolina and an ISA Photo Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Brussels, Belgium.

I began thinking about Brussels as a sustainable city the moment our ISA Resident Staff gave us a run-down on the city’s trash and recycling policy. I was somewhat taken aback by how intimidating it sounded at first, considering the fine attached to making a mistake: separate all waste into three bags of various colors (white, blue, yellow) and make sure to put the correct bag out on the correct day at the correct time.

Another recycling option is to collect your garden waste and use this green bag.

Another recycling option is to collect your garden waste and use this green bag.

These large recycling and waste containers can be seen throughout Brussels, encouraging residents to recycle and making the recycling process easy to participate in and readily accessible.

These large recycling and waste containers can be seen throughout Brussels, encouraging residents to recycle and making the recycling process easy to participate in and readily accessible.

I have even stumbled upon public cork collection sites, both sustainable and artsy.

I have even stumbled upon public cork collection sites, both sustainable and artsy.

Although it was perhaps daunting at first, this intimidation quickly transformed into fascination for me. Thus, I ask: how else is Brussels being Green?

Building Green

Naturally, I was stoked to see that my new home was taking initiatives to be environmentally friendly. It most certainly makes sense, considering Brussels is the capital of Europe and home to numerous European institutions and international organizations, making it an ideal city to be a pioneer in sustainability.

As a result of its leadership role in Europe, Brussels has made an effort to expand the use of sustainable building and green architecture. One of the most prominent examples of this is the green design of the buildings that house the European Parliament and European Commission, both meeting strict environmental standards for energy use.

It is clear that the buildings representing major European institutions are modeling sustainable practices for the rest of Europe.

It is clear that the buildings representing major European institutions are modeling sustainable practices for the rest of Europe.

In walking around the European district, you can see these signs calling on buses and cars to turn off their engines to make the air cleaner.

In walking around the European district, you can see these signs calling on buses and cars to turn off their engines to make the air cleaner.

Green Community Development

On a more community-oriented basis, Brussels is taking numerous initiatives to develop green communities both economically and socially. When faced with the challenges of urban development, Brussels has sparked projects and missions within various communes to create a stronger community feel within the city. This has been accomplished by controlling the densification of neighborhoods around public transportation hubs and centers of communal character.

One particular initiative of community development in Brussels is to create new green neighborhood spaces in highly populated and urbanized areas, taking a community-participatory approach by getting the local population involved in their design, implementation, and management.

This is Parc Bonnevie, opened in 1996, and was the first social park created by Brussels Environment. It provides the local community in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean neighborhood, an urbanized area lacking green spaces, with a space for relaxation and play.

This is Parc Bonnevie, opened in 1996, and was the first social park created by Brussels Environment. It provides the local community in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean neighborhood, an urbanized area lacking green spaces, with a space for relaxation and play.

This is Gray Street Garden, one of Brussels’ first community gardens, established in 2007. There are now more than 70 community gardens in Brussels, and thanks to a non-profit organization called Le Debut des Haricots, the community gardens are becoming more organized, popular, and diverse.

This is Gray Street Garden, one of Brussels’ first community gardens, established in 2007. There are now more than 70 community gardens in Brussels, and thanks to a non-profit organization called Le Debut des Haricots, the community gardens are becoming more organized, popular, and diverse.

Eating Green

As I have mentioned in my other blog posts, one of my all-time favorite quirks about Brussels is the plethora of markets scattered throughout the city on various days. Markets with fresh food not only promote healthy and sustainable living practices, but they establish a stronger sense of community amongst the locals. There’s nothing quite like walking through the Gare du Midi market on Sundays with a soundtrack of bargaining filling your ears, fresh fruit and meats keeping your smelling senses on alert, and a vibrancy of color to appease your wandering eyes.

Om nom nom. Food.

Om nom nom. Food.

Composting is also highly encouraged in Brussels, with bins available at local gardens and various collection centers.

Composting is also highly encouraged in Brussels, with bins available at local gardens and various collection centers.

Brussels encourages “smart consumption” by businesses, second-hand and rental shops, sustainable cafeterias, public garden “kitchens”, and sustainable practices among restaurants, cafes and hotels.

Moving Green

What is a “green city” without alternative forms of transportation? As common in most cities, Brussels has no shortage of traffic congestion and noise/air pollution. Indeed, nearly 225,000 cars enter or leave Brussels region each day, in addition to the 175,000 used daily by residents of the region. Thus, Brussels has a vision of mobility plan that consists of a series of steps to improve the daily lives of those visiting, living, or traveling through Brussels.

Some of the most visible initiatives in Brussels to relieve this congestion are the various forms of public transportation, including tram, metro, bus, and train.

Fun fact: The trams, buses, and metros of the STIB transport on average 700,000 customers per day.

Fun fact: The trams, buses, and metros of the STIB transport on average 700,000 customers per day.

On top of the STIB transport system, there are a numerous other alternatives, such as car-sharing, walking, and carpooling. Oh, and don’t forget bicycling!

There are more than 180 self-service bike stations in the Brussels region.

There are more than 180 self-service bike stations in the Brussels region.

A Green City… Literally

Lastly, it is impossible to walk through this city and not take notice of just how green everything really is. In fact, half of the land in the Brussels region is covered in green spaces, including private and public parks, forests, sports grounds, recreation grounds, cemeteries, agricultural areas, gardens, etc. Not to mention “The Green Trail”, a trailblazing (pun intended) initiative of 60 km of pedestrian and cycle routes developed throughout Brussels.

Green Space 1, Brussels, Belgium, Westberg - Photo 13 Green Space 2, Brussels, Belgium, Westberg - Photo 14

This is just a glimpse into what Brussels is doing to play a leading role in making a more sustainable Europe. Even if you aren’t an environmental junkie, it’s easy to appreciate the simple beauty of stepping outside in a cosmopolitan hub and having a refreshing bit of nature at your fingertips.

Keep wandering, world travelers.


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