The city of Amsterdam has made a major step in the transition to become one of the world’s first circular cities. The goal? Minimize waste, innovate product-as-a-service business, boast new businesses, increase its well-being and profit.

Commissioned by the city, the plan started out by mapping and identifying areas in which circular business models can be applied while highlighting strategies to accomplish practical implementation of these sustainable solutions. Called City Circle Scan, the plan has been implemented by a dedicated office in the municipality and Circle Economy, a social enterprise, organized as a cooperative, whose goal it is to accelerate the transition to circularity through practical and scalable solutions.

The City of Amsterdam aims at redesigning twenty product or material chains. The implementation of material reuse strategies has the potential to create a value of €85 million per year within the construction sector and €150 million per year with more efficient organic residual streams. The material savings could add up to nearly 900,000 tons per year, a significant amount compared to the current annual import of 3.9 million tons currently utilized by the region. In terms of jobs? Increased productivity levels have the ability to add up to 700 additional jobs in the building sector and 1,200 additional jobs in the agriculture and food processing industry. Not bad for a city of 800,000 inhabitants.

We discussed the implementation plan with Eveline Jonkhoff, Chair of the Circular Economy Taskforce for Eurocities and strategic advisor on circular economy at the City of Amsterdam, during a long day of workshop in Helsinki.


Why did the city of Amsterdam come up with the strategy of enforcing circular economy at local level?

“For a long time we have been working very hard on sustainability in Amsterdam, so we have quite a long tradition. Developing a circular economy policy was a natural thing to do and we had an opportunity because there was a political momentum: we had a new local government and a new major was elected. Circular economy was part of his political agenda: that helped kick start the whole process.”


What are the pillars of the City Circle Scan and what is the municipality doing to implement it?

“We started an in-depth research around Amsterdam. We discovered that there are two sectors which are very valuable: the value chain in the buildings sector (materials and construction) and the food sector. So we think those are the two pillars of our circular economy we have to focus on. After that we have initiated collaborations with private actors to do pilots and experiments, while assessing the added value of these two chain values.”


Which financial instruments are you using with private partners, funds, grants, awards?

“We have funding, of course, and we have awards, but our philosophy is ‘learning by doing,’ so what we do as a local government is to stimulate market to start with a lot of pilot experiments, while working with universities to research around this projects. I think we have about 60 projects running now. I am very proud of how the city businesses and cultural institution are responding.”


In terms of education, how relevant is to inform and educate citizens?

“Awareness is everything, because the circular economy is not something exclusive for industry executive and city planners. It happens everywhere, in your own house, at school, at the park. It’s very important to teach children about what they can do with garbage, with waste, how they can use and reuse clothing, or plastic. Also for older citizens and small business education programmes are fundamentals in the circular economy.” 


From a regulatory perspective do private companies or other associations request modifications to the municipal regulation in order to use renewable matter or adopt new forms of circular economy business strategies, like start-up repair-shop, life-time extended guarantee, etc?

“I think in the end regulations are very important for innovation, but you have to think it over very carefully. Because if you are too quick with regulations it can be a benefit for someone while damaging someone else. One example we have heard during the workshop is Kenya. A massive second-hand clothing market, mostly from UK donation, solicited by regulations by the Kenyan government, has produced the negative effect of destroying Kenyan fashion industry. So it’s clearly good that Great Britain get rid of the second-hand clothing but for the garment economy in Kenya, it is awful. We have to be very careful with regulations, in terms of stimulating and accelerating, that’s very important.”


Are there specific regulations or piece of legislations that the municipality has produced?

“We don’t have specific legislations on circular buildings, we employ energy efficiency criteria standard. We are currently developing together with the private sector a new standard for circular buildings. You can call it a regulation, but that’s also a stimuli. We believe that rather than punishing who is not doing it we have to support who is going circular.”


Is there an example of a very innovative partnership you are doing in the city?

“We work together with a lot of start-ups and companies, for example in the Port of Amsterdam, the Harbour area, an innovative hub for the energy transition, circular and biobased economy that will create jobs, new products and economic progress. It currently leases space to Orgaworld, a biodiesel fuel producer, and to two other bioplastics companies: Plantics and Avantium. In the future, the port might even be interested in developing a project of its own, such as a biomass power plant. The goal here is to collect various organic materials and give it back to the chemical industries (The Harbour also hosts Prodock, a scale-up incubator initiated by and located in the Port of Amsterdam, which provides a dynamic production, office and event space where growing businesses and established corporates can co-create solutions for tomorrow’s harbours, Editor’s Note.) Another example is the use of recycled concrete in the building sector: now we have as a standard 100% reuse of the concrete materials from public spaces. Last but not least we have a very interesting 3D printing economy in Amsterdam. With these machines we can make new products locally with recycled materials.”


What is the circular economy take on food?

“We have a flourishing foodscape in Amsterdam, lots of restaurants, hotels, hospitals, companies, supermarkets, and they all together produce a lot of leftovers. What we do is reduce waste and use scraps and waste as new food for new meals. We even have restaurants that prepare meals from next-door supermarkets’ left-overs. That’s just an example of how we want to intervene in this food chain.”


Has the municipality set any goals for the circular economy?

“As I told you, we are working on 60 projects and we will produce an evaluation at the end of this year and make new policies for the next year, when we have a new local government. We hope to learn a lot from these pilot projects. Then we may have to invest more in knowledge or in resources, maybe we have to set up more pilots projects to have more proofs of what can happen, maybe we have to change policies totally or set a new set of regulations, everything is possible. We learn by doing.”


Sharing is part of the circular economy: what type of sharing businesses do exist in the city of Amsterdam?

“Car sharing is very popular. Also gears and tool sharing services to repair car or houses.”


What is the future for circular cities? 

“I think for Amsterdam and maybe for other cities, innovation is expected from urban development: entire new neighbourhoods will be adopting a circular economy philosophy. Sanitation, building materials, waste management, mobility, energy transition, all in a holistic concept in completely new or regenerated areas. It’s not just a single house, company or project, we have to think of projects where 50.000 households are involved, whole neighbourhoods. And we have to build this area circular.” 


Circle City Scan,

Circle Economy,


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