What opportunities are offered by the transition to a more circular economy in the Netherlands, for example in terms of employment and the environment? Given the complexity of the subject, many parties find it difficult to make the right choices when it comes to implementing this transition. TNO has developed methods that can help with those choices, thereby giving direction to the transition to a circular economy, explains Ton Bastein, Senior Scientist Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency.
TNO was the first organization in Europe to conduct a national economic analysis of the opportunities presented by the circular economy in terms of added value, employment, sustainability and environmental impact. The much-quoted TNO report entitled ‘Opportunities for a circular economy in the Netherlands’, published in 2013, argues that a more circular economy could generate a potential added value of €7.3 billion and create 54,000 new jobs. “This report analysed the opportunities and obstacles that will arise as the Netherlands moves towards a more circular economy. It outlined how the government in particular could accelerate this process. And it proved effective: our report had an immediate impact and helped spur the enthusiasm that now exists for a further boost to the circular economy,” says Ton Bastein.
“Our report analysed the opportunities and obstacles that will arise as the Netherlands moves towards a more circular economy”
From national to regional and sectoral level
After this initial exploratory work at national level, TNO carried out numerous analyses at local, regional and sectoral level, for example to help local administrators set priorities for their circular economy initiatives. “We do that by drawing on our knowledge of regional material streams, our macroeconomic knowledge of the interconnections among different sectors in our economy, and environmental analyses (such as life cycle assessments (LCAs) that provide information on matters such as CO2 emissions from products). In collaboration with The Circle Economy and FABRIC, we compiled the report entitled ‘Circular Amsterdam: A vision and action agenda for the city and metropolitan area' for the City of Amsterdam. On the basis of our analyses, the City of Amsterdam has made the construction sector and the incorporation of organic residual streams priority areas of its policy. Our in-depth knowledge of construction and environmental impact also led to an analysis of the circular construction economy for the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations," says Bastein.
“We carry out numerous analyses at local, regional and sectoral level, for example to help local administrators set priorities for their circular economy initiatives”
Evaluation of government policy
All the attention for the topic circular economy led to the formation of the government-wide Circular Economy Programme and the subsequent Raw Materials Agreement in 2016. The government commissioned TNO to conduct a critical assessment of the government-wide programme entitled ‘A Circular Economy in the Netherlands by 2050’. The resulting TNO report on its ex-ante evaluation of the programme shows to what extent the intermediate target of a 50% reduction in the use of primary raw materials by 2030 can be achieved on the basis of the formulated objectives. “Using our technological knowledge and the available roadmaps, we show that this is attainable and we suggest ways in which the intermediate target and the ultimate objective can be achieved. It is notable, however, that the specific goals in the government-wide programme focus mainly on recycling, whereas the circular economy is about so much more than that (for example repairs and maintenance to extend service life and allow more intensive use),” says Bastein. The coalition agreement establishes a clear link between climate policy and the circular economy. “We’ve therefore now been asked to investigate what effect the actions in the government-wide programme and the recently produced transition agendas will have on CO2 emissions in the Netherlands. In doing so, we’ll establish connections between Dutch policy on the circular economy and Dutch climate targets,” Bastein explains.
“With knowledge of the full range of technologies, their environmental impact and macroeconomic models, TNO can play an important role in supporting government and business”
Supporting transitions and innovations
TNO believes it is important to identify the full consequences of circular and sustainability initiatives and technological innovations. “New technologies can have an immediate positive impact on employment and cut CO2 emissions,” says Bastein. “But if they give rise to increased expenditure and emissions in other areas, they won’t deliver what we want on the bottom line. IT and the Internet of Things (IOT) will undoubtedly play a very significant role in the circular economy, for example through the sharing and loaning of goods. But IT also comes at a cost. Blockchain technology, for example, consumes a lot of energy and we need to take that environmental impact into account. Over the last few months, the Bitcoin-related hype has led to a realization that Bitcoin transactions consume as much energy as a country like Bulgaria.”
With knowledge of the full range of technologies, their environmental impact and macroeconomic models, TNO can play an important role in supporting government and business in setting circular priorities and establishing innovative programmes. “In the years ahead, we aim to further expand our expertise in that field and assess the direct and indirect consequences (the so-called rebound effects) of emerging technologies. We are ready to provide intensive support for the parties concerned in the period ahead,” Bastein concludes.
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