October 28, 2020

Amsterdam as model for turning waste into resources

A recent interdisciplinary research paper shows the way forward in designing effective circular waste management strategies: combining innovations in chemistry, business planning and behavioural science. As a case study and backed by its ambitious circularity goals, Amsterdam can serve as an example for cities worldwide.

Chris Slootweg, Associate professor at the University of Amsterdam “The challenge in a circular economy is that we need to prevent valuable products downgrading into worthless waste ”

Towards 100% circularity

Amsterdam has a clear mission: to be 100% circular by 2050. As part of this path, the city wants to cut its use of new resources by 50% in the next 10 years.

To help achieve this goal, a new interdisciplinary research paper ‘Designing Circular Waste Management Strategies: The Case of Organic Waste in Amsterdam’ presents a toolbox to help any city to take a systematic approach to managing their waste streams.

“The challenge in a circular economy is that we need to prevent valuable products downgrading into worthless waste,” says Dr Chris Slootweg, an associate professor at the University of Amsterdam who specialises in circular chemistry to solve waste issues – by creating resources that we already use and need.

Interdisciplinary approach the only approach

Currently, the city’s waste streams are simply too linear: both regular and organic waste are being largely collected – and burnt – together. For change, technological innovation is not enough: it must also be backed by economic and social innovations.

“The creation of a waste-free society requires new technologies to allow the use of waste as a resource and new circular business models,” says Dr Slootweg. “At the same time, we need to change the habits of producers and consumers. We need all of this to induce change.”

Therefore, while the research’s lead author is the chemist Gadi Rothenberg, the other writers also included specialists in business and behavioural science.

Next steps: Amsterdam as role model

“This type of collaboration requires actors with an open mind and a clear systems perspective on how to change our linear make-take-waste approach and bend it to a circular – make-use-reuse – model,” says Dr Slootweg. “And the circular and integrative waste management that this study proposes is an important part of this.”

All participants were happily surprised at the effectiveness of the collaboration. “They saw that an interdisciplinary approach makes it really possible to inspire change and realise a waste-free society,” according to Dr Slootweg.

“It also made us realise that Amsterdam can really become a leading role model on how to design and realise a circular city.”

The next steps are obvious to Dr Slootweg: “Using this study as an example, it’s time to design a larger, integrative research cluster that focuses on developing new circular technologies, business models and governmental policies.”

Onward to 2050!


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