Rotterdam Targets Circular Future with Metabolic and Partners

Published on the 23rd of February 2018

The city of Rotterdam – the second largest in the Netherlands – has asked Metabolic and its partners to develop a roadmap for how a circular economy approach could lead to zero waste, whilst boosting local jobs. The project is underway and the initial findings are in. The lessons from this project could help other cities around the world kick-start their own circular strategies.

Rotterdam has ambitious objectives to help lead the transition to a circular economy. By 2030, the city wants primary resource use to be halved, compared to current levels, as it sets its sights on ultimately becoming zero waste. It also wants to create 7,000 jobs that contribute directly to the circular economy. It has commissioned Metabolic – along with our partners at Circle Economy, Spring Associates, and Blue City – to identify how to get there.

The project follows three phases. We have already completed the first two phases. First, we mapped the current state of the circular economy in Rotterdam and identified possible interventions that will help it realise its ambitions. This phase has been published in a report, which you can view here. This month we also completed Phase 2; presenting the long list of potential interventions to local stakeholders in a series of workshops, and working with them to identify the priorities to take forward. This has resulted in a list of ten key interventions.

The final phase will then be to take the ten interventions and perform a ‘cost-benefit analysis’, to gain insight into the required investments, policy adjustments that may be necessary, and collaborations that need to be set up for their successful implementation. This stage will also better identify the employment benefits from these interventions. The final output will be a roadmap with practical steps to take, and recommendations for the various stakeholders for what they can do to contribute to the realization of the circular vision of Rotterdam. (We will be updating the report in the coming weeks to include the outcomes of Phases 2 and 3)

Our approach and findings

To make the full analysis of the city in Phase 1, we used our systems thinking approach, to truly understand the current state. This detailed approach ensures we can identify where value is lost in the material flows across the city and which areas of the economy have the biggest impacts, as well as how these all connect. The resulting interventions we identified focus on measures that simultaneously: reduce the amount of waste; reduce environmental impacts; improve and support residents’ health structurally; and create new jobs that contribute to a circular economy.

The analysis focused on four key sectors that are essential for a circular Rotterdam:

  1. In the Agrifood and green energy sector, it was discovered that food waste in the city is enough to feed 37,000 people (and the population of Rotterdam is just 620,000). Addressing this will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and require less land and water use. In addition, increasing local food production and incentivising for healthier and more sustainable diets would lead to large upstream impact reductions and stimulate new local economic clusters.
  2. The Construction sector is important because it is responsible for 66% of all waste in the Netherlands. There are many opportunities for interventions and new employment, including by extending the life of buildings and reducing demolitions. But essentially real progress can’t be made until actual circular products are designed (with durability, disassembly, and reconstruction in mind).
  3. The Consumer goods sector produces a significant amount of waste and uses a lot of energy. Goods such as electronics, paper, clothing, and plastics are now often processed low-value, but they are potential treasures full of valuable materials. Improving waste collection and recycling will significantly support this, if the raw materials are collected effectively.
  4. The Healthcare sector accounts for roughly 48,000 jobs and is therefore an important employer for Rotterdam, but only 3% of jobs are circular. The challenge for hospitals is also to reduce their waste and environmental impacts, without this affecting the quality of care. It is important, therefore, to ensure that people become less ill by improving the health of residents as a whole. Health levels in the city are currently below the national average, which not only affects the metabolism of the city but also positive economic opportunities.

The analysis found there are plenty of opportunities for Rotterdam to become a zero-waste city and meet the ambitions for new ‘circular’ jobs. However, this will require investments in innovation and collaboration.

Gerard Roemers, consultant at Metabolic, said: “Rotterdam is an interesting city to explore the circular economy through due to its diverse current economy – on one side it has a burgeoning creative sector, and on the other it is home to the largest port in Europe. It has diverse challenges in terms of waste, energy and materials management, and new job creation. Our report shows there are many reasons to feel optimistic about its circular future and a long list of areas where impactful interventions could be made. We look forward to now engaging and involving the local community in taking these ideas forward. We hope the work in Rotterdam will inspire other cities on what is possible, and what the circular economy looks like in action.”

To read the report of our initial findings [in Dutch], head here.

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