Tag Archives: circular economy

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.



Leiden: Leading in sharing

Modern problematic

Living in a modern world we, as human beings, have exceeded our potential of connecting to (and sharing with) one another by the means of internet, smartphones and most of all an intensive use of social media. Despite its underlying philosophy of bringing people together and creating a sense of community, people still are feeling lonelier than ever and feel more unsafe than they did in earlier times. Even though the latter might be true looking purely from an environmental perspective, one could say we live in prosperous times in which the world is safer than it ever was before. To kill two birds with one stone, moving towards a sharing economy can contribute to a sustainable future while recovering our sense of community and feelings of safety.

How a sharing city works

Basically, a sharing economy works according to the principle of sharing products or services through the concepts of peer-to-peer or peer-to-business-to-peer sharing or renting (such as Airbnb). In doing so, it can reduce the demand for new products and therefore reduce a populations resource consumption. Furthermore, the sharing or temporarily trading of a product or service with ones close by neighbors would result in more communal solidarity. When implented on a large scale in a city, we can speak of a sharing city. As a leading example, Seoul is currently the front-runner on becoming a sharing city. They have implemented interesting ideas such as:

  • Using “sharing libraries” where people could deposit and borrow tools or books for free.
  • Car Sharing
  • ShareHub: a place to find all that can be shared.

The transition towards a sharing economy isn’t only happening in South Korea, but also here in the Netherlands in both Nijmegen and Amsterdam. One could argue that if Amsterdam could implement innovative ideas towards becoming a sharing city, Leiden could most certainly succeed just as well. As Leiden is a lot smaller and less, the possibilities are endless to make the transition.

Leiden towards becoming a sharing city

To make the transition towards becoming a sharing city one could think of several applications in the city of Leiden. For starters, Leiden has a lot of empty buildings that could function as sharing hubs or as headquarters for startup companies that could work on the transition. For instance, the old V&D building on the Nieuwe Rijn/Breestraat which is now being used for pop-up stores could be the new center of sharing. By dividing this massive building into separate supervised corners which all have an own product category (e.g. tools, clothes, electronics), you create an accessible and fundamental place for sharing.

Another way of making it possible for Leiden to become a sharing city is by developing an overarching website or app which includes all categories of products and services which could possibly be shared among the city’s citizens. By including as much companies and students in the development of this application as possible, and by sharing the service throughout the city’s universities, popular visited locations and through the inhabitants mailboxes, this application might result an a success.

To make the transition towards a sharing economy lot of extra services will need to be implemented to make it a succes. For instance, a workforce that examines the products for any damages to a persons product needs to be implemented. Next to that, people would want to be sure that their product always returns to their rightful owner, meaning that people would have to register to be able to share or borrow a product. Of course the transition towards a sharing economy isn’t something that happens overnight and takes time and effort (meaning job opportunities!) to make it all possible. Nevertheless, a sharing economy is an interesting concept that could change our end of life economy  to a more communal and sustainable way of living.

The city as goldmine of both materials and knowledge

What’s wrong?

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.

3 http://www.prospectivestudents.leiden.edu/studying-in-holland/university-town-leiden.html

How a cute blouse with little birds changed my worldview

For a long time, I told myself there was nothing wrong with shopping at Primark stores. When I was ‘grown up’ and had a real money paying job, there would be enough time for conscious consuming and more expensive stores. Fashion, shopping and expressing my identity through the clothes I wear is one of my biggest hobbies. So I wasn’t willing to compromise in that area. “And so what,” I told my grandmother, if the clothes were worn out after a year? There was a big change I wouldn’t wear them by then anyway.

But my views changed drastically this fall. It all started with a nice, cute Primark-blouse with little birds all over it. I was in heaven and named the piece my new interview blouse. Nevertheless, the fairy-tale wouldn’t last long. After one wash, the blouse shrunk to size extra small… The only duty left for the blouse was hanging outside my wardrobe being pretty. But then it struck me: my best friend has a more petite anatomy, perhaps I could do her a favour.

“But the wastefulness of consuming bad fabricated clothes is just as shameful”

The situation got me thinking. I was always silently apologizing to the little children who presumably made my Primark-clothes. But the wastefulness of consuming bad fabricated clothes, which only last one season before falling apart, is just as shameful. I always praised myself as a conscious consumer for buying less meat than average. But those clothes are also made of energy. Energy that should last longer than one wash. And if the clothes do not stay with me, because I grow bored of them, at least I should give them to a new owner. In this way, the way I consumed over the past four years, I was a big supporter of the linear economy. Most of the time, I didn’t even try to donate my torn clothes to charity. All my Primark clothes ended up at the waste disposal. This ought to change, I want to participate in a more circular economy.

Apart from an old army bag, I never really bought any second-hand or vintage clothes. Sometimes I swapped clothes with my sister, sure, but that’s it. Even though those stores are all the rage nowadays. So after the blouse-incident, I explored the options Leiden had to offer. I was surprised. For example, Hartendief, a new vintage store in the famous characteristic Breestraat, became one of my favourite stores – they even have a jar full of ‘lost’ Scrabble stones! But in Modejacht and Olive Oyl’s Rusty Zipper I also found some nice pieces. Last month I even visited the famous Vintage per Kilo-sales in Rotterdam, which travels through the Netherlands. How nice would it be if the next one was in Leiden?

“The only thing that could improve, is a pick-up service for old clothes in the way they pick up trash”

Fortunately, the municipality of Leiden understood the importance of circularity somewhat sooner than I did. They constructed a complete information brochure summarizing all ways to donate, sell or dispose your old clothes. They explicitly mention the thrift store Het Warenhuis – almost as nice as an IKEA – which also gets all the bikes, to patch up and sell, the municipality takes away in the citycentre. How wonderful is that! I’m grateful to live in a city that stimulates a longer lifespan and new purpose for ‘old’ clothes. The only thing that possibly could improve, is a pick-up service for old clothes in the way they pick up trash. Maybe this is some nice idea for the future? Although I still would have given the cute blouse to my friend!

From leftover to luscious meal

Leiden: the city of students, which are the future of our planet. Leiden is also a possible frontrunner in sustainability. These two aspects are opportunities to make Leiden a sustainable city, like the municipality wishes for by 2030. In a city with an abundance of students, loads of food is eaten. Because without food, there won’t be any nutrition for the brain to study. And let a diet just be where there is a lot is to gain in sustainability.








Of all the food produced, the percentage of food that is thrown away is estimated between one-third and one-half. That just makes your stomach turn, right? Certainly when you think of it this way: most of the food that is thrown away is still good and edible. It is lost in production, during transport or in our own houses. A movement towards a circular economy would be a more efficient way to use food. In a circular economy, raw materials are optimally used. Reduce, reuse and recycling are keywords for this system: reduce the amount of needed raw materials; reuse products instead of buying new ones; and recycle as much as possible. A circular economy can for example include the use of leftovers.

In Utrecht, Amsterdam and The Hague special pop-up restaurants have popped up for leftover food, called Instock. Leftover doesn’t sound very delicious, but it really can be. Products with today’s date from supermarkets cannot be sold anymore, but can still be very tasty. Other examples of thrown away food are ‘ugly’ vegetables.

‘Ugly’ vegetables

Producers think the products need to look good for the consumers, but when the food is on your plate, you will not taste the difference between a round pepper and one with a bump on it. In the United States of America is even a business in ugly vegetables! And when an apple is beginning to bruise, they can still make apple pie out of it. But, the stores cannot use products out of date, because that’s not in line with the law.

Of course, this is not a fully circular economy. It will not be feasible to create a complete full circle of the food web, because there will always be a percentage of produced food that’s simply not tasty anymore. You also have products that do not expire quickly that always needs to be bought in pop-up stores like these. In Instock, it’s about 20 % of the dinner that must be bought, like oil and dairy. The leftovers of the leftovers – products out of date or bruised – can be used as fuel (bio-gas) or fed to the animals in the petting zoo. In this way, even these leftovers can be used well. It is a good start into sustainability.

For Leiden, a pop-up store like Instock can be an opportunity. As a student, I like to eat out. In this restaurant, you will get a prepared three-course meal for little money. There are enough supermarkets to provide the restaurants in their needs and enough students as customers. I would definitely eat there!

Sustainability in Leiden, yes we can!

If you are looking for innovative circular concepts in the Netherlands you cannot miss the industrial park ‘De Ceuvel’ in Amsterdam North. De Ceuvel is a circular office park located on a former shipyard. It is a platform for innovation and creativity, related to sustainability issues. The entrepreneurs and artist working on the Ceuvel have a heart for sustainability and all helped building their working place. At the shipyard old houseboats have been placed on heavily polluted soil, around these boats you can find phyoto-remediating plants working to clean the soil. All the workplaces in the park use clean technologies and are connected by a winding jetty. De Ceuvel can be called one of the most sustainable and renewing experiments in Europe.

A short movie about De Ceuvel: https://vimeo.com/98671834

Overview of circular office park ‘De Ceuvel’

One of the initiatives on De Ceuvel is called ‘Café de Ceuvel’. The people that founded Café de Ceuvel want to make a difference in the world and they do that by working as sustainable as possible in the café. This goes further then just using products with a label that says ‘organic’ or ‘biologic’. They want to make sure that every meal or drink has a positive impact somewhere else. To realize that they use their own made soda, grow their own vegetables and make bitterballen from coffee leftovers of LaPlace (restaurant). The people from Café de Ceuvel also take action with closing loops to become more circular, this happens in different ways. They win phosphate out of urine, have a hot-house on the roof and a floating garden with vegetables. Moreover, Café de Ceuvel is building world’s first biogasboat on which organic waste is fermented into methane which can be used to cook in the restaurant. In this way, the biogas boat closes the loop of organic matter.

The concept of this sustainable café illustrates that the founders are aware of the fact that the world’s food system is one of the biggest causes of climate change and that they really want to make a change in this system. A restaurant like Café de Ceuvel can help raising awareness for sustainability and circularity, it can change the food people eat and the way it is produced which helps in the battle against climate change.

Café de Ceuvel in Amsterdam

The city where I currently live in, Leiden, would be the perfect place to combine two of the initiatives from Café de Ceuvel; a sustainable café including a biogas boat. The reason why this would fit so well in Leiden is because Leiden is already known for it’s unique flooding terrace boats in the city centre. A sustainable café with a biogas boat, including a terrace on it, would therefore fit perfectly next to the other boats in the canal at the Nieuwe Rijn. The café would have a central location, which has several advantages. First, the central location would help attracting attention to the café and second, it could inspire the surrounding restaurants towards using more sustainable products. Furthermore, if the café has a biogas boat it has the possibility to occasionally move the boat around in the cannels of Leiden and locate it to spots with a lot of people. You can think of the big student associations (which are located by canals) in the annual student introduction week. On these locations organic waste can then be collected to transfer into gass and show the students what is possible with waste.

Terrace boats at Nieuwe Rijn, Leiden

To conclude, the concept of Café de Ceuvel in Amsterdam can function as an inspiration for Leiden to raise awareness for sustainability and circularity among inhabitants. Placing the sustainable café at de nieuwe Rijn with a biogas boat makes the concept even more attractive because it fits into the unique surroundings of floating terraces in the city centre and has the possibility to displace to different locations.


Circular economy? We’ve done that before!

The sun is setting in the west and with it cometh the darkness. The darkness shrouding the whole world. Shrouding it in a thick blanket of smog and emissions. That is unless we take measures against it. By now we are all familiar with the issue of climate change. We have heard the grave consequences climate change can have if we carry along the way we have been doing. We know about the solutions available to humanity to turn the tide on climate change. But it requires a great effort from everyone to change. Change our lifestyles and consumption patterns. Lots of focus is on reducing our consumption intake, but less attention is being spent on the concept of circular economy.

A circular economy not only focuses on the product itself and the production process, but a circular economy focuses on all by-, waste- and others usages a product has. A circular economy aims to use all the resources we have available in the most efficient way. It also aims to recycle all the resources we use. The ultimate aim is to not need any new resources for the product you are going to make. All the resources come from renewable and/or recycled resources. This way of designing our economy will prevent our society from falling back to the dark ages. Or will it?

Looking at medieval and early industrial societies we can find similarities with a circular economy. These societies were mostly based on agriculture as most of the population lived on the countryside. City life was still pretty basic, but what drew people to cities was the promise of money and the crafts. The craftsman worked with very basic tools and materials.


Creating with those tools very basic, but also very sustainable products. Products that where sustainable because they were used until they couldn’t be used no more. The reason is that the products were costly. Getting a coat from a craftsman was expensive. So any holes that appeared on a coat would be patched. The coat wouldn’t be thrown away. Life was of course much simpler back then, but there are some lessons we can learn from those days.

The most important lesson is that people are less reckless with products if they know its value. Economies of scale have made the products we buy very cheap. Currently it is cheaper to buy a new item than to repair it. Every attempt we make to establish a circular economy will have to deal with this reality. People are driven by incentives and the most powerful incentive is economical. So what do we need to do to switch to a circular economy?

First of all it would be wise to value the products we buy more. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to cost more. It does mean however that somewhere in the production chain there needs to be an incentive to stimulate repairing, refurbishing and reusing products. I think this could be best achieved by either charging more for waste or paying people for certain types of waste.

A craftsman at work

Paying people a (low) fee for certain products might sound like a strange idea. It’s strange in the fact that it hasn’t been done before. People will get an incentive to separate their waste, so there is no need for expansive separation facilities. Next to that we can bring back the craftsman/woman back to the city. The craftsman can get the materials for a small fee and create products with it. Ensuring that materials get reused and adding value to the materials.

With a huge student population looking to earn some money along their studies, Leiden would be an ideal proving ground for this idea. The best materials to start this with would be materials that are easy to work with. Materials like clothing and furniture. After food, these are probably the most traded items in a student city. So to make the switch to a circular economy, this would probably be the best move to take us back to the dark ages. Bring the crafts back to Leiden!