Circularity driving innovation

When it comes to reducing waste, the Netherlands is performing well. A recent study by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency mentions the Netherlands is already recycling 80% of all waste. At the same time there are many more challenges to tackle in the field of resource utilization and recycling. After all, the Netherlands aims to achieve a fully circular economy by 2050. What does this mean, and what are the steps towards this?

Making our society more sustainable and guaranteeing access to resources for future generations, this is the aim behind the circular ambitions of the Netherlands. A circular economy uses raw materials efficiently and recycles them in an optimal fashion, thus not producing any waste. Through cooperation between public and private sector entities, the Dutch Roadmap towards circularity was formulated. The Roadmap contains step by step plans for five sectors which use the most resources or produce the most waste. An example of such a sector is, for instance, the manufacturing sector. This sector uses many scarce resources, and transforming the sector requires a multifaceted approach. It actually starts before the use of resources, during the phase of product design. And of course, it is also about rethinking necessary resources and changing the production process to replace scarce resources into sustainable alternatives. Next, it also needs to be considered how, if the product does turn into waste, it can be re-used and recycled. To achieve this, the manufacturing industry has to rethink and redesign it’s way of working. Other sectors include biomass and food, plastics, construction and consumer goods.

So from these roadmaps it quickly becomes clear that achieving circularity is not just about recycling. It’s about innovative thinking to prevent items from becoming waste in the first place, for example by designing different business models. A result of this is, for instance, servitization. Servitization is a trend where companies no longer offer products but rather offer services. A well-known example is Philips Lighting, which offers a ‘light guarantee’ rather than simply lightbulbs. So the companies stay owner of products, which triggers companies to make their products more lasting and sustainable but also helps ensure that products are discarded and recycled the correct way.

Working towards a circular economy has more advantages than just reducing the use of resources and waste. One of which are new jobs because of investments in for instance R&D. Also, it contributes to the goals to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases and helps decrease the amount of raw materials. Besides this, by changing to more sustainable resources the Netherlands and businesses can become less dependent on third parties. And last but not least, it’s an important driver of innovation because it challenges governments and businesses to change perspective and reinvent their way of working.

Of course, it’s not just businesses who have to make a change. The role of the government within the transition is also essential. By evaluating legislation, offering incentives for new business models, tweaking funds or connecting parties, the Dutch government aims to further the circular economy. Through such cooperation, we are again getting closer to achieving a fully circular economy.