On the road to becoming a circular city

The traditional linear economic model is unsustainable, we need to move towards a circular, or even ‘blue’ economy. The need is clear and felt by societies and cities around the world. The goal is big, as are the changes needed to get there. However the approach, the road will be challenging. Rotterdam, like many other cities, is finding its feet when it comes to becoming a circular society. Many institutes, companies and people are taking important and exciting steps, trying to put together the puzzle of the new circular urban economy and providing business opportunities along the way.

Circularity as the norm in 2030 and a fully circular economy by 2050. These are the goals that the city of Rotterdam has set itself. With the motto ‘Van zooi naar mooi’, which translates to ‘from trash to treasure’ Rotterdam has described its circular ambitions in the municipal Program Rotterdam Circular. This program is in line with the Circular Action Plan of the EU’s Green Deal and with the national Dutch national programme Netherlands Circular in 2050 (Rijksbreed programma Circulaire Economie). Rotterdam is currently focusing on initiatives in core industries such as construction (causing 60% of the city’s waste), green streams (organic waste), consumer goods (waste collection facilities are turned into upcycling centres), and care (extracting residual matter from medicines from water for energy generation). Circular initiatives are supported with municipal and regional subsidies.

Important as these steps are, they are only the beginning of the challenging process to becoming a fully circular city. No city can achieve circularity by itself. The more open an economy is, the more circularity initiatives are interdependent. Circularity can’t and mustn’t stop at city or country borders and true circularity can only be achieved if large and complex international production cycles are aligned. But then, every journey begins with a single step. And besides the actual progress made from local developments and initiatives, they also have a strong exemplary and boosting effect.

Linear, circular, blue

What does it all mean? A brief explanation.

In the traditional linear economy goods are produced, used and discarded. Natural sources are depleted, the earth is exhausted and an enormous amount of waste is what is left when we are done with products.

In a circular economy, production and consumption processes are aligned: they form a circle with beginning and end connected and interdependent. Waste doesn’t exist, because products and resources are used again and again, in a never ending cycle. Resources aren’t depleted, products are made with reusability in mind and when they reach the end of their lifespan they’re are reused as source materials. The linear economy focuses on cycles per sector or industry, with products reused within the chain.

A blue economy is superlative to a circular economy. It’s based on the principles of nature, where there’s no scarcity and no competition for resources. As in a linear economy, waste is input for other things. But in a blue economy this crosses sectors and industries. This cycle is based around collaboration, not competition. Production chains are linked and waste is no more.

Circularity projects in the port cluster

Some examples of current and future circularity projects and investments in Rotterdam’s port and industrial cluster:

Collaboration for production of biofuels from waste materials.

Buurman Rotterdam
Located in the Rotterdam Makers District. Local reuse of materials, including a wood workshop and shop for reclaimed building and other materials.

Expanding production capacity for sustainable fuels and raw materials for chemical industry.

Thermal cleaning, separating/washing solids from waste water or other fluids.

Investing in battery recycling facility.

Test and production facility for sustainable and circular innovations.

Building a new biofuel plant (820,000 tons/year) at Shell Pernis.

Building a plant for converting non-mechanical plastic waste to high-quality sustainable raw materials.

Photos on this page: Guido Pijper, Iris van den Broek,  Willem de Kam, Gerhard van Roon / Kunst en Vliegwerk, Claire Droppert, Nicoline Rodenbrug, BlueCity, Jacqueline Fuijckschot, Sifted

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