Progressive architectural gems, one of the largest residential heating networks in Belgium, plenty of roof gardens and a car-free street plan. This is just a selection from the series of enviable trump cards with which Nieuw Zuid outdoes other Antwerp, and by extension Flemish, city districts.
No matter how much residents think highly of their neighborhood, not everything is rosy. Nieuw Zuid has been suffering from a wave of illegal dumping for some time now. In recent weeks, the problem has again reached significant levels. For some local residents the supply is gradually full, for others the bucket has already overflowed.
“We have lived here for more than five years and have never really known anything different,” says Viviane Cammers. The driving force behind the local neighborhood committee gathered some residents to vent about their growing collective dissatisfaction. “It is very lively in the neighborhood. In the WhatsApp groups you constantly read complaints about the rubbish lying around,” says local resident Ilse De Maeyer.
“What do we see? Do you have a minute?” Viviane says irritably. “Garbage bags full of residual waste and organic waste, more often than not torn open by vermin. Enormous amounts of cardboard and paper flying from here to here in a hole like Nieuw Zuid. People also drop styrofoam, iron and glass at the sorting streets. And we may forget half of it.”
Young people and expats
When asked who is responsible for the litter, the group responds unanimously. “Of course they are local residents. Younger residents and expats in particular suffer from indifference. Sometimes I wonder whether they want to understand our sorting and waste processing system,” says Ilse.
“Unfortunately, people from other neighborhoods are partly responsible for the mess here,” Sebastiaan Kijnen agrees. “We watch with dismay as motorists from outside dump their waste and then quickly flee. And no, it is not just about people with limited assets. Antwerp residents with a few million euros in their bank account are also guilty.”
According to the dissatisfied local residents, two things are at the root of the fly-tipping. “On the one hand, there is a climate of impunity in the neighborhood. The chance that you will be caught and reprimanded here is simply nil,” says Ilse. “You can do whatever you want here, there is no external control.”
“On the other hand, we condone the mentality and indifference of some of our residents,” says Viviane. “For four years I stuck my neck out and stayed positive. I confronted people of ill will who I caught red-handed. I provided an explanation to anyone who did not understand the sorting system. And I wasn’t the only one. Now I conclude that nothing has changed in all that time. The illegal dumpers laugh in my face.”
“Many residents would rather be lazy than tired. Ideally, they would just throw their waste out the window,” Ilse sighs. “We cannot assume that a change in mentality will solve all problems. After all, you can’t change the way people are put together at 1, 2, 3. In fact, a change in mentality seems like a utopia to me.”
The neighborhood group does not have to think long about other, feasible solutions. “We are asking for a permanent camera at the sorting streets,” says Viviane. “When we had a temporary camera available a while ago, we immediately saw results. Such a deterrent mechanism will pay off in the short and long term.”
“We also advocate an information brochure for new local residents. They could, for example, receive this at the district office when they report their change of address, or directly through the seller or landlord,” Sebastiaan adds. “You can find all the information about waste disposal online, but for many it apparently takes too much effort to consult a website. Who knows, a leaflet might lower that threshold, even if it offers no guarantee.”
Finally, the residents turn to the city council. “It would be nice if it could be stepped up a notch,” says Sebastiaan. “De Wever and co only appear here to show off our beautiful technical achievements to the outside world. Instead of spending money on prestigious projects, it would be better to invest in solutions for the real needs of its citizens.”
“After all, it is not just our job to lecture illegal dumpers. We are happy that we occasionally see people walking around the site with waste pegs, but they do not seem to be really committed,” says Ilse. “We simply need more than this lax policy,” Viviane adds.
“If it continues like this, it won’t look too good for the neighborhood. When the new apartment towers are ready, and hundreds of new residents will arrive, they must immediately know where and from where. We must learn from the past and act for the future. Currently it is clean here from a distance, but far from clean. That is a pity for a neighborhood with the zest and image of Nieuw Zuid.”
Alderman for City and Neighborhood Maintenance Els van Doesburg (N-VA) is trying to reassure the residents of Nieuw Zuid. “I understand and share the frustration about illegal dumping and litter. Our commitment from city cleaning is great. Our employees do everything they can to get illegal dumping and litter out of the streets as quickly as possible. Fly-tipping reports are cleared within 24 hours. Both the sorting streets and garbage bins are equipped with sensors, so we know when to empty them.”
“Mind you, it is not our job to educate people. Our people are not your mom and dad,” says Van Doesburg. “The shoe really pinches there, in that fat guy mentality. And whoever does not want to hear, must feel.”
According to the aldermen, major camera actions are planned in the near future. “Anyone caught illegally dumping can expect a fine. We also put extra effort into enforcement. Nieuw Zuid is a well-known location for city supervision. In addition to regular checks in uniform and plain clothes, the ‘clean team’ searches fly-tipping to identify perpetrators and there are camera actions in collaboration with the police.”