It will probably not come as a surprise that Brussels fared badly in a recent Test Achats (Belgian consumer association) survey of 44 cities. The survey was also conducted in 2012, and Brussels was one of the only cities in which the situation has not improved. It focused on a few communes, including Anderlecht, Schaarbeek and Molenbeek. The main problems identified are waste and illegal dumping, which were noted to be a real nuisance. Other issues included graffiti (in 72% of the cities and towns visited), overflowing public waste bins (37.5%), vacant housing (66%), animal excrement (40%) and vandalized street furniture (38%).
Part of the issue seems to be insufficient funding for municipal waste management. This is clear when you discover that waste collection happens on weekday mornings, usually around rush hour, when it is usually done in the late night to avoid worsening traffic conditions. The lack of garbage containers also contributes to the problem: you are only supposed to take out waste the day before collection. But some people have too much trash and little space, meaning they just abandon it on the sidewalk.
There is also a lack of civic culture or perhaps even love for Brussels. The fact that there are problems with waste makes it harder to try and make an effort about it. Test Achats recommends a mix of incentives, such as deposits for aluminium and glass, as well as giving the city more resources to face these issues, for instance by financing civil society associations that could contribute to cleaning up the city.
But this is Brussels, and of course citizens have taken it to make people aware about the situation. Shown in this article are my two favourite posters, which while humorous, catch the attention and urge people to change their behaviour. We cannot expect the upcoming elections to bring radical change to how waste is managed in Brussels, but it is a crucial part of what makes a city liveable. The survey by Test Achats sheds only a dim light on what needs to be done for Brussels to be as clean as Kigali.