High value recycling of material flows: priority for the Amsterdam Metropolitan Region

Written by: Jacqueline Cramer | Published:
Circular demolition and construction in Amsterdam: On one project 95% of resources are being reused for the renovation of 470 houses

A transition in raw materials is urgently needed because of the shortage of raw materials worldwide and Europe’s strong dependency on their import (90% import from non-EU countries), says Jacqueline Cramer, Amsterdam Economic Board member and former minister of housing, spatial planning and the environment.

The Amsterdam Metropolitan Region is seeking to boost its profile in Europe as a pioneer in raw materials transition, particularly by high-grade recycling of material flows.

What is happening here?

Selection of nine material flows

The number of material flows in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Region that are currently incinerated or processed in low-grade ways is high; certainly when considering both domestic and industrial waste. By concentrating on high value recycling of material flows, the region can create more industry, more jobs, more innovation and greater environmental benefits. Therefore the region has selected the following nine main household waste streams to start with:

  1. Construction and demolition materials: making the construction and demolition of buildings a circular process
  2. End-of-life textiles: sorting according to material, fiberising and spinning new yarn
  3. Plastics: sorting and recycling/reselling each type of plastic
  4. Biomass: high-grade recycling of specific biomass flows such as fruit/vegetable/garden waste, sewage sludge, agri-food chain waste and public greenery (including aquatic plants)
  5. Electronic and electrical waste: disassembling discarded appliances and recycling/reselling reclaimed materials
  6. Incontinence products and diapers: high-grade recycling
  7. Mattresses: high-grade recycling
  8. IT sector servers: re-use as product and high-grade recycling
  9. Metals: starting with niche markets for high-grade recycling of specific material flows

Approach per material flow

The approach varies per material flow, as does the division of roles between the private and public parties. Roughly, the following three categories can be distinguished:

1. Materials that can be reintroduced into the cycle at a municipal level. A good example here concerns the construction chain. In the municipality of Amsterdam, this material flow constitutes 40% of the total waste flow. Demolished materials are currently recycled, but 90% of it is turned into low-grade applications such as making road foundations. Making the entire construction chain (building and demolition) circular can increase value creation by €85 million a year in the Metropole Region and create 700 jobs, mainly in the low and intermediate skilled sector.

To make the construction chain entirely circular, the commissioning clients (government and private sector) play a crucial role by making circularity a key principle of their procurement policy. It is then up to the market to build and demolish in a circular manner.

2. Materials that must be bundled at a regional level to create sufficient volume and sales potential for a profitable business case. This applies, for example, to the high-grade processing of organic residual waste, end-of-life textiles, unsorted domestic plastic waste and incontinence products and diapers. Public authorities are required to ensure sufficient quantities of input material through their procurement policies; subsequently, it is up to the market to invest in high-grade recycling plants.

Here again, the division of roles between government and the private sector must be tailored to requirements. Consider, for example, the organic residual waste flow. This flow is part of the large volume of organic residual flows that is fit for high-grade recycling. The approach needs to differentiate between domestic fruit/vegetable/garden waste, residual flows from the agri-food chain, sewage sludge and public greenery (including water plants). If public and private parties can coordinate their roles effectively, the high-grade recycling of all these waste flows can produce €150 million of added value per year in the Metropole Region and 1200 new jobs (and indirectly, even more jobs can be created in the supplying industries).

3. Material flows that are too small per individual company, but are viable for high-grade recycling when combined from multiple companies, including a proper revenue model for the participating companies. Such instances are found in the agri-food sector. An example is bleaching earth, a by-product of food production. Working with several companies to pool bleaching earth and developing an organisational and financing model adapted to requirements can lead to profitable high-grade recycling of this material. Since the individual companies consider bleaching earth waste, it is not obvious for them to pursue collaboration

By joining forces and setting up recycling plants, companies can create added value and new jobs.

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