The Circular Economy: towards a lower use of resources

16/02/2018 11:00 / Author: Masja de Ree
© Hollandse Hoogte / Wiebe Kiestra
On 15 January 2018, the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM), the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) and Statistics Netherlands (CBS) jointly published a framework to monitor progress on the Dutch circular economy. ‘A circular economy: what do we want to and are we able to measure?’ is the title of a publication which serves as a starting point for a CE monitor. CBS statistical researcher Roel Delahaye explains: ‘In a circular economy, raw materials are used as efficiently as possible. By way of recycling them, for example, but also by thinking ahead in the design phase of a product and anticipating the destination of raw materials at the end of a product lifecycle.’

Climate and scarcity

According to calculations made by the United Nations, we will need three times as many raw materials in 2050 if we continue using them as we do now. This poses a problem as the use of raw materials has a major impact on the climate and on biodiversity. In addition, scarcity of raw materials may lead to geopolitical tensions. This is why both the European Union and the Netherlands pursue a policy aimed at reducing the use of raw materials. CBS, RIVM and PBL are working on a monitor that identifies this policy and its effects. The publication consists of three parts. RIVM maps out the progress of actions taken by central government to stimulate the circular economy. PBL examines how the transition to a circular economy can be measured within the private sector as well as within economic processes. CBS provides a statistical overview of the circular economy’s effects on the environment and raw material consumption, while also focusing on the socio-economic implications.

Progress

Johannes Lijzen of RIVM says: ‘The Government-wide programme for a Circular Economy contains actions designed to stimulate the circular economy. For example, by bringing businesses together or to develop a knowledge and innovation programme, together with social partners. It also contains a review of regulations which could facilitate or instead impede the circular economy. We have outlined the accomplishments of the programme: have actions been picked up and implemented? Furthermore, we are interested in the objectives of the actions as well as in how to measure the result. In the process, we link our work directly to that of PBL and CBS. Eventually, the monitor should provide measurements that can be translated into useful actions which will minimise the use of raw materials.’

‘Especially municipalities and provinces are very much involved in the circular economy’  

What causes a decrease or increase?

CBS, RIVM and PBL held weekly meetings. ‘It took quite some time to bring together the different perspectives and views of the three organisations’, says Rutger Hoekstra (CBS). ‘But it ultimately pays off. CBS has gained valuable knowledge about the way in which structural changes come about in society.’ The Circular Economy monitor will be defined in more detail in the coming years. Roel Delahaye: ‘To answer the question in the title of our publication: there is a lot we want to but are still unable to measure. For example, central government says that the circular economy should also improve the climate. But we do not have any figures or method to link the two. Moreover, we want to know how all the developments we are seeing are connected. Exactly what causes a decrease or increase in the use of raw materials?’ In the future, there will also be a greater focus on regional figures. Hoekstra: ‘Especially municipalities and provinces are very much involved in the circular economy. In that sense, we can join the CBS Urban Data Centres which are being launched in more and more locations around the country.’

Beyond kilotonnes and euros

Aldert Hanemaaijer of PBL sees the framework as a growth model to be elaborated further in the coming years. For example, the ambition is to determine several key indicators in the next monitor. He is satisfied with the achievements so far: ‘It is a framework that goes beyond kilotonnes and euros and presents a good picture of the raw materials that are being used in the Dutch economy. However, our joint conclusion over the past few months has been that that long-term effects are important as well. These require a different set of indicators than we currently have available. We need more information; for example, are corporate networks being developed? Where do raw materials go after they have been incorporated in products and exported abroad? In addition, we want to analyse statistical trends and develop a method which can be applied in the future. If we succeed, policy-makers can determine whether the measures they are taking now will bring us closer to the targets for 2030 and 2050.’

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