Can Amsterdam make circular economy?

Amsterdam is an aesthetically pleasing city that offers a desirable environment for residence, employment, and tourism. It is characterized by good health, prosperity, environmental consciousness, and sustainability, catering to the needs of all individuals.   In order to preserve this, Amsterdam is transitioning into a circular city, where precious resources and raw materials are utilized efficiently without any waste.   In 2020, Amsterdam became the pioneer in committing to establish a circular economy, aiming to eliminate waste and promote wealth for its residents.   The city’s objective is to reduce its consumption of new raw materials by 50% by 2030, and achieve a fully circular economy by 2050.   In order to accomplish this, the city intends to minimize waste in three crucial domains: the consumption of food by Amsterdam residents, the utilization of products, and construction activities within the urban landscape.   Crucially, the city is altering the mindset of its inhabitants and businesses, transitioning them from a paradigm of ‘consume and discard’ to one of ‘reconsider and repurpose.’   After two years of implementing the city’s ‘Circular Strategy,’ noticeable improvements have already occurred, as a result of several minor actions that have contributed to a broader transformation of society.

Amidst the Covid epidemic, the city provided support to local textile enterprises by facilitating an 80 percent reduction in the expenses associated with clothing repairs. This initiative aimed to promote the practice of reusing garments as household finances became more constrained.   Bakri Zaitoun is currently fixing the sleeve of a dark blue Patagonia puffer jacket at the United Repair Centre (URC), located adjacent to the renowned indoor food market Foodhallen in Amsterdam.   Mr. Zaitoun, a Syrian tailor who immigrated to the Netherlands in 2018, is among a group of eight refugees employed as tailors at URC. This organization was established last year with the aim of prolonging the durability of clothing by repairing garments for various brands and their clients.   Mr. Zaitoun, speaking through an interpreter, elucidates that he has been practicing the craft of tailoring for a quarter of a century. However, upon his initial arrival in the Netherlands, he was compelled to undertake a multitude of diverse occupations.   I inquired about the merits of returning to the craft of tailoring, to which he responded with a broad smile.

Mr. Zaitoun’s work plays a crucial role in Amsterdam’s endeavor to shift towards a circular economy.   In a conventional industrial economy, natural resources are utilized to manufacture goods that are frequently disposed of prematurely, hence exacerbating resource depletion.   The circular economy aims to break the connection between economic activity and the exhaustion of the Earth’s resources, prioritizing behaviors such as the reuse, repair, and sharing of materials and goods.

Thami Schweichler, the CEO of URC, highlights the growing emphasis on circularity in the fashion business, as firms are increasingly prioritizing sustainability.   Repairing products is considered an essential component of circularity, and URC, presently partnering with businesses including Patagonia, Scotch & Soda, and Decathlon, intends to achieve 200,000 repairs annually by 2026.

Driven by the growth of fast fashion, the clothing business is widely recognized as one of the most environmentally damaging sectors. According to the World Economic Forum, over 75% of our clothing is ultimately disposed of through incineration or burial in landfills.   As per the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the production of clothes had a twofold increase between 2000 and 2015, while the duration for which apparel was worn decreased by 40%.

In the Netherlands, the government has established ambitious objectives to rapidly transition the economy towards circularity, amidst the global focus on sustainability.   Amsterdam proclaimed itself as the inaugural city worldwide to pledge to construct a circular economy in 2020, with a specific emphasis on food and organic waste streams, consumer products, and the built environment.   Amsterdam aims to reduce its consumption of new raw materials by 50% during a span of seven years.   The goal for 2050 is to achieve complete circularity, when the reliance is only on utilized and recycled materials.

The building industry, which accounts for more than 30% of worldwide natural resource extraction and 25% of solid waste production, will face a substantial challenge.   Madaster, a Dutch start-up, aims to contribute to reducing those figures.   An online registry has been established to document the materials utilized in the construction of Amsterdam’s buildings, together with details on their potential for reuse upon reaching the end of their lifespan.

“The construction industry consumes significant quantities of materials and energy in the production of goods,” states director Pablo van den Bosch.   “Rather than producing waste and creating new items, if we opt to reuse instead, it is beneficial for reducing carbon emissions and minimizing waste.”   According to him, Madaster collaborated with the Amsterdam authorities to develop a digital compilation of the buildings throughout the city.   “In the event that the city desires to revitalize a particular region, they possess knowledge regarding which materials can be conserved and potentially repurposed, rather than demolishing the existing structures.”   He indicates the recently renovated Olympic office in Amsterdam Zuid.

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