Food for Thought: IKEA Meatballs, Shops in Leiden and the Circular Economy

It is perhaps the only furniture company renowned for its meatballs: IKEA. The company is making headlines for their efforts to reduce environmental impacts, such as spending € 1 billion on renewable energy and climate adaptation steps for poor nations.
gronsaksbullar-groenteballetjes-diepvries__0389035_pe559004_s4What’s more, IKEA products save energy and water and reduce waste, and 98 percent is made from renewable, recycled or recyclable materials. Even the meatballs have been transformed: now, customers can buy GRÖNSAKSBULLAR, vegan meatballs with a lower environmental footprint than their meat version. IKEA is transforming its overall business model:

“The circular economy is a big topic and an opportunity from a resource efficiency perspective, closing loops of material in our supply chains, but also to connect with our customers, offering services that can prolong the life of our products and add value to our customers.”

Per Stoltz, Sustainability Developer at IKEA

IKEA aims to have closed material loops where waste is turned into resources again. More and more, they are providing customers with clear and simple 250x200_mattress_recyclingmeans to recycle their furniture. An example in The Netherlands is IKEA’s mattress return and recycling service: customers buying a new IKEA mattress can give the delivery guy their old mattress, which is then recycled into judo mats, cleaning cloths, insulation material and more!

IKEA’s approach can serve as inspiration for the approximately 650 shops in Leiden. Of course, most of them do not produce their own products, making it quite difficult to become more circular by themselves. However, economic incentives can play a huge role in the process. For store customers, a small discount could be given at return of the packaging. For the shopkeepers, the Dutch government already has the Afvalfonds Verpakkingen in place. This entails a compulsory payment for each package the shop brings onto the market and a monetary reward for recycling the packaging again.

breestraat-flickr-com-leuke-straten-in-leidp-location2264c-0Recycling, repairing and reusing products at their end of life should be made easier by shops, too. If the store is too small to do this themselves, perhaps they could form partnerships with specialized companies in Leiden that can do it for them. These companies could give the shops a fee for the advertisement and so both could benefit.

The Dutch government has started the NederlandCirculair! program which could offer inspiration, network expansion and guidance for merchants in Leiden. Better provision of information on this program could fasten the transition to logo-nederland-circuliairmore circular shops. Furthermore, the government is working on measures including: stimulating policy, financing, knowledge and innovation and international cooperation. So not only would it be wise for shops to follow IKEA’s more sustainable business changes, but the changes needed will become more or less compulsory in the future.

Concluding, if shops in Leiden want to stay in line with future trends, they will need to become more circular fast. Hopefully, the next time a shopkeeper in Leiden decides to eat some lovely GRÖNSAKSBULLAR in IKEA, he or she becomes inspired by IKEA’s circular projects.


Source quote Per Stoltz: Greening the Economy: Lessons from Scandinavia. Coursera Massive Open Online Course from Lund University. Available at

4 thoughts on “Food for Thought: IKEA Meatballs, Shops in Leiden and the Circular Economy”

  1. Great that IKEA is offering a vegan option!
    Of course it is easier to execute such initiatives as the recycling of mattresses being a big company. For IKEA, it is good for their image to be more sustainable and for them it is a relatively small investment. For smaller companies there needs to be a clear economic reward for doing so, otherwise they won’t manage. Good to hear that the government has already started a programme to encourage more circularity!
    I’d like to add to your blog that I think often a redesign of products is needed in order to make them more circular. Sometimes products exist of many different materials which are hard to separate and thus hard to recycle. Also, it would be great if products exist of several components that can be replaced separately when one part is broken.


    1. It is great indeed :D. I completely agree with you. For IKEA, the amounts mentioned in the blog are indeed tiny in comparison to IKEA’s annual revenue. You’re right, often products should be resedigned in order to become more circular in themselves. Of course, a good example of such products with separate components is Fairphone’s smartphones. Did you know similar companies exist for earphone parts? You can rent (or buy) whole earphones and also buy replacement parts online. Pretty cool! I hope this will start to come for many more products in the future.


  2. I liked the style of your blogpost, with a clear structure and some illustrative pictures.
    Certain stores, a flowershop, for example, would probably not have an easy time retrieving their (plastic foil) packaging back,. Therefore, an economic incentive probably wouldn’t be a persuasive argument when taking into account the hassle of retrieving there packaging.

    Do you agree that for shops (smaller than IKEA) it would be a little harder to make a move to a circular system?

    Although I realise that certain stores and shops can make a shift to a circular-system rather more easily.


    1. Thank you Maaik! You make a good point. Flower shops could, however, become a little bit more circular by choosing to use only foil made from recycled plastic (at least, if that exists). And of course, economic incentives won’t work for all companies, but I do believe they can be an effective policy measure for many industries.

      And yes, I agree! It is a much bigger investment that is needed for a small company to become circular. It really depends on the type of shop it is.


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