© Richard Clyborne of Music Strive
Author profile picture

In Glasgow at the Climate Summit, leaders from over 100 countries are negotiating ways to limit global warming. But while world leaders mainly talk about measures yet to be taken. Whereas these young entrepreneurs are not waiting any longer. They are taking action themsleves to protect the planet.

As an entrepreneur, Pablo Bronsgeest (21) is eager to do something to reduce the plastic problem. He spent two years trying out all kinds of things before he and a good friend came up with WeFresh. The idea behind it? Biodegradable chewing gum in a special box that also serves as a waste bin for chewed-up gum. You just throw the box with the used chewing gum into the VFG bin. “Everyone is familiar with it. You’ve been chewing your gum for a while and the flavor is gone. Right at that moment, there isn’t a trash can nearby. Some people stuff the gum in a receipt they still have in their pocket, but there are plenty of people who just spit their flavorless gum out on the street. We want to put an end to that,” Bronsgeest explains.

To paint a picture of the scale of the problem, Bronsgeest calculates that about 73 million pieces of gum end up on the street each year. Together with cigarette butts, discarded chewing gum causes about 13 percent of all litter. Depending on where it is lying, it takes about twenty to one hundred years for the chewing gum to decompose. Bronsgeest: “I see it around me all the time. There is no street in Amsterdam where I don’t see chewing gum on the sidewalk. Young birds can choke on it. Via the street, microplastics end up in the sewers, the river and the ocean. Eventually they could end up in the food chain. In addition, not only is cleaning expensive, but it also takes lots of energy, water and sometimes chemical cleaners.”

Read more about solutions to microplastics here.

Not pointing the finger

With this solution, Bronsgeest wants to encourage people to dispose of chewing gum properly. Biodegradable chewing gum has been around for a while, but people still often throw it away with their garbage. “It’s a shame, because it causes extra emissions when burned. It is better to throw it away along with the VFG waste. But it also ends up on the street too often. Now people often point their fingers, and you’re penalized if you do it wrong. But we want to reward people for doing things right. If they send us a picture of discarded chewing gum in the VGF waste, they will get a lottery ticket from us. With that they can win free chewing gum or other prizes.”

To find out how WeFresh can better motivate customers to throw away their chewing gum (or other plastic) in a decent way, Bronsgeest wants to collaborate with behavioral scientists at the Delft University of Technology in the near future. “Why is it that people throw away chewing gum so easily on the street? What’s behind this and how can we change behavior? Chewing gum is just the beginning, we are also working on other concepts to tackle the plastic problem,” Bronsgeest says secretively.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is DSC01303-1-1004x565.jpg
The box that also serves as a rubbish bint (c) WeFresh

Encouraging companies to take future generations into account more

Just as Bronsgeest tries to encourage consumers to do the right thing, Mare Venekamp (18) does the same for companies. She founded Youthproof, through which she and a team of young people aged 16 to 23 put companies through the wringer. In the end, the young people give advice on how companies can keep the world habitable for future generations. Her first client was Tony Chocolonely.

The idea arose when Venekamp was 14 years old. It surprised her that every time decisions had to be made, young people were not present at the table. While young people look at the world differently and can consequently come up with original angles. “They are not yet stuck in corporate thinking. That provides entirely new insights. Why wouldn’t you want to benefit from that as a CEO? But still young people are not listened to very often,” says Venekamp with enthusiasm.

It motivated her to bring young people around the table for important decisions. For a long time, she wondered how she could pull this off. “As an individual, you have less influence and I don’t believe that major changes will be driven by politics. But I do believe that you can make great strides precisely by working together. What better way to do that than by cooperating with the companies where we all work and use? That’s how I want to give young people a voice and make a positive impact.”

Enough is enough, more and more young people are taking matters into their own hands

The positive impact that Venekamp makes is by deploying so-called transformers (young people up to 23 years of age) to companies. They go through an induction program, talk with the employees and owners and carry out market research. “This is followed by recommendations on how companies can make their organization future-proof for the next generation. We look at various pillars that are important for future employees, such as transparency, growth, sustainability and how the new generation is getting involved.”

According to her, it is not at all odd that her generation in particular is sticking up for the earth. “The world is very different now than it was three generations ago. Now we hear within five minutes if something is going wrong on the other side of the world. We can talk with young people all over the world about this. There have been several signals in recent years that the climate cannot go on like this anymore. But not enough is happening. For more and more young people enough is enough, you can see that they are taking matters into their own hands. I want to contribute to this, not as an activist, but by working with companies.”

Global School of Entrepeneurship

Mare Venekamp and Pablo Bronsgeest were both participants in a hackathon that was organized by Global School of Entrepeneurship, SustaInnovate and Sail for the Future. This organization – full of volunteer young people – works together with companies to come up with sustainable solutions for existing problems while they are sailing. A sailboat is the ideal way to come up with new ideas, according to the organization. It doesn’t seem to matter whether someone is a CEO or a student. Sail for the Future was initially supposed to sail to Glasgow and work with the crew on an innovation program along the way. But the weather in the North Sea threw a spanner in the works. Participants in the hackathon are now working from Amsterdam and Maastricht on a number of sustainable innovations. On behalf of Sail for the Future, Kobe Schoofs will present the first results at the COP26 in Glasgow, to show how important the voice of young people is in the climate debate.