With the conscious community constantly looking at ways to live life differently and, more importantly, responsibly, a plethora of new ideas and initiatives are sprucing up around town, allowing us all to do our little part in making the world we live in that much better. From waste-managing pigs and car-sharing apps to open-to-all tool pools and regular flower delivery services, these 12 innovative initiatives, all available in Belgium, will change lives.
Best for e-learning: Bednet
Ten years ago, Kathy Lindekens, together with a handful of volunteers, started prototyping a tool aimed at connecting bed and hospital-bound children with their classroom through video and audio feeds. It took years of research with different focus groups and test cases to develop the final product, today known as Bednet. The free platform provides sick children, often in hospital care for the long run, with the necessary hardware to help them follow classes from a distance and succeed in their studies despite their predicament – nine out of ten students passed their year using Bednet. And, beyond the academic success, the beneficial social impact of actually putting the child back into the classroom, albeit through the help of technology, is non-negligible. Case in point, back in 2014, a unanimous vote in the Flemish parliament stated that every child should have the right to this kind of synchronized e-education, a welcome recognition for the platform’s users as well as its founders. And although we hope none of your little ones will ever need this innovation, if they do, you can rest assured Bednet will ensure they’re not totally removed from their classroom.bednet.be
Best for circular economy: Het Spilvarken
While keeping pigs in the city centre might seem unconventional, Ghent one again proves it’s ahead of the pack with innovative and ecological initiative Spilvarken. Developed in 2014 following a brainstorm between Canvas TV, urban laboratory Timelab and KASK art school, the idea was coined by a participating cook. Its ideals are clear, and its concept is simple: using the Medieval three-field system, three pigs rummage around a 100 square metre meadow for a month or two, after which chickens are placed in the area, ensuring manure to be absorbed by the soil, making it ready for vegetable cultivation. During this entire process, the pigs manage to process over a ton of household (food) waste from the neighbourhood’s inhabitants in a mere six months. At the end of every cycle, the pigs are sold in their entirety to restaurants, making the circle round. A fantastic way to get rid of household waste whilst also contributing to the circular economy. Oink oink.hetspilvarken.be
Best for a good start to the week: BloeMonday
When friends, ex-colleagues and former roommates Joni Vandewalle and Nancy Reijnders – both chronic sufferers of the Monday blues – realised how much better their week got off when they started handing each other their home-made floral creations on their Monday lunch breaks, the idea of making a business out of it came quickly. Through flower arranging tutorials on Youtube and online courses, both were able to turn their newfound hobby into a brand new business venture. The duo has been sending out made-toorder bouquets all around Antwerp on the first Monday of every month (which they’ll most likely deliver to your doorstep personally) for a little over a year now with prizes ranging between 15 and 50 euros, depending on the size of the bouquet. It’s the kind of small touch that’ll go a long way in making the start of the week that much better. All that is left to hope for is for them to start serving up Brussels.bloemonday.be
Best for scatterbrains: Recycle!
Whether it’s because of sudden changes in waste collection schedules (hello, Brussels), absent-mindedness or plain confusion caused by the sheer amount of different trash bags a household is expected to handle, remembering when to put out the garbage can be as tricky as remembering when to fill-in your tax returns. Enter Recycle!, a mobile application
developed by Fost Plus, Bebat and Recupel that offers an overview of all waste collection dates in your area, allowing users to set reminders, while equally showing users the fastest route to nearby recycling centres and a handy guide explaining which garbage goes in which bag (apparently those empty yogurt containers don’t go in the blue bag after all). Essential for every responsible citizen out there.
Best for DIY: Tournevie
Tournevie is, simply put, a library for tools. For a yearly fee of 20 euros, members get unlimited access to a work tool inventory that’s capable of making any self-respected DIY fanatic drool. The platform is driven by a team of about fifteen volunteers, who manage Tournevie’s workshop in the heart of Brussels’ Marolles neighbourhood. Its founders Maarten Depypere and Olivier Beys explain that, inspired by the Instrumentheek – a similar initiative in Kortrijk – and some others in Canada, they wanted to create a concept that’s useful and financially advantageous for its users, while going against today’s disposable culture. No more excuse, then, not to take care of that IKEA shelf you’ve been avoiding putting together for weeks.tournevie.be
Best for freelancers: Wiffee
After leaving AlphaBeta magazine, its former editor-in-chief Axelle Minne threw herself entirely into the freelance life, feeling a strong need to work on her own projects and plans. No longer in an office, the relentless blogger and coffee lover
needed a way to nurture her Internet addiction as well as her caffeine cravings without spending the entire day in the confines of her own apartment, so she went ahead and developed Wiffee, an interactive Google maps overview of the best places for – you guessed it – good coffee and stable Wi-Fi in (for now) Brussels, Antwerp and Madrid. And if that’s not enough for you, head over to Wiffee’s Facebook page, where you’re in for daily Wiffee tips reviewing the different bars on Axelle’s coffee tour.
Best for citizen participation: Betterstreet
Dodgy signposts, treatcherous potholes, illegal dumping, broken lampposts in your neighbourhood – most of us have seen it happen, and getting these issues through to local governments in our country, unfortunately, often equals a one-way ticket to the administrative maze. That’s until Jean-Marc Poncelet, a commercial engineer from Liège, developed Betterstreet, a mobile application allowing citizens to report public issues. Now available to proactive citizens of many communes in Wallonia, Brussels, France and Luxemburg, it’s as easy as taking a quick photo and uploading it to the platform. Citizens’ concerns are supposed to reach the correct department in no more than 30 seconds, and once you’ve filed a case, Betterstreet gives users regular updates about the issue through a real-time dashboard. Citizen participation 3.0.betterstreet.org
Best for flat-shares: Flatninja
A self-described Tinder for flatmates, Flatninja has been around for a little over a year to ensure and help the estimated 20 million Europeans living in shared housing to find the ultimate roommate hook-up. Founders Vadim and Dennis came up with the idea when they realised that other housemate-sourcing websites focused solely on the infrastructure aspects of the matter – such as size and location – while stating that finding the perfect roomie is a process more akin to dating. Flatninja automatically collects and displays all classifieds posted in Facebook groups, eliminating the need for endless scrolling thanks to the website’s more advanced search options while still allowing direct contact with the poster. Currently available in Brussels, Ghent, Antwerp, Leuven, Liège and several others European cities, an expansion plan is on its way to soon include a dozen more.flat-ninja.com
Best for epicurists: FLAVR
The perfect platform for the culinary-challenged, FLAVR offers more subtle – and considerably cheaper – dinner options than the usual takeaway pizza and neighbourhood snack bars. Foodies and hobby chefs can subscribe to the platform, share their meals together with photographs as well as descriptions and sell them to others in their area through at-home pickups. Tried and tested by over a thousand home chefs, founder Alexander Van Laer states that authentic and affordable food should be accessible to everyone, and that with FLAVR he wishes to bring back the taste of homemade food to Antwerp’s dining rooms while improving social cohesion between neighbours. Can’t wait for it to hit the rest of the country.flavr.be
Best for good neighbours: Dégage
A concept that’s both ecologically as well as economically relevant, Dégage is a car sharing platform that allows its users to share their vehicle with other members that live in the neighbourhood. For a paltry entrance fee of 35 euros (and an added cost per kilometre covering insurance and taxes), carless citizens are able to easily and efficiently borrow their neighbours’ four-wheelers, which has the added benefit of bringing neighbourhoods closer together. Currently available
only to the citizens of Ghent, Dégage nonetheless counts as many as 72 cars divided over 903 users at the time of writing, theoretically meaning there’s 576 less cars on our roads, making us hope there’s an expansion plan on its way that includes all Belgian cities.
Best for freegans: Bxl à recup
With 29,000 members and counting, Bxl à recup’ is a Facebook group underpinned by strong ideals: altruism, goodwill, ecology and solidarity. Moderator and co-founder Carolyne Digriz even goes as far as calling the group an effort towards a soft revolution by proposing constructive, post-capitalist alternatives. Its members can either post classified ads offering various objects or services, or report useful items lingering in Brussels’ streets. Anything goes, basically, as long as it’s not a living being, and as long as it’s given away for free. From teddy bear-shaped giant bananas and Christmas trees to toys and comic books, this group is a true treasure trove for diggers looking to reduce their carbon footprint. Join up now.facebook.com/groups/bxlrecup
Best for clean air: Zencar
The first of its kind in Europe, Zencar means no exhaust fumes, no noise and a network of 86 shared electric cars – from small passenger vehicles to mini vans – in Brussels’ city centre. Either via a membership card or a one-time fee, users can pick up any car from any of the 60 electric charging points spread out around town and park them for free on public roads – the only thing that needs to be made is a reservation, be it by phone, online or by using Zencar’s mobile application. Insurance and maintenance are all included, so essentially it’s driving without the many costs that come with owning a private vehicle. And if that wasn’t convincing enough, the entire thing is 120% tax deductible.zencar.eu All illustrations by Melanie Gregoire (c).