Tag Archives: circular economy

Rebuilding the Home of the Parliament

With all the sustainable initiatives and cradle-to-cradle innovations emerging from one of the smallest countries in the world, The Netherlands, the hope that this country will one day run an entirely circular economy is becoming more of a reality. However, there is still little progress in one of the most wasteful sectors in terms of recycling: the building sector.

In a circular economy, the creation of products is based on a model of holistic; closed-loop designs and slowed supply chains. Currently, our economy operates in a linear fashion, meaning that we gain resources, use them, and dispose of them. The building sector is one of the sectors that contribute most to this waste of resources. To minimize the negative effects on the environment caused by the building sector, the buildings themselves need to become circular.

Circular buildings are made from recycled resources or are constructed in a way that whenever they don’t need it, they can be separated and reused easily. This ecological way of construction optimises material efficiency since waste products are scheduled for reuse at the end of their operational lifecycle. Circular buildings, therefore, rely on a well-coordinated supply chain collaboration since the waste material of one project is the building block of another.


The circular Binnenhof

The political heart of the Netherlands, The Hague, intends to be completely circular by 2050. Since the circular economy relies heavily on supply chain cooperation, a symbolic building in this city can act as a strong message in promoting, and jumpstarting, the circular business sector. The home of the parliament, the Binnenhof, is the most recognisable square in the Netherlands. In 2020, the Binnenhof is due for renovation. However, the current plan for renovating the Binnenhof has not been designed according to the principles of circular building.

Whereas data transparency is a building block for circular building, the Dutch government is known for practising disclosure of information in its administration. The renovation of the Binnenhof could, therefore, serve as an exemplary project for the principles of circular building. Due to its international esteem, there are few buildings that have as much potential toward changing the global status-quo as the Binnenhof.

Leising et al. (2018) show that there are five phases of establishing a circular building and supply chain collaboration.

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To renovate the Binnenhof in a circular manner, all parties need to actively work on designing, maintaining and implementing this approach throughout the entire renovation process. A great example of how this can be done is The Circl. The Circl, an initiative of the ABN AMBRO bank, was built from an internal driving force to construct according to circular principles. This resulted in a building that was made entirely from recycled or easy to recycle materials. For example, the materials from old jeans were used to sound-proof the ceilings. The Circl also made use of non-traditional contracting: the manufacturer still owns the two elevators in the building. The slogan of the Cirl is: ‘right to copy’. So, take this as an example, and say hello to the first circular parliament building.


Scanning for Potential

Many cities want to implement a circular economy. But identifying opportunities for this can be quite hard, because the resulting systems are almost by definition complex and highly interconnected. Thankfully a new tool was recently introduced by Circle Cities Programme, the City Circle Scan. After an initial small pilot scan done on the city of Glasgow, it has now for the first time been successfully used on a large city. With help of TNO and Fabric, Circle Cities Programme has applied their scan to the city of Amsterdam.

The City Circle Scan has four phases. It all starts by mapping of material flows and added value, followed by the evaluation and selection of chains. The next step is visioning, in this phase the current system is re imagined in a circular way, with multiple visions developed for each chain. The final phase is project selection and formulation of action points, which results in detailed strategies to re shape the current chains into circular ones.

The scan of Amsterdam revealed two promising chains, the first of which is called The Construction Chain. The report predicts implementation of this chain will lower both annual material import and GHG emissions by half a million tonnes. This is respectively 33% and 2.5%. Quite size able savings. This is achieved by first of all simply using less materials through smarter design. The next important step is better recycling, the plan proposes better separation of the waste streams related to construction, further resulting in high value recycling. Now none of this is revolutionary stuff, which is why the last step is important. Through the creation of an online marketplace for these recycled materials, the hope is to breach the gap between demolition and construction so that the old recycled materials will actually end up in the new smartly designed buildings.

Construction chain
The Construction Chain

The second chain is called The Organic Residual Streams Chain. This chain is predicted to achieve a 600 thousand tonnes reduction in GHG emissions and nearly a million tonnes worth of material savings. The basic outline of the chain has a lot in common with the Construction Chain as it also aims to improve the separation of waste streams and to then utilize these streams in the smartest way possible. Again, this is mostly common sense, the real power behind the chain is the proposed central hub for bio-refinery. This facility is meant to refine all sorts of household and commercial organic waste into new high value materials.

A project is already in place to transform organic waste into useful resources.

Organic Residual chain
The Organic Residual Streams Chain

If both these Chains are put into action the total savings will be 1.4 million tonnes of material savings and 1.1 million tonnes of GHG emission reductions. On top of this, predictions are the chains will create €235 million in extra value and up to 1900 new jobs in the construction and agricultural sectors. Now, unfortunately these chains are tailor made for Amsterdam so a revision will be necessary to make them applicable to Leiden. To do this, Leiden could also apply the scan and reveal how they could make their construction and organic waste management circular. And who knows what other opportunities the scan might turn up?


Circular Amsterdam: A vision and action agenda for the city and metropolitan area


Waste is not the end

For the last couple of decades, climate change is all over the news and slowly but surely people are getting more involved in this issue. Sustainability is our savior, our hero against climate change. However, this specific hero of mother earth is still far away. Once it will be nearby, it should embrace the earth and protect her from exploitation and pollution.


Difference between linear and circular economy. Source: World Economic Forum    https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/05/can-the-circular-economy-transform-the-world-s-number-one-consumer-of-raw-materials/

How to solve the everlasting problem like climate change then? And where to begin? First of all, we need to change our way of using and producing things. Our economy is based on linearity. We extract resources, produce, distribute, consume, and dispose, for me also known as ‘waste’ or  ‘rejected leftovers’. Instead of rejecting it, we must re-think about the meaning of waste. Just start calling it ‘leftovers’ rather than ‘waste’ .  If I have enough leftovers from my lovely diner that I cooked, I’ll save it for the day after, because it is cost saving and at the same time the quality is still excellent enough for using it again. Leftovers from the production in a company or factory should be used as a secondary resource for themselves or for another company, like a contributor to a circular economy.

Video showing the challenges and opportunities for companies. Source: The Guardian

this video states that companies should start with the circular economy. The two examples following up perfectly describe where to begin on a small scale.

I work in a do-it-yourself shop. One of the services we deliver is sawing wood in the preferred size for the customer. The waste we leave behind is sawdust. Instead of labelling it as waste and throw it away, we provide our sawdust to a farmer, who is using it again for the pigs for rooting. Another example is a company in The Hague, buying leftover  wood briquettes from furniture companies to heat up his own building and even other buildings surrounding him. The advantage of burning wood briquettes is that they release less carbon dioxide compared to fossil fuels.  These two examples do present a solution for reducing the extraction of raw materials and to save energy by using leftovers instead of using new raw materials.

These two cases do not present a circular economy on a large scale, but they perfectly describe a small starting circular economy. These examples can be a great practice for companies in The Hague. Why The Hague? The Hague is a city with lots of citizens and companies. The chance of companies working together is more likely to be in a city like The Hague. Businesses helping each other like these examples in industry areas like ZKD and Binckhorst would tremendously reduce the impact on climate change and exploitation of materials in The Hague. If the Netherlands wants to achieve their goal of being a circular economy in 2050, more cities should introduce a circular economy. The more cities, the closer we will be towards a better and sustainable earth.

Waste or Energy – What do we find in local restaurants’ waste bins?

For more than 5 years now, I’ve seen the hospitality industry and many of its facets. From high-class hotels and fancy restaurants to cafeterias in zoos and museums, one thing strikes me time and time again: how can such a big industry be so unsustainable? As a student interested in sustainability, the unsustainability of the industry kept bothering me. The Dutch Circular Economy week (16 to 24th of January 2018) and Leiden’s 2020 goal to have a 50% waste separation, and ambition to be completely circular by 2050 are an inspiration to rethink our use of waste. From my point of view, it is time to tackle one of the main distributors if it comes to waste, namely: the hospitality industry.

In a Circular Economy, waste does not exist because all resources can be reused. This video from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation briefly explains the concept of the Circular Economy. A way to reuse stuff is through recycling. Especially the recycling of organic waste can be interesting for the municipality of Leiden. There are approximately 162 restaurants and cafeterias in Leiden, including big chains as for instance McDonald’s. A small change in the recycling policy of organic waste in such a restaurant can already provide a big amount of material that can be reused in a profitable way. Hence, there is plenty of potentials to recycle organic waste in Leiden’s local restaurants.


A short illustration of how the Circular Economy works, with on the left side the recycling of organic waste

In the hospitality and restaurant scene, food remainings are already scraped from the plate into a bin. Then, the plates and cutlery are put into separate places, waiting for the washing machine. Therefore, with the introduction of garbage bins for organic waste, it is only a small effort to recycle the food remainings. A short explanation of how organic waste is recycled and can be reused in various ways is shown in this video20161208_foodwaste_news_featuredFirst of all, organic waste can serve as a cheap fertilizer for the farmland surrounding Leiden. Moreover, the remaining organic waste can be transformed into food for livestock. Hereby, Leiden can reach its goal of 50% waste separation by 2020. Secondly, recycling food waste produces biogas, which can Leiden help to achieve its ambition of Circular Energy by 2050.

For sure, neither Leiden nor the Netherlands is the only place where the issue of organic waste separation in the hospitality industry occurs. Best practice case studies in other countries, such as the United States, illustrate how to reuse organic waste from this industry. In San Francisco, it is forbidden by law to not separate organic waste. Instead, the waste is collected and transformed into profitable fertilizer. Moreover, in New York around 300 restaurants and hotels are already obliged to separate its organic waste in order to recycle and reuse it. A local example is at the University of Leiden – Campus Den Haag (Wijnhaven), where organic waste is already separated.

A cook throws away leftovers in the 'Auf da Muehle' restaurant in Soell636372896323838453-636366774865832683-uscpcent02-6uf4nti61x1100qtirj-original

Examples of organic waste separation in restaurants

Next week, the Circular Economy week in the Netherlands starts. Maybe it is an idea to be inspired by those examples and make the circle round in Leiden. Other cities are showing us how to cope with waste in a sustainable way. Let’s not waste the potential to profit from the food thrown away in the hospitality industry. It is a win-win situation for all parties. So, it is about time to start acting on this opportunity.


A do-it-yourself instruction for a circular city The Hague

Call for a circular economy

Our current global economic model is based on a linear path starting with the extraction of raw materials, followed by the manufacturing of products, the usage of them and finally their last stop at the disposal site. Due to a rising demand in energy and resources, society should think about a more efficient way of using (finite) resources, their transportation and manufacturing.  One model that tries to overcome the limitations and negative impacts of our linear economy is the way of thinking in a circular economy. Circular in this sense means that resources, materials and products stay as long as possible in cycles alive through processes of maintaining, sharing, reusing, refurbishing and recycling until at the end of their life the components get recovered and feed back into the economy again.

The special role of cities in the transition

In the transition towards a circular economy, cities play a crucial role. Cities are aggregator not only of people, but also of technical, material, biological, human and food waste. They are not only powerhouses of the global economy but also a hotbed of material. Large industrial areas and parks are located in cities, but also dense population-networks, a large amount of buildings, infrastructure and energy and material flows can be found within cities. Given the necessity of finding a more efficient way of using our resources, cities have plenty of possibilities to do so.

For more insights into Circular Economy and Cities, watch this 30 minutes talk by Ellen MacArthur:


When talking about creating a circular economy, most people think about changing the processes and metabolisms within and between large companies, industries and businesses. However, I will give you an example of how even the individual citizen can contribute to a more circular economy.

Best practices in Berlin and The Hague

The Prinzessinnengarten in Berlin, Germany, is an urban gardening project, runned by different initiatives and volunteers. The projects provides an open communication, sharing and gardening space for everyone. In the middle of Berlin, artificial beds are created by reusing old sacks of rice, old bakery boxes and Tetra-Paks. The planted vegetables are shared between the participants of the project and regularly events about gardening and sustainable living are hold. The project aims for establishing a space that provides people with community, information and self-planted food while simultaneously serves as an example for reusing and redesigning materials.

Prinzessinnengarten - photo by Marco Clausen
Prinzessinnengarten – photo by Marco Clausen


Something similar already exists in The Hague: The Urban Farmers. This projects aims for planting food and breeding fish in a circular way. Nutrient rich waste water from fish production gets recycles as fertilizer for vegetables. Plants, in turn, purify the water that can be reused for the fish production again. In this way, the Urban Farmers project not only produces vegetables and fish in a circular way without using pesticides, herbicides or antibiotics, they also provide the city with a small amount of food that did not travel thousands of kilometers to its consumers.

Urban gardening for everyone

These two examples show how urban gardening can have a contribution towards a circular economy in the city. Products, such as old sacks of rice, can still be reused as vegetable beds, while the waste(product) of fish production can be used as fertilizer again. In this way, the production of food – even if on a small-scale – is more energy efficient and resource saving than the import of vegetables from other countries that used chemical fertilizers.

Given the large amount of unused flat roofs in The Hague, I call for establishing small urban gardens on the flat roofs of The Hague. Citizens can create their own vegetable beds on top of their houses while they reuse old products, such as Tetra-Paks, sacks of rice, wooden boxes or the timber of old furniture, as beds and using coffee grounds or biological waste as fertilizers. In this way citizens can provide themselves with self-planted food in a more energy and resource efficient way in closed and local loops. It may seem as a very small contribution when thinking in global terms, but bottom-up initiatives that include a large number of citizens have its effectiveness. In this way, the individual can continue the change.

Sustainable Leiden & The Hague Jan 2018

A new year, a more sustainable city?! Students of this year’s final course of the Minor Sustainable Development, provided by the Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML) at Leiden University, will again be working with the Leiden City Council to help them further develop their Sustainability ambitions. Half the class will this year also contribute to a further development of the Sustainability goals of the City Council of The Hague. In groups they will act as consultancy agencies and work with the councils as their client on current and relevant sustainability challenges.

As part of this course, students will be investigating the opportunities for the cities of Leiden and The Hague with respect to energy transition, circular economy and climate adaptation. In groups (acting as consultancy agencies, with the Council as their client), they will investigate current hot-topic questions of the council within these themes. They will present their results at the end of January. As part of the course, the students will also be writing posts to this blog detailing ideas and initiatives from elsewhere as inspiration for what may be done in Leiden/The Hague within their themes.

We look forward to reading some exciting ideas over the next few weeks!

Map by FABRICations

Cycling through a sustainable Leiden

The city council of Leiden is working on a liveable and promising city through the years.
At the moment they set up a plan for 2016 until 2020 to focus on a more sustainable city even more. The idea seems really nice, but the big question is: Will it be  achieved?

To realise such an achievement, you will need the contribution of the citizens.
Because they are the biggest player in the sustainable game. To make them act towards the sustainable plan of the council, you will first have to show them that it is really possible to do something for a more sustainable city.
And people in the city are allready on the right track actually!
I would like to give you a short preview on how citizens make Leiden more sustainable starting with a small contribution.

Everything in Leiden is very close to each other, this makes it very attractive for people to take the bike instead of their car. Actually almost fifty percent of the people takes their bike to go to work or school.
And that school part is very important in Leiden, because there are a lot of students living in the city. Almost every student has one bike (or more). But you would be a fool to buy the most beautiful bike you can afford, because the chance that it will be stolen is very high.

But a lot of students on crappy bikes also means a lot of bikes which break down. Those bikes will often not be repaired, because its easier to buy a cheap new bike.
Bikes that broke down will stay where they are, which most of the time means next to a canal (and after an amount of time end up in the canal)
Those bikes have a large impact on the environment because they release iron while rusting. Once a year these bikes have to be dragged out of the water, which costs a lot of money.

Two students in Leiden thought that something should be done about this problem.
They wanted to offer a very quick bike fixing service and also to stop waisting old bikes which aren’t used anymore. A new company arose at that moment, EasyFiets.
They started to collect old bikes through the city which owners could address themselves. Those bikes were repaired and put back on the market again for leasing, or renting for a day. You can easily recognise them on the red handles and saddle. 

Remarkable red saddle and handles (EasyFiets)

This is an example of a small start to contribute to a circular economy.
Ofcourse not all the old bikes will be collected by the company and re-used. But still, once you know about the concept you see the remarkable bikes everywhere you go.And every time you see one, you will be remembered about the easy way to contribute to a more sustainble city.

It’s only one example of a contribution by citizens, but ofcourse there is more. This example is just to show that people are willing to change and work with the council to make the city of Leiden more liveable and promising.