The future in my backyard

A circular economy; an economy where everything is re-cycled and reused, where waste doesn’t exist and where energy comes from renewable sources. Is this type of economy realistic? Companies and municipalities are aiming to be fully ‘sustainable’ in a couple of years. However, is it truly possible within the current system to be fully sustainable?

Six principles of a circular economy:



Yes it is. Two years ago I made a documentary about the closed-loop community at De Ceuvel in Amsterdam Noord. De Ceuvel is a self-sustaining community just 10 minutes away from Central Station. It is a piece of heavily polluted land that is leased by the municipality for ten years to a group of entrepreneurs. The land used to be part of an industrial area and was used for the dissembling of ships.  Now, decades later, this group of creative and social enterprises have thought of a plan to make this waste land into one of the most unique and sustainable urban developments in Europe.


Special purifying plants will clean the heavily polluted soil, so there is no need for expensive soil sanitation techniques. This biomass will again be used to make products and energy. In order to be able to move around without disturbing the plants, they created floating platforms connecting the different studios. The studios are made of old housing boats that would have ended up in the junkyard but are now fully upcycled to brand new working spaces. Moreover, after ten years the (clean) land will be given back to the municipality and the housing boats can be easily moved to a different place.

Furthermore, solar panels are installed to generate energy from the sun. Green roofs and water collection systems are introduced to collect, purify and store the rainwater. Moreover, it is a platform for experimenting with new technologies for more sustainable solutions. So yes, this experiment shows us that it is possible to be self-sufficient and working towards a circular economy.


There are plenty of examples of small scale projects that are (close to) self-sufficient and are operating within the ideas of a circular economy. However, bigger entities such as the municipality of Leiden are also saying they want to take this step. My question is how far does the municipality want to go in becoming more sustainable? Are they willing to move away from current techniques and invest in more sustainable ways of operating? I state that it is possible to create these kinds of communities on a bigger scale, but we should move away from traditional systems and ideas. We should look at these innovative small scale projects and see what factors bigger entities can get from them.

How possible do you think this is? What struggles will they encounter compared to smaller projects?

To get some inspiration and see how De Ceuvel was actually build up, check out the documentary I made over here:


8 thoughts on “The future in my backyard”

  1. I think these examples show ones again that change is possible, if you want it, if you know what concrete action you can take and are willing to make the investment. Furthermore, what this really nice video “Botenland – de Ceuvel” shows, is that the transition to a sustainable way of living/working is a complex process. Even for a group of clever entrepreneurs it wasn’t easy to transform a polluted place into something beautiful and sustainable. I am happy to hear about good projects that actually have been realized and not just another brilliant plan that has been stock at the designing table never to be realised. I am also interested to see the place ones it completed. But questions remains. Is a sustainable way of living/working feasible for everyone? How much more does sustainable project cost compared to the traditional business-as-usual way of building and how much longer does it take? Or does it really more or less pays back our invested capital?


  2. I do think that it is more than possible to build self-sufficient communities on a larger scale, yet one must think of the scale of investment required as well. The idea of being self-sufficient and a circular economy are attractive, but there are much to change in order to “move away from traditional systems and ideas”. Who would pay for such large-scale projects like this? And what could we get from these projects other than to achieve the idea of being self-sufficient? Besides the ideas, future participants, e.g. citizens, need more evidence to be convinced that investment and commitment on these projects are worthwhile.


  3. What an inspiring project! Especially because they realised it within a city. Again an example that change is possible everywhere. However I am always doubting how we could implement these small scale project within a broader sense? Self sufficiency is not only related to energy. It is also related to food or water etc. And to connect all these criteria is, I think always a challenge.


  4. I think your blog is very interesting Wendy. I too wonder how we could manage to create a global circular economy. You mentioned some great local initiatives, but how to scale up to a national or even global level?
    Well, to do so government support would be necessary for financing and stimulating legislation. I think governments should create positive incentives for companies to invest in circular economy, for example to invest in recycling their products. I do however believe the transition to a circular economy would take time and be very costly, since it requires a major change at a system level. That is why I think we should try to scale up step by step. Maybe we could start a transition by changing sector by sector?


  5. What a wonderfull project, this definitely could be used as motivation for the whole world that creating a circular economy is possible.
    think it is possible to reach a circular economy even though it is going to be a long and very hard path until we reach that state.
    Something that catches my interest is knowing, what motivated these entrepreneurs to take the risk of investing in an innovative project like that? How can we spread and share that motivation so that other future entrepeneurs get interested in the field? For now, governments should start motivating their people towards this goal and make sustainability an attractive market for entrepreneurs to invest in and promote the creation of more start-up iniciatives like this.


  6. Nice discussion. The example of Wendy shows that circularity on a local scale is possible. Leiden could follow, if the required functions in the region allow this development. However, as Manon points out, is it possible to be circular on a global level? Definitely it is difficult. Look at the example of Wendy: Solar panels are probably imported and bear material costs. And what exactly will happen with the boats?
    I think that it’s not really a problem where there are immense costs for the government when they need to change the infrastructure. More important is the time that is needed to create such a circular economy. When is it possible to extract enough from the urban mines? In the current situation, circularity is only local and thereby not effective enough to combat climate change


    1. I can only agree with everyone else, but the link does not seem to work for me and I was wondering how exactly they are improving the soil. Is there a specific type of bacteria or ecological system to prevent e.g. pollutive heavy metals from simply being washed into the sea? Also I agree with Anlan that finances are a big issue. I think municipalities should team up with sustainable businesses to ensure that that kind of investment can be accomplished without decreasing funding for e.g. healthcare or social services.


  7. In the beginning of your blog, you ask a very important question: “Is it truly possible within the current system to be fully sustainable?”
    My answer is no, not within the current system, no. You assert that the experiment in Ceuvel, Amsterdam, “shows us that it is possible to be self-sufficient and working towards a circular economy.” My response is, first of all, that being self sufficient, and having a circular economy, are two very different concepts. Furthermore, you state that the experiment shows that it is possible to “work towards a circular economy” – that is not the same thing as the experiment showing an actual example of a true circular economy. Nor does it show that it can work within the “system currently in place”, which was your initial question. I believe De Ceuvel shows how we can change the system to be less wasteful and possible achieve a circular economy, the community did not necessarily use the system already in place did they? By keeping the system in place: circular economy will never be achieved.
    In the end you do acknowledge this by asking if the municipality is “willing to move away from current techniques and invest in more sustainable ways of operating?” – this I believe is necessarily to achieve a true circular economy. But it goes even further than that, for Leiden is not an isolated island in the middle of the ocean, no. It is connected to almost every other country on earth, through many lines of production, importation, transportation, communication, etc. Leiden is part of the Netherlands, which is part of Europe, which is part of the United Nations, which is part of the planet Earth. Indeed, everything is connected, and if we were to truly become a circular economy here in Leiden, we would have to change the entire system globally, by making production of our rice in Thailand sustainable, by recreating the production of Smart Phones in China into a recyclable operating device, etc. The entire system would have to change. The only other option would be to isolate ourselves from any country connected to us in some way economically, production wise, energy creation wise, that is not doing this in a circular economical way. Do I think either of these things are possible to achieve any time soon? Maybe, but it would have to involve radical change. Do I believe we shouldn’t strive at least to have small circles of production and consuming that are economically circular? No, I believe every step makes a difference. I just don’t believe you can truly call it a circular economy in the greatest sense, unless the entire system has been changed.

    Lastly, the goal to have all materials be “cycled infinitely”, is a goal that will never be reached: for things are not infinitely able to be recycled and used again and again: at one point the usefulness is entirely depleted.


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