A circular economy is focused on the optimal use and reuse of resources in the various links along production chains; from the extraction of raw resources all the way to consumption. Resources are at risk of becoming scarce due to a growing global population and rising prosperity levels. This is why it is ever more important that the available resources are used as efficiently as possible. There are also new opportunities — new markets, more collaboration, and a reduced use of resources.
The transition towards a circular economy, according to the European Commission, is: ‘the opportunity to transform our economy and to generate new and sustainable competitor advantages for Europe’.
The transition towards a circular economy offers economic opportunities for the Netherlands, can make the country less dependent on imported, scarce raw materials and other resources, and will contribute to a cleaner environment.
Realising these opportunities is no easy feat. Investments and new alliances between companies will be required, and the traditional, already established companies will likely slow the transition down. Government policy will often be needed to overcome barriers and to change the perception of the importance of natural resources.
In contrast to what happens in a linear economy, a circular economy makes optimal use of raw materials and resources. This means that these materials and resources continue to be applied in a way that generates the highest economic value and the least environmental damage.
A linear economy operates on a ‘take-make-dispose’ model, making unbounded use of resources to produce products that will be discarded after use.
A circular economy, in contrast, centres around the reuse of products and raw materials, and the prevention of waste and harmful emissions to soils, water and air, wherever possible (‘closing the loop’).
The conversion of a linear economy into one that is circular involves systems changes, or transition. Other designs or processes (e.g. 3D printing), products that can be repaired or regenerated, recycling of materials and another way of thinking about products (e.g. sharing them), are all aspects of such a change.
The rule of thumb for determining the highest value reuse of resources within the cycle is to prioritise strategies according to the ‘Rs’ (Rethink, Redesign, Reuse, Repair, Remanufacturing, Recycling, Recover). However, there will always be exceptions.
From a European perspective, the Netherlands resembles a densely populated city with excellent infrastructure, major ports and logistics. This presents the right conditions for a circular economy, and means that sharing certain products (e.g. cars) is easier and utilising industrial waste flows less complicated.
The Netherlands began taking measures, early on, to reduce waste disposal. This is partly the reason why it has one of the highest recycling percentages of Europe. There is a large amount of knowledge on waste separation technologies and the logistical system of waste collection and recycling.
Dutch experience and knowledge can be applied, both nationally and internationally, in further circular-economy development. Moreover, many raw materials are transported via the Netherlands, which makes this country a suitable pivot point (resource roundabout).