Circular Amsterdam

Circular economy in the Netherlands

The Dutch government introduced a Circular Economy programme in the Netherlands in 2016, with the aim to transition by 2050 (The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment and the Ministry of Economic Affairs, 2016). The programme focussed on the decoupling of growth from material use and on a system in which the sustainable extraction of raw materials and the preservation of natural capital were guaranteed. This is essential if the Netherlands is to address its biocapacity deficit (-4.2 gha/capita1). The recognition of the deficit by the national government is important, because it means that the development of a circular economy is clearly linked to domestic ecological regeneration.

The Circular Economy programme mainly focusses on changing business models and production systems to reduce material consumption. However, water, energy and infrastructure (as a potential source of construction materials) are also highlighted as resources which need to be managed. Thus, the circular economy strategy touches on all the resources central to the circular development, with the exception of land. In addition, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency indicated that spatial planning solutions could contribute to the transition to a circular economy. Thus a link between land-use, urban form, infrastructure and material flows has been acknowledged.

The Dutch have several motivations for adopting a circular economy. The first is resource security. The Netherlands imports 68% of its raw materials from abroad (ibid). To become more resource secure it aims to reduce imports, by reducing consumption and resource wastage and encouraging the use of renewable or ubiquitous resources. The circular economy programme aims to ensure that raw materials in existing supply chains are utilised in high-value activities. This can lead to a decrease in the demand for raw materials. Where new raw materials are needed, fossil-based, critical and non-sustainably produced raw materials are replaced by sustainably produced, renewable and generally available raw materials.2 This preserves natural capital and future-proofs the economy by making the Netherlands less dependent on the import of finite sources. The Dutch aim to develop new production systems and promote new forms of consumption, giving impetus to reduction, replacement and utilisation. This results in greater sufficiency, building adaptive capacity and reinforcing national resilience to resource scarcities.

The second motivation is the contribution circular economy can make to national growth. The Netherlands has a good starting position to capitalise on circular economy. It has good infrastructure, transport connections and strong relevant industrial sectors (including the chemical industry, the agro-food sector, high-tech systems and materials, logistics and recycling), all of which build capacity for the circular transformation. The Netherlands also leads the way when it comes to the bio-based economy and the utilisation of nature-based solutions that reduce the use of raw materials. Dutch design is setting trends internationally and the government intends to take a leading role for circular design as well. TNO states that an extra turnover of €7.3 billion can be generated annually by the circular economy, producing 54,000 jobs in the Netherlands (Bastein et al., 2013). This will not only affect the industrial base in the Netherlands but also influence the provision of infrastructure and services in Dutch cities.

The third driver is mitigating climate change. A more responsible use of raw materials fits with the Dutch climate policy. The annual emissions released in the Netherlands are close to 200 megatons of ССЬ equivalent. An improvement in efficiency in raw material and material value chains could cut this by approximately 17 megatons of ССЬ a year (which is 9% of total Dutch emissions) and thus make a significant contribution to achieving the climate objectives (Blok et ah, 2017). At the same time, nature-based solutions (e.g. green infrastructure) for climate mitigation and adaptation help to reduce the demand for primary raw materials (e.g. grey infrastructure for drainage systems) and promote the transition to circularity (e.g. grey-water recycling). The Dutch realise that securing natural capital will contribute to solutions in both domains. However, the realisation of climate and energy goals will increase the demand for some raw materials for renewable energy technologies (generation, storage, and transport). A circular economy is also important to meeting this demand. The Dutch government recognises that circular economy could be good for public health and the environment. Designing products in such a way that they can be fully reused and recycled or can be safely released into our environment as ecologic raw materials will have social benefits.

The Dutch definition of circular economy is far broader than that adopted in the UK. The government takes a holistic view of circular economy (looping), recognising the linkages with nature-based solutions and natural capital (ecological regeneration); adaptive and resilient systems, specifically in relation to resource scarcity and climate change (adaptation). It asserts the environmental, economic and social benefits of adopting a circular approach to development. It also recognises the dynamic links between materials, water (especially waste- water), energy (waste-to-energy), infrastructure (as a source of materials) and land-use. The recognition of these synergistic relationships is embedded in policies and strategies at a local level.

Circular Amsterdam

Amsterdam, together with its surrounding municipalities, acts as an economic driver for the region and country. Its dynamic, service dominated economy includes both major international firms and small start-ups. The city-region is well connected to the rest of Europe. It has a large international airport and port. Amsterdam has grown considerably since 1890. Present population trends show consistent growth forecast for both Amsterdam and the metropolitan area over the next 25 years. The expectation is that that the city will grow from 834,713 in 2016 to just over 1,000,000 in 2040. This projected population increase of approximately 23% to 2040 comes upon sustained population growth over the past 15 years.

The population increase is putting pressure on the municipality to provide living accommodation and associated services within the metropolitan area. The municipality has created residential islands - reclaimed land - in the bay. City planners estimate that there is currently enough space to meet the growing housing demand by transforming unused or underused spaces such as former industrial sites. This regeneration process might provide an opportunity to transform the city’s infrastructure and services, helping it to achieve the sustainability goals set out in the strategy. However, increased densities and urban expansion can negatively impact on the urban ecosystem and ecosystem services. This could potentially exacerbate the problems of flooding already experienced in the city. Sea-level rise will create further problems in future years. Amsterdam is also heavily dependent on gas-powered district heating systems. The city wishes to transform the energy system, moving towards 100% renewable power, to increase energy security and help to mitigate climate change.

In 2015, Amsterdam adopted a Sustainability Agenda (Municipal Council Amsterdam, 2015). This sought to tackle the decarbonisation of the energy supply, air quality, climate mitigation and adaptation. The Sustainability Agenda planned for the management of a range of resources (land, water, materials and energy) and infrastructure. Central to the agenda was transitioning to a circular economy. The motivation for adopting the approach was to establish Amsterdam as a pioneer in delivering circular economy and thereby gain economic advantage.

Amsterdam has many entrepreneurial and innovative citizens, start-ups, research institutions and companies that are working on the circular economy. The first bio-based and circular clusters of mutually supportive businesses already exist in the port. The municipality has encouraged innovation and circular activities as part of its active contribution the national commitment to the Netherlands becoming a “circular hotspot”. Amsterdam is collaborating with regional municipalities, the Amsterdam Economic Board and numerous other partners to create a circular economy at the regional scale, so that acceleration and upscaling can be achieved. The city’s long-term ambition is to create a circular economy with new methods of production, distribution and consumption.

The sustainability agenda made linkages between circular economy, ecological regeneration and adaptation. It took an integrated view, which underpinned the delivery of a circular development. The Sustainability Agenda proposed Amsterdam would be a testing ground for circular district development and circular economic activity. Thus, it distinguished between circular economy and circular development. It also stated that Amsterdam would be the first Dutch municipality to develop a large transformation area, using circular development principles.

Early in 2016, the spatial and economic development plan for Amsterdam Metropolitan Region was published (Figure 5.1), which embedded the principle of transitioning to a circular economy in the development process (Amsterdam Metropolitan Region, 2016). The municipality launched two ambitious circular programmes: Amsterdam Circular: Learning by Doing and the complementary Circular Innovation Programme in 2016.

The Learning by Doing Programme produced 20 circular projects for the municipality, including procurement and land development (City of Amsterdam, Circle Economy and CopperS, 2017). It utilised the municipalities planning and procurement powers in combination with municipally owned land to enable innovation. It aimed to use the experiments to prove that circular development could be profitable, thus encouraging wider adoption by the development regime.

The Circular Innovation Program encouraged the municipality to work with businesses and knowledge institutes to deliver the circular economy. Overall, 30 innovative projects were developed, including circular start-ups (ibid). The municipalities’ role here was largely one of enabling. It partially funded projects, but mainly helped to facilitate a transition to the circular economy. For example, the municipality supported capacity building within industries through the development of knowledge networks.

The Learning by Doing Programme produced the City Circle Scan. The scan monitored resource flows in the city-region. It demonstrated that two value chains were very important: the building and construction sector and the biomass and food sector. It was estimated that the material savings made by adopting looping actions for both waste-streams could add up to nearly 900,000 tonnes per year (Bastein et al., 2016). This was a significant amount compared to the existing annual import to the region of 3.9 million tonnes. It was estimated that this saving could reduce ССЬ emissions by 500,000 tonnes annually (ibid). Taking these actions would affect the way in which the city-region was planned and developed.

Time-line for circular policies in Amsterdam. Source

FIGURE 5.1 Time-line for circular policies in Amsterdam. Source: City of Amsterdam, Circle Economy and Copper8 (2017).

Circular construction (looping and adaptive actions)

The first circular development pathway focusses on construction waste. The Netherlands already recycles 98% of building materials annually. Amsterdam is a leader in this activity. Several companies based in Amsterdam are specialised in the management of demolition and construction waste. A key role is played by the AEB, a world leader in the sustainable conversion of waste into energy, precious metals and reusable raw materials. AEB recycles about 61,400 tons of materials annually (especially ferrous and non-ferrous metals), reducing C02 emissions by approximately 172,500 tonnes/year (AEB, 2015).

The Circle Scan platform provided information about flows of construction and demolition waste in the city-region. It showed there was potential to increase the reuse and recycling of both. It demonstrated that through the implementation of material reuse strategies there was potential to create a value of €85 million per year and 700 jobs in circular construction (Bastein et al., 2016). However, the economic feasibility of recycling or reusing construction materials and components relies on localising resource loops (Figure 5.2). Potential producers and consumers would need to be located within the city-region, in order for exchange to be cost-effective. Due to the time-lag between demolition and construction projects, storage facilities would also be needed to facilitate the process. Both would have land-use implications and could be supported by spatial planning.

In addition to the Circle Scan, an online platform - PUMA - identifying the presence of high-value resources in the built environment was developed. Project PUMA provided a geological map of Amsterdam showing the presence and availability of high value metals (iron, copper and aluminium), in the built environment across the city-region. It also explored the possibilities for extracting the metals from the urban mine. It provided valuable information for those demolishing infrastructure, enabling them to determine the potential value of the materials salvaged. It also provided information for those wishing to reuse the salvaged materials in Amsterdam. Data platforms such as PUMA are essential for the effective exchange of reused or recycled resources and the creation of local supply chains in city-regions.

Amsterdam launched its first roadmap for circular buildings in 2017 (Metabolic and SGS Search, 2017). It challenged the private sector to develop circular buildings and circular city districts. Four circular strategies were proposed. The first was high value reuse and recycling. This involved the repurposing of buildings, components and upcycling of materials for new building products. The second strategy was smart design, which produced flexible, adaptable and recyclable buildings (e.g. Hubbell in Amsterdam builds adaptable, modular spaces). Both strategies recognised the link between looping and adaptive actions and could be reinforced through the planning process. The third strategy enabled the exchange of resources between producers and users through the provision of a physical resource bank and an online digital marketplace. The fourth strategy

Vision of a circular construction chain for Amsterdam region. Source

FIGURE 5.2 Vision of a circular construction chain for Amsterdam region. Source: Bastein et al. (2016).

improved the separation of waste streams, enabling components from dismantled buildings to be reused or recycled more easily.

Circle scan analysis

The Circle scan analysis was completed to identify strategies which could encourage looping of construction materials, components and buildings in the city-region. It determined the economic value and employment generated, the material and CO2 savings for each strategy (Table 5.1). This informed which projects would be supported by the municipality. Smart design was forecast to produce the greatest carbon-dioxide savings. High value reuse was predicted to produce the greatest material savings. Dismantling infrastructure, separating materials, creating an online market place and providing resource banks were likely to generate the most value.

Circular tendering and land issue

The projects completed through the Learning by Doing Programme demonstrated that market actors were willing to build in a circular way, as long as demand was demonstrated (City of Amsterdam, Circle Economy and Copper8, 2017). Demand could be generated by the city through planning and procurement policies. Planning policies requiring the high-value reuse of buildings, components or materials or the construction of smart buildings created demand amongst developers. Procurement policies also generated demand for locally sourced, recycled or reused materials and components. For example, the municipality

TABLE 5.1 Impact of four circular construction, biomass and food waste strategies


Organic waste


























































C02 savings (Ktonnes)









Source: Bastein et al. (2016).

required that reused baked bricks were used to construct 100% of the public realm works in the city. In this way the city helps to stimulate the circular transformation process.

Circular land issue was also pivotal in this process. It is an instrument used for tenders for urban transformation, infrastructure renovation and demolition. Circular tendering applied circular criteria to the release of public land or buildings for development across five categories: materials, energy, water, ecosystems and resilience. These criteria recognised the important linkages between looping, ecological regeneration and adaptation. There were three motivations for developer engagement in the process: first, to gain access to public land for development (often at a reduced cost); second, to develop their expertise in the arena of circular construction and third, to demonstrate their sustainability credentials.

Since 2017, circular criteria have been successfully applied to four development tenders for public land in Amsterdam: Buiksloterham, Centrumeiland, Zuidas and Sloterdijk. The first circular tender was completed in Zuidas in 2017 for a large project (250 homes and offices). This included the use of material passports and dry connection practices to enable future reuse and recycling of built structures. Secondary (recycled) materials were also used in the construction for insulation and partition walls. Important lessons have been learnt from these circular projects, which can be used to inform the planning and development processes (City of Amsterdam, Circle Economy and CopperS, 2017).

The first lesson is that variation in local characteristics produces unique projects. Projects are most successful when both generic and area-specific goals are formulated early in the development process. By providing area-specific goals in the development plan, the process can be streamlined. Second, it is important to identify the scale (regional, neighbourhood and building level) at which circular goals should be implemented. Businesses need this focus in order to formulate their own goals. A clear designation of responsibilities for delivering goals, at different scales, is essential for facilitating the process.

Third, the complexity of the tendering process increases for circular development, because teams need to make choices between circular goals. This may take time to resolve and creates tensions in large-scale circular procurements. Thus, a circular project requires a different approach from the municipality as well as from businesses. The planning teams must allow more time for realising circular ambitions. Planners will also need to become experts in circular development, in order to advise developers effectively.

Fourth, prescribing functional tender criteria (such as adaptability and modularity) helps to prevent a future decrease in the value of infrastructure. It is important to build knowledge about suitable construction practices and materials, which enable circular demolition and disassembly, amongst construction and demolition firms. Demolition and disassembly plans in tenders for construction projects are needed to ensure that the lifecycle of the infrastructure is considered from the start of a project. A proactive approach from demolition companies in recovering value from residual materials in demolition projects is essential, if circular construction is to be successful.

Amsterdam has now adopted a city-wide policy for circular tendering. It aims to contribute to the development of a national standard for circular building. Already new networks for knowledge transfer to enable the development of circular construction practices have emerged. For example, a concrete network advocates the use of granulated, recycled concrete in new infrastructure. Living labs (e.g. FabCity, AMS and AUAS LivingLab) help to demonstrate circular construction methods, thus providing vehicles for learning.

Circular Innovation Programme

The Circular Innovation Programme has also spawned a variety of projects in the port of Amsterdam, which actively promote the recycling/reuse of construction waste (City of Amsterdam, Circle Economy and Copper8, 2017). One example is the Circl building. Its wall insulation contains clothing fibres, while the roof is made from 16,000 pairs of old jeans. On the roof, photovoltaic panels and a garden for water recovery have been set up. All the bricks and the tiles come from recycled material. This is a demonstration project which uses building information modelling technologies to assess material flows. It supports the cataloguing of all materials used in the structure. This information can also be used at demolition phase to enable the reuse of materials and components.

Developers share their knowledge from these innovative projects. For example, the developer OVG has actively shared knowledge on the circular transformation project - Edge Olympic Amsterdam.3 The municipality has organised training for building contractors focussed on circular procurement and construction processes. Thus, knowledge and supply chains for circular construction have begun to develop in the city. The municipality also chairs the Circular Economy Task Force of Eurocities and is engaged in the C40 cities network. This enables Amsterdam to share its findings with other cities internationally. Through the use of urban experiments and knowledge exchange, Amsterdam seeks to drive the circular transformation of the construction industry locally, nationally and internationally. It also demonstrates what circular development could look like in practice.

Circular organic flows (looping, ecologically regenerative, adaptive actions)

The second circular development pathway adopted in Amsterdam focusses on organic waste. The circle scan suggests that the implementation of biomass and food reuse strategies in Amsterdam Metropolitan region has the potential to create a value of €150 million per year (Bastein et al., 2016). It could also create 1,200 additional jobs in the agriculture and food processing industry.

Circle scan analysis

The scan identified four strategies for enabling circular flows of organic waste in the city-region (ibid). All four impact on the way in which the city develops (Figure 5.3). The first aimed to improve waste separation and smart reverse logistics in order to valorise residual streams. The second strategy aimed to create cascading organic waste flows. This is to ensure the residual flows retain their highest value. In the case of food waste, this would mean selling surplus food in restaurants or reusing cooking oil as vehicle fuel.

The third strategy involves the development of bio-refineries in the city region, to enable organic materials to be recycled or recovered locally and at scale. This would produce biogas, compost, medicines, nutrients and chemicals. If processed locally the cost of transporting the organic material is minimised, which increases the economic viability of reprocessing and recovering energy. The fourth strategy involves nutrient recovery from residual food, for reuse (by restaurants or foodbanks) or composting. This would capture 95% of the nutrients lost currently.

The scan showed that greatest material savings would be produced by better waste separation and nutrient recovery from residual food (Table 5.1). The most economic value would be generated by waste separation and reverse logistics. The greatest carbon savings and the most jobs would be created by cascading organic flows and the local provision of a bio-refinery. Adopting these looping strategies would increase the potential for Amsterdam to become more self- sufficient in terms of energy production and food, and thus increases its adaptive capacity.

The biomass and food chain in Amsterdam is often closed in a low-value manner. Currently, 30% of the organic waste produced in Amsterdam is incinerated to generate electricity and heat. This is partly due to restrictive regulations. For example, unconsumed food products must be treated as waste, which makes high-value application difficult. It is also because until recently organic material had not been separated from the residual waste stream. Flowever, as part of the plan to encourage high-value looping, Amsterdam has overhauled its waste collection service and now provides separate containers for organic waste.

Bio-based industrial cluster

The Circular Innovation Programme has encouraged collaboration between businesses, knowledge institutions and public organisations to deliver new biocomposite products from waste biomass. The municipal authority’s role in the innovation programme is mainly supporting research, promoting information exchange and providing some financial support for projects. It has also designated sites for the development of the bio-industries in the Port area.

Closing organic waste flows will need to be supported by development. Clustering actors who produce and consume organic waste within the city will enable this. Thus, a waste cluster has been established in the Port of Amsterdam, comprising the Amsterdam waste-to-energy company (AEB) and water company (Waternet). AEB has an ambition to convert organic household waste into more valuable materials. Thus, it has invested in a postseparation facility, which aims to separate 65% of domestic waste for efficient recycling by 2020 (Port of Amsterdam, 2018). AEB is also looking to tackle waste produced after incineration and conversion of organic waste to biogas or animal feed by 2035 (ibid).

Waternet manages the water supply in Amsterdam Metropolitan Region. It is strategically located next to AEB in the Port of Amsterdam for optimal synergies of waste and feedstock. It is adopting cascading and nutrient recovery strategies. Waternet and the Amstel, Gooi and Vecht Water Board have been recycling phosphate from sewage water since 2013 in a phosphate factory in Amsterdam-West. With the phosphate from the Amsterdam waste-water, 10,000 football pitches can be fertilised annually. Waternet has also found that alginic acid can be recovered from granular sludge and used in the pharmaceutical or food industry (Van der Hoek et al., 2016).

Waternet has developed processes to generate biogas (for cooking, electricity and heat), fuels and advanced chemicals from sewage. It has developed techniques for separating cellulose fibres (from toilet paper) to produce building materials, paper products and bioplastic (ibid). Waternet and AEB are also collaborating on a project called Power-to-Protein. This project extracts ammonia from sewage to create high value proteins, sufficient to provide all the residents of the Amsterdam with 35% of their primary protein requirement (ibid). AEB provides Waternet with surplus electricity for bacterial production of protein.

There is also a bio-refinery cluster in the port (ibid). It is one of the largest bio-refinery clusters in Europe. It produces over 25 million m3 of biogas, 5 megawatts of electricity and heat and 5,000 tons of fertiliser from organic waste (ibid). There is a 20-hectare site designated for a new bio-refinery in the port and warehouse facility dedicated to bio-based companies (Prodock). This facility provides space and a platform for start-ups and investors. Two companies are already established in Prodock: PeelPioneers4 and Chain- craft3 (ibid).

The port has significant storage capacity for biofuel (e.g. the storage tanks of Oiltanking). It also has a biodiesel plant and a direct kerosene pipeline to Schiphol International Airport (ibid). AEB has a steam pipeline which links to several sites in Amsterdam (ibid). Thus, there is infrastructure which could potentially be used to store and distribute biofuel from the port. Several companies on site (NWB, Koole, CWT and Cargill) are specialised in bio-based liquid or dry bulk logistics (e.g. sugars syrup, ethanol, veg oils and biomass). Amsterdam area has a long-standing tradition in chemical innovation and R&D, which may also prove useful in establishing bio-based industries in the port hub.

Localised food loops

In Amsterdam, urban farmers and restaurants are also searching for ways to valorise their organic waste. The RE-ORGANISE project aims to create knowledge and business solutions around decentralised production of (semi-finished) products, materials, water and energy from organic waste. Instead of paying for waste removal, urban farmers and restaurants aim to create new business opportunities by separating and processing their organic waste into valuable products on site. These products are either re-used by the producers or sold to partners nearby. By valorising organic waste in a decentralised manner, these actors aim to produce high-quality products and reduce sourcing, transportation and waste management costs, while gaining independence. However, logistics, financing and unclear or restrictive regulations are still obstacles for scaling up.

There are various schemes to valorise food waste in Amsterdam. For example, the Too good to go app is a platform enabling restaurants to publicise left-over meals to potential consumers. “Taste before you waste” reuses 250 kg of food on a weekly basis, turning it into plant-based meals at their Wasteless Wednesday Dinners or given to the Food Cyde Markets in Amsterdam. Instock is a non-profit restaurant that creates meals from unsold products from supermarkets. It has also established a Food Rescue Centre, a Food Waste School Program for primary schools, and a cookbook designed to encourage the reuse of food waste throughout the community. Organic waste is also used to create compost for local urban farms. For example, the Secret Village (a small commercial development) in Amsterdam makes compost from sewage for local urban agriculture projects. Urban agriculture provides an excellent opportunity to close the food loop locally, regenerate the urban ecosystem and increase food sufficiency (adaptive capacity). There are many projects in Amsterdam: herb gardens, city farms, vertical and cooperative farming.

Similar practices also happen at scale. In 2011 the energy company Meer- landen set up the Green Energy Factory (Groene Energiefabriek) in Rijsenhout, just south of Schiphol (Amsterdam Airport). It used the organic waste (food, agricultural and garden waste) from nine municipalities and 4,000 companies in the region to produce green gas, C02, heat, compost, citrus fuel and water (Amsterdam Economic Board, 2018). A digester processes 53,000 metric tons of organic waste; 60% is used to make biogas (ibid). This powers more than 50% of Meerlanden’s vehicles; the remainder is used by households and industry in the surrounding area. The ССЬ is captured from the biogas and delivered to various local horticulture companies, which use it as a growth enhancer. Recently, Meerlanden has also started applying a technique to extract oil from citrus peel, producing a fuel that is used instead of diesel in their own weed control equipment.

Meerlanden has an innovative tunnel composting system, which yields 2.5 million bags of compost annually (ibid). A large proportion of the heat produced during the process is captured, totalling around 10 million kWh. More than a quarter goes to a nearby greenhouse horticulture company, enabling it to make a saving of 320,000 m3 in its gas consumption (ibid). The composting process also produces 4.5 million litres of condensation (ibid). This water is used for street cleaning and anti-icing brine on the roads. The Green Energy Factory demonstrates how organic waste loops can be closed within city-regions. The collaboration with companies in the region and municipalities is the basis of the Green Energy Factory’s success. The company receives financial support from the municipalities in which it is active, and a grant (Stimulation of Sustainable Energy Production grant) from central government. There is also income from the sale of the green gas, C02, heat, compost and water, or at least savings are made when these resources are used internally by the company.

The designation of land in the city-region for bio-refineries, compost storage, urban farming, farmers’ markets, bio-digestion, waste-water treatment and protein production as well as the connective infrastructure will greatly influence Amsterdam’s ability to build a thriving bio-economy (Figure 5.3). Both will have a profound influence over the way in which the city develops. The strategic planning process can be used to support this. However, the designation of space in Amsterdam for circular actions is potentially contentious. It is a dense city, experiencing considerable pressure to provide housing. Outside the city competition for space is equally fierce. The demand for recreational areas is expected to rise by 30% to 2040, creating conflicts between tourism and agricultural uses.

There are also conflicts between commercial agriculture and the protection of ecosystem services. Large-scale farms that serve the global markets in the peat- land meadow areas (which are often of great cultural and historical significance) do not combine well with the spatial and environmental goals of maintaining an open countryside, ensuring sustainable water management, preserving biodiversity and reducing ССЬ emissions. Thus, land-use will need to be carefully coordinated to promote a thriving bio-economy.

The Amsterdam experience highlights some interesting challenges for looping organic waste. First, biomass and food waste are often mentioned together, but possess very different value chains. Biomass has greater potential value. It is less regulated, which means it is easier to loop. Food waste is more regulated and higher value products (from food waste) are relatively expensive. Thus, they are not currently competitive. Second, the organic waste chain in Amsterdam is very fragmented. There are many initiatives (from bio-refining, to composting, to reusing food waste), but they are not necessarily connected to one another. A clearer understanding of how circularity can be achieved in the chain and who is responsible for this is needed. The logistical organisation of the biomass and food chain remains problematic (e.g. the number of high-value flows is too small) and prevents high-value recycling. Thus, a regional strategy for high-value reuse of biomass with a special focus on smart logistical connections will be needed. This will have implications for the way in which the city-region develops.

Vision of a circular organic residual stream for Amsterdam region. Source

FIGURE 5.3 Vision of a circular organic residual stream for Amsterdam region. Source: Bastein et al. (2016).

Circular De Ceuvel

De Ceuvel adopts another circular development pathway, which is temporary and experimental. De Ceuvel is found in the district of Buiksloterham. It is a living lab for circular development in Amsterdam’s port area. Situated in the Noord district it is an example of post-industrial, waterfront reuse. Buiksloterham was originally designated an industrial area, with various activities including shipyards, petrochemical industries, the Dutch plane factory of Fokker, the Amsterdam incinerator and the northern power-plant of Amsterdam (Dembski, 2013). By the end of the twentieth century, the shipbuilding industry had disappeared and other industries had moved to Westpoort. With the exception of one repair shipyard, all the major docks closed.

The former NDSM shipyard was discovered by squatters and artists during the early 1990s who made it into a cultural hotspot. In the beginning this was without the assistance from the municipality. Later the municipality co-opted the cultural services provided in NDSM to regenerate the site. By the mid-1990s, the area was a mixture of large brownfield sites, active industrial sites, public utilities, workshops and new small-scale businesses and creative industries. However, 80% of the area was affected by soil pollution (metals and asbestos, volatile organic chlorine compounds and mineral oil), making it expensive to rehabilitate (Dembski, 2013).

The current regeneration of Buiksloterham focusses on the transformation of an industrial estate into a mixed-use urban neighbourhood. The aim of the redevelopment is to provide housing and a good living environment, while conserving established firms in the area. The plans envisage a gradual transformation of the economic structure of the area, from its traditional industrial base into a mix of green, creative and nautical industries. Buiksloterham will form the link between the more traditional urban development project (Overhoeks) and the new cultural district NDSM with its industrial character. It has been framed as a sustainable area for creative entrepreneurs and adventurous city-dwellers (Bosnian, 2011). The plan is to develop 4,700 dwellings and create 8,000 jobs.

Buiksloterham is to be a living test bed and catalyst for Amsterdam’s broader transition to becoming a circular, smart and bio-based city. It has many empty plots and almost no historic buildings. This creates space and flexibility for new development. However, it has scattered property ownership and many plots are highly polluted, creating prohibitive cost barriers to development. There is no masterplan for the area. It is the intention that the development will grow organically. The most important guidelines in the planning process are provided by the informal rules-of-the-game map. This is based on the set of goals presented in the Manifest Circulair Buiksloterham. These provide a vision for the site to be delivered by 2034.

One goal of the manifest is to close energy, water and nutrient flows. Another is to transition to a bio-based economy through the reuse of biological waste streams (e.g., nutrient recovery from organic wastes) and the use of bioprocessing to replace conventional industrial functions (e.g. soil phytoremediation instead of standard mechanical-chemical cleansing). Urban biodiversity and climate adaptation measures are also goals to bring long-term local resilience to the area. Finally, the key smart objective is to maximise social and environmental capital in the competitiveness of the area, through the use of modern infrastructure, highly efficient resource management and active citizen participation. Thus, the Manifest provides a framework for circular development. Key actors (Metabolic, Municipality of Amsterdam, several real-estate developers, Waternet and many others) signed the Manifest. As a consequence of this covenant, many circular development projects are being realised in the area including self-build projects, sustainable living on the water Schoonschip, РЕК Ecostroom and Waternet’s bio-refinery and De Ceuvel.

De Ceuvel is an excellent example of the temporary, experimental circular development pathway. It was developed on a former shipyard adjacent to the Johan van Hasselt kanaal. In 2012, the land was secured for a 10-year lease from the Municipality of Amsterdam. A group of architects (with a limited budget) won a tender to turn the site into a “regenerative urban oasis”. The former industrial plot now provides a temporary home for a community of entrepreneurs and artists. It comprises creative workspaces, a sustainable cafe and spaces to rent. The neighbourhood has been designated as a “living lab”. Thus, it is a test-bed for new circular technologies and for promoting circular lifestyles and practices (Figure 5.4).

De Ceuvel was built largely from recycled materials. Old houseboats were upcycled into energy-efficient workspaces, using recycled materials sourced from across the Netherlands. Upcycling is an important social practice on site as well as producing the visual aesthetic of De Ceuvel (loop). The water system was designed to close resource loops. For example, the dry composting toilets, separated urine collectors and struvite reactors recovered nitrogen and phosphorous to produce fertilisers (loop). Meanwhile, decentralised helophyte filtration systems6 were used to recycle grey-water from the kitchen sinks (loop). The community also has an aquaponics greenhouse which recycles nutrients. The greenhouse produces vegetables and herbs for the local cafe. It uses a closed-loop aquaponics system combining fish and vegetable production. The fish excretes are broken down into nutrients for the plants. The plants provide a natural filter for the water. Inputs include primarily local nutrients like worms from composting bins and struvite from the urinals.

Waste heat is also reused in De Ceuvel (loop). Each office boat has a heat pump and an air-to-air heat exchange ventilation system. As warm air leaves the boat, over 60% of the heat is captured and re-circulated (Metabolic, 2013). The heat pump extracts heat from the surrounding air to warm each boat. These simple technologies remove the need for a gas connection and enable the use of renewable electricity to power the heating needs of each boat. This is particularly important on a contaminated site, where laying pipework would be risky. Over 150 photovoltaic (PV) panels are installed on the office boats. The panels

Looping systems in De Ceuvel

FIGURE 5.4 Looping systems in De Ceuvel.

Source: De Ceuvel website

produce around 36,000 kWh of power yearly (ibid). This covers the electricity demand of the heating systems of the offices, along with a part of their residual electricity needs. The rest of the sites’ power is supplied by a green energy company. A new crypto-currency was introduced in De Ceuvel, called the Jouliette. Those producing surplus energy are rewarded for production in jouliettes. This is facilitated by smart meters and block-chain technology. It encourages the local exchange of energy, instead of selling surplus power to the grid. The goal is to connect all of the Buiksloterham neighbourhood to create a local smart grid.

De Ceuvel was built on a heavily contaminated site. The houseboats were linked above ground by wooden walkways. Energy and water services were constructed above ground and off-grid to remove the problems of building subterranean structures in heavily contaminated soil. Phytoremediating plants were used to decontaminate the soil (ecological regeneration). The Municipality relaxed the planning conditions on the site, which would have prevented the use of heavily contaminated land without prior soil remediation. Instead, it required that the site was “safe, clean and healthy”. This performance-based approach resulted in the relaxation of regulations, which helped to deliver circular innovation in De Ceuvel. This combination of phytoremediation and a performance-based approach offers an excellent strategy for urban ecological regeneration and reuse of vacant, contaminated land in post-industrial landscapes (adapt).

De Ceuvel has made the principles and strategies for circular development pathways, concrete and sharable. Such aesthetic materialisation is perceived positively by inhabitants and visitors. One key to success appears to be the designers’ focus on inhabitants’ practical requirements in conjunction with circular thinking. Inhabitant participation in the design process helped raise awareness of circular flows and the different systems used to manage them. Thus, the socio-technical system co-evolved through a co-design process. For a circular development to be successful, changing attitudes and social practices alongside new systems of provision is essential. The inhabitants affirmed that changing their practices in the neighbourhood was easy and quickly normalised. Project appropriation by the inhabitants was the basis for success. The inhabitants identified strongly with their neighbourhood and were proud of the living environment they had created. In addition, their emotional relationship with the living environment led to a virtuous loop of good practice in terms of resource management. Thus, these processes will also have increased the community’s adaptiveness.

The temporary nature of the project is also important, since it enables the municipality to be more flexible in terms of the regulatory controls placed on the experimental development. However, the paradox is that this makes De Ceuvel as a model for circular development, more difficult to replicate in other urban locations, particularly because of political and economic barriers. Whilst these experimental projects are seen only as temporary uses, regulations can be relaxed and lower-value activities can be allowed. However, for long-term uses the regulatory requirements are greater and higher-value activities are expected. Thus, the De Ceuvel experiment might be replicated and could scale-up, but only if there were significant systemic changes within the development regime.

De Ceuvel demonstrates a circular development pathway for post-industrial sites. It shows how the remediation of contaminated brownfield sites can be achieved by raising structures above ground; using phytoremediation to decontaminate the soil and applying off-grid water and energy systems which do not require ground-works. The temporary nature of the project also helps to make it politically and economically acceptable, by indicating that it is a stage in a regenerative process, rather than an end in itself. Yet the temporary nature of the project undermines its ability to transform the wider development regime.


Amsterdam does have a circular strategy, which is clearly linked to sustainable development. Motivations for adopting this strategy are largely economic and environmental. Amsterdam recognises the difference between circular economy and circular development. It has programmes in place to address both. It also demonstrates two distinct pathways for circular development. The first pathway encourages a strategic, city-regional approach to looping construction and organic waste. The second pathway adopts a grass-root, temporary, experimental approach to circular development. De Ceuvel demonstrates how circular land issue and tendering can be used effectively to encourage circular development, particularly where conflicting restrictions are relaxed and a performance-based approach to development is taken. Amsterdam also shows how important it is to have a city-regional approach to planning development, in order to support circular resource flows.


  • 1 Its ecological footprint (5 gha/capita) is considerably greater than its national biocapacity (0.8 gha/capita) which is limited.
  • 2 Apart from biomass, generally available raw materials are the raw materials that nature needs for life (iron, silicon, carbon, magnesium, sodium, potassium, calcium, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, sulphur, hydrogen).
  • 3 The project incorporates an existing building in the new office complex, whilst reusing construction materials from the old building and creating flexible, dismounta- ble, reusable upper floors.
  • 4 A start-up from the University of Amsterdam, who extracts limonenes and fibres from citrus peel.
  • 5 A company building a demonstration-plant for fermentation of organic waste into fatty acids.
  • 6 Helophyte filters are simple constructions built using different layers. Sand, gravel and shells help remove solids, and a mix of special plants consumes organic matters such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Once purified, clean water is then discharged into the ground.
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