President's Blog

1 Feb 2018 10:40 Age: 2 yrs

Circular Economy – The End of the Beginning

Category: ISWA BLOG, ISWA News


A lot has been written in the past years about the circular economy, and there is a lot of energy and enthusiasm around the concept. Maarten Goorhuis has prepared a guest blog for ISWA on what the Dutch government is doing to realise a circular economy in the Netherlands. The timeline to achieve this is set at 2050.

As modern policy making is a participative process, the government has invited stakeholders to sign a National Resources Agreement which contains an agreement to fuel the Dutch economy on secondary resources as much as possible. The agreement is part of the Nationwide Strategy for the Circular Economy and was co-signed by over 325 companies, industry associations, lower governments, etc. Based on this agreement, 5 priority sectors of the economy have been identified to realize the transition to a circular economy: biomass & food, plastics, consumer goods, building industry and the production industry. For each of these sectors a team consisting of various stakeholders and lead by leaders of industry was formed to draft an agenda for the future. NVRD was invited to participate in this process. Recently the five transition teams presented their agendas to the Minister of Environment. They concluded that this moment marked the end of the beginning, because now the transition phase is starting off.


It’s interesting to see the five agenda’s witch are developed quite independent from one another. There are big differences in approaches, but also a lot similarities. Naturally all agendas are based on the principle to close loops and to transform business models. For durable consumption goods a shift from selling products to selling services can be found in multiple agendas. For fast moving consumer goods however, different approaches are necessary which aim much more at harmonization and simplification, in order to easy collection and recycling. There is a need for new measures and standards, and the circular economy principles need to be part of the curriculum in schools and universities.


Big barriers have to be overcome in order to realize the transition agendas. Resource prices often don’t reflect external costs and current legislation and regulations are still fully based on the linear economy and so are our financing principles. The fact that the linear economy is in the very heart of our economy means that shifting to a circular economy is something like performing an open-heart transplant. We are driving on a linear highway with very few and unmarked exits. The roads beyond the exits are mostly unpaved and bumpy. It will take a lot of time to identify and address the bumps and to change our laws and regulations into supportive instruments, rather than barriers. In the meantime room for experiments and for exceptions needs to be found, for instance through the creation of living labs.


A shift to a new situation also changes the balance of the system. New players will arrive and become successful, those that are too late to adapt are at risk of being the new losers. The opportunities for the waste management industry are big, we are well positioned to be an essential hub in the new circular economy. However, as business models will change, our answers and solutions will have to change as well. So far only few companies have answered to the new challenges. Now that the circular economy is becoming more of a reality it’s vital that the rest will follow.  


The beginning has ended, let’s move.


Read more:


ISWA's Task Force on Circular Economy

ISWA's Recommendations on integrating jeans and plastics Circular Economy