Today, production and consumption of goods in all corners around the world is more extensive than any time before.1 The problem is that our global economy has always been a linear system. We extract raw materials, transform it into something useable and then, after a relatively short lifetime, turn it into waste. But what if I told you that we no longer have to extract raw materials from Mother Earth and have the opportunity to turn our waste into a resource? Intrigued yet?
That sounds better!
Fortunately, businesses are innovating a new industrial paradigm: closing loops. The driving force behind this? Our economy is approaching a tipping point where the old take-make-waste business model is a dead end. Finished, finito and no longer lucrative. Businesses are forced to rethink their products, as the global population is growing and urbanizing and resources are not infinite.
What do cities have to do with this?
Taking into account that cities accommodate a vast amount of the people that design, create and use these products that are eventually thrown away, I argue that cities cover a great part of the solution to make these products available for reuse. Half a century ago, urbanist Jane Jacobs already exclaimed that “cities are the mines of the future”. This approach of urban mining is seen as a way to recycle metals from city waste like buildings, infrastructure and devices.2 The resource stock that has been mined from underground into the human society now has a chance of circularity. Let’s see what’s in this for Leiden!
“As a city of knowledge and innovation, Leiden should be a frontrunner when it comes to sustainability” – Leiden Duurzaam 2030
Abuse the city’s students!
Life in Leiden is highly influenced by the relatively large number of students, as most of them live and study in de city.3 I have always believed that students can offer great help in society’s contemporary problems when it’s in their field of expertise. Because, as cheesy as it may sound, today’s students are tomorrow’s future. And other than that, it is both cost effective and awesome for municipalities or companies to collaborate with a university or a particular group of students. When you ask students to get the job done you don’t have to hire an over-priced consultant and you are guaranteed that quality will be delivered, as these students will be advised by the country’s best-educated people: their professors.
Can you get back to the point?
Linking the latter story to urban mining in Leiden, there are a couple of things that can be done. Since students are the future’s leaders, scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs and engineers, it’s clever to get them to work together from a systems perspective. We are still counting on technological advancements, pollution-control technologies and public awareness when it comes to determining what forms of urban stocks exist, when these urban stocks will become available for reuse and how these can be reused.
N.B. I would like to remind the municipality and/or companies not to forget to reward these students with an excessive amount of ECTS.
1 J. Li (2015) Wastes Could be Resources and Cities Could be Mines.
2 P. Brunner (2011) Urban Mining A Contribution to Reindustrializing the City.