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April 1-3 | 2020

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  /  CityChanger   /  Circular Economy: from Coffee Cups to Buildings

Circular Economy: from Coffee Cups to Buildings

The Netherlands is not only famous for cheese, tulips and wooden shoes. It is the number one country when it comes to the implementation of Circular Economy. But what is this Circular Economy thing all about?

As Joan Prummel sees it, it’s “everything from coffee cups to buildings.” To Annerieke Douma it’s “changing business as usual.” On the EU website, it’s defined as “maintaining the value of products, materials and resources for as long as possible.” So in an ideal world, there is zero waste.

Unfortunately, we don’t quite yet live in an ideal world. According to the recently released Circularity Gap Report, produced by the appropriately named organization Circle Economy, only 9 percent of materials consumed globally are re-used and worldwide consumption of materials is rapidly accelerating… triple what it was in 1970. As a consequence,  67 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are now related to material management.

Both Douma, who is director of program and business development with Circle Economy and Prummel, strategic advisor for the Circle Economy with Rijkswaterstaat are based in the Netherlands, a country that has achieved an in-depth knowledge of circularity over the past decade, in part out of necessity.

“The Netherlands is a small country. We don’t have any resources of our own… so we live on import and export.”

Recognizing just how precious resources are, the country’s lofty goal is to develop a circular economy (whereby virtually zero resources are wasted) by 2050. “But in order to do that, we need the countries we trade with to become circular as well. And preferably look at circularity the way we look at it,” explains Prummel.

The Netherlands’ ongoing experimentation and subsequent learning tied to circularity projects helps to explain why the Dutch are now helping to spearhead numerous circular economy initiatives in Europe as well as presenting their thoughts and ideas at conferences and events around the world. And in the case of Prummel and Douma, they’re tackling the challenge of achieving circularity from uniquely different perspectives.

Prummel’s focus is on government procurement and upending the historic linear approach of… purchasing, owning and eventually discarding products. The new, circular process involves taking one of three steps: buying a product and eventually selling it back to the supplier; buying a product and down the road, reselling it to another buyer to use; and lastly, not purchasing the product at all. Instead, paying for the use of that product until it is no longer needed, after which the owner decides whether to lease it to another customer or to recycle it.

Prummel sees implementing a circular government procurement process as an opportunity for the public sector to ‘put its money where its mouth is’.

“You can have a policy on circularity, but when you do it yourselves, it creates credibility.”

While his focus is on embracing circularity through the procurement process, Douma says her primary goal is to “accelerate the transition to circularity with on the ground, practical and scalable solutions.” In other words, while Prummel is helping to create the demand, Douma is figuring out how to make circularity actually work.

In Amsterdam alone, the Circle Economy team has helped with over 70 circular projects involving over 100 local businesses using their Circle City Scan initiative, which helps cities to identify which sectors in the local economy are most suited for circularity. As part of this process, participating cities are asked three key questions: how can you kick-start your circular journey, which policy instruments will effectively engage businesses and what will the circular economy mean for jobs and skills?

After a scan is done, Circle Economy conducts a data analysis of materials, energy and water that flow through a city. “We map what the outputs are,” says Douma. “So what are the waste streams for a particular sector and how are those waste streams treated? Are they incinerated, landfilled or maybe recycled?”

From there, the team sets up a stakeholder coalition involving municipal representatives, businesses and when it makes sense, local universities and environmental agencies to decide what the next steps are towards achieving circularity within the sectors that have been targeted. The rationale for this approach is “we need local buy in to decide who’s going to work on the circular transition. It’s fully based on stakeholder collaboration,” Douma says.

When it comes to the future of circularity and actually doing something to reverse the current insanity of worldwide consumption, both Douma and Prummel still have a positive outlook.

“The why (for circularity) is now widely understood. The how is basically the next question. I see a lot of opportunities, we just need to keep our focus,” observes Douma.

From Prummel’s vantage point vis-à-vis procurement, the ‘how’ comes down to government departments making circularity an integral part of the purchasing process when putting out tenders for products. “If you change your demands, you might change the market. And if you change the market, you might just change the world.”

WORDRAP | Joan Prummel

It’s possible… to change the whole supply chain with one tender.

100% circularity… is impossible at the moment. But maybe in the future.

Sustainable change… will only work in the end, if you get systematic change.

If I need a chair… I ask myself first, why not just pay for the use of a chair that will enable me to do my work properly?

WORDRAP | Annerieke Douma

The main question for urban changemakers who ‘get’ circularity… is how and where do we start?

To transition towards circularity… you need to have a deep sector knowledge.

There’s a lot of momentum going on within many cities, because… the circular economy doesn’t only look at the environmental gauge, but also the economical and social part of it.

The way to kickstart a city’s circular journey… is with a Circle City Scan.

Joan Prummel, Strategic Advisor for the Circle Economy, Rijkswaterstaat

Annerieke Douma, Director of Programme & Business Development, Circle Economy

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