Circularity of the Dutch economy has barely increased

© ANP / Siebe Swart
Of all natural resources that were deployed in the Dutch economy in 2020, 13 percent consisted of recycled materials. This percentage is virtually the same as in 2014. In terms of recycling, the circularity of the Dutch economy has barely increased. This is shown by the latest figures by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) on the use of natural resources. The figures are part of the Circular Economy Progress Report, a collaboration with PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, the Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML), the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO), Rijkswaterstaat, the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) and Utrecht University.

In order to reduce the dependency on natural resources and the environmental impact of the Dutch economy, the Dutch Cabinet has set the target of a fully circular economy by 2050. This means an economy in which sustainable renewable resources are used as much as possible, products and natural resources are reused and waste does not exist.
Sand, gravel, building materials reused most often
Non-metallic minerals, e.g. sand and gravel, were reused most frequently at 31 percent, slightly more than in 2014 (29 percent). This includes for example construction waste, which is mainly used for embankments in road construction. Reuse of fossil fuels is low, since fossil energy carriers are mostly incinerated for power generation. However, fossil fuel consumption can be reduced, for instance by deploying more renewable energy.

Deployment of primary and secondary materials
MateriaalJaarSecondary (%)Primary (%)
Fossil fuels2014199
Fossil fuels2020298

Reduced resource consumption after 2014

Besides reuse, reducing the need for natural resources is another way to eventually become fully circular. The total amount of natural resources used in the Dutch economy excluding recycled waste (direct material input) had decreased considerably by 2020 (359 billion kg) relative to 2014 (390 billion kg). The decrease in natural resource use is mainly due to lower consumption of fossil fuels and non-metallic minerals. The nitrogen crisis, which limited the amount of construction projects, plays a role here. In addition, the coronavirus crisis has had an impact as compulsory working from home meant less commuting and less flying. The drop in fossil fuel consumption may not be structural.

Direct material input in the Dutch economy (excl. recycled waste)
Materiaal2014 (bn kg)2020 (bn kg)
Fossil fuels188161

Greater share of natural resources imported

In the period 2014-2020, the share of natural resources imported by the Dutch economy from abroad increased for all material categories except for non-metallic minerals. In terms of direct material use, the share increased from 67 percent in 2014 to 73 percent in 2020. In particular, dependence on fossil fuels from abroad has increased, especially natural gas. This is due to the reduced natural gas extraction in Groningen. For direct input of metals, the Netherlands depends entirely on foreign supply.

Natural resource imports for direct material input
Materiaal2014 (%)2020 (%)
Fossil fuels6983

Major share of natural resources processed into export products

In 2020, the Dutch economy processed 409 billion kg of natural resources and other materials. A sizeable proportion of these materials was processed and eventually exported (179 billion kg or 44 percent); 168 billion kg was used in the manufacture of consumer products and other goods.
Of the resources that were processed, a good portion (110 billion kg or over 25 percent) is 'lost' as a resource through incineration and consumption of food and other products that can only be used once (short-cyclical products). This applies especially to biomass and fossil energy carriers. These make a significant contribution to CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. Another significant proportion of natural resources ends up in the waste flow (60 billion kg), some of which is recycled and returns into the resources that are processed within the Dutch economy (50 billion kg).
The recycled waste can only replace a small proportion of the total amount of natural resources needed. Currently, the released secondary materials (50 billion kg) or even all the waste materials (60 billion kg) do not cover the use of materials in the domestic economy of 229 billion kg (comprising energy consumption and material use). To achieve a circular economy, the use of fossil energy carriers must be reduced and materials must be used more efficiently. The latter can be achieved for example through product life extension or sharing of products.

Material flows in the Netherlands, billion kg, 2020Imports (excl. waste) 374 Waste imports 22 Re-exports 131 93 Processed materials Domestic extraction 409 Exports 310 Loss 110 Energy consumption 61 Material use 168 Stocks Waste 60 Recycling 50 Short-cycle products 47 Biomass Fossil Metal MineralImports (excl. waste)374Waste imports22Re-exports13193Processed materialsDomestic extraction409Exports310Loss110Energy consumption61Material use168StocksWaste60Recycling50Short-cycle products47Material flows in the Netherlands, billion kg, 2020BiomassFossilMetalMineral

The ICER monitors the transition to a circular economy, in which natural resources are reused as much as possible and as few new raw materials as possible enter the economy. Statistics Netherlands contributed to the ICER by producing the Material Flow Monitor, among other things. The Material Flow Monitor maps physical material flows to, from and within the Dutch economy. The monitor is compiled biannually and available as of 2014.