SECTOR WATCH 

Innovation and Resources on Urban Waste

LATEST SECTOR WATCHES

Report

Circular secrets from one of the world’s most sustainable cities, Copenhagen.

22 March 2019

Copenhagen plans to become the world’s first carbon neutral city by 2025. But though seen to be so "green”, as a country Denmark happens to be first in Europe for producing household waste, with an increase in municipal waste in the last decade. In the face of ever more ambitious European legislation to reduce waste, what progress has the city made?


Ambitious aims

With a purchasing power of €1.5bn each year, the city of Copenhagen is part of Danish national and European wide initiatives on Sustainable public procurement. The Danish “Forum for Sustainable Procurement” and “Partnership on Green Public Procurement” promote a circular production and consumption paradigm, aligning with the UN Global Compact, OECD guidelines and SDGs. Not least Objective 12: responsible consumption and production to achieve CO₂ neutral status by 2025, but also zero waste status by 2050. On a European scale, the city is a participant in the European Procura+ Network for Sustainable Procurement. All under the umbrella of co-creating a liveable city.


Waste as a resource

Since the 90s, the gradual development of a comprehensive Danish regulatory framework for waste handling has reframed waste to harness its potential as a resource. Increased international involvement, especially from the EU have helped achieve high recycling rates and minimise landfill, mainly by increasing separation of household organic waste, now at 72%, to be turned into biogas or fertiliser. Repair cafes and Fablabs also offer a way to reuse goods.


The building and construction industry, which makes up 35% waste overall and over one third of the city’s CO2 emissions, has some of the largest circular economy potential. Solutions include (an open platform for) reusing materials in building, recycled roofing to make roads (the “roof to road” project) and other materials recycling stations, with obligatory waste handling plans before any construction project commences. Meanwhile designing for disassembly creates highly flexible buildings that are faster to construct and optimise operation and maintenance.


Regulation and communication

The city of Copenhagen wants to put its purchasing power to good use. To encourage circular procurement, considerations of total cost of ownership including disposal and potential future use ensure more resource-efficient products and financial savings in the long run. Within regulation, including the EU directives on public procurement criteria promoting efficiency of use also exist, for instance suggesting that the procurer ask how the supplier promotes the reuse of devices (e.g. for ICT). In addition, a requirement that guidance will be given on the efficient usage and disposal of goods is suggested for many product groups. To ensure close cooperation between the person responsible for the procurement and an employee with environmental expertise during the tendering process, an environmental expert is a compulsory member of any working group in the city of Copenhagen.


Public-private Partnerships

Digitising purchasing processes and using e-commerce to improve efficiency, transparency and collaboration are key. Alongside partnerships with other municipalities, important public-private partnerships have included packaging deposit-return schemes - at Tivoli theme park - set to spread to events across the city. 30 different partnerships since 2014 have secured new data on air pollution, traffic patterns and waste, for instance. Copenhagen Solutions Lab for instance, with Cisco, is a live test area for various types of smart city solutions, serving to share data and drive further innovation.


Progress is promising. But change needs to happen fast if the city of Copenhagen wants to be not only a CO2 reduction but also a zero waste champion.

Report

Product Stewardship to rethink recycling of e-waste

14 March 2019

The United Nations have called it a tsunami. Others have highlighted its value, which exceeds the annual GDP of over 120 countries. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic medals were even made from it. Now at 50 million tonnes each year, left unchecked this ever growing pile of global e-waste could more than double to 120 million tonnes by 2050.


One man’s trash; another man’s treasure                   

Whilst there is great value to be obtained from e-waste, not to mention substantially lower CO2 emissions from mining raw materials/ rare minerals, currently only 20% is recycled. The cost and knowhow remain a challenge.


The solution to pollution: collaboration

A circular economy for electronics could reduce the costs for consumers by 7% by 2030 and 14% by 2040 (Ellen MacArthur). As always, collaboration is key, which is why researchers and SDU life-cycle centre in Denmark are building a knowledge platform for the circular economy and the management of end-of-life electrical and electronics products called the E-circle network. All interested parties will be able to obtain help and inspiration about recycling and reusing electronic devices, from “manufacturers’ drawings and data about the materials to companies that buy up discarded electrical goods to take them apart for recycling who could be informed what materials were valuable,” The platform will also enable designers and manufacturers to learn how they could change their designs to make them more recyclable when they no longer work.


Rethink recycling: product stewardship

In addition to shared knowledge and increased transparency, assigning responsibility to producers is key. China State Council has established the Producer Responsibility Extension System Implementation Program ("PRE Program") which sets ambitious targets including sourcing 20% of materials for new electronic products from recycled content and recycling 50% of all e-waste by 2025, moving towards a circular e-economy.

Such stewardships systems mean goods producers are given responsibility for the end life of the product. Australia, for example, currently operates under a mandatory product stewardship scheme and electronics businesses must contribute to recycling infrastructure to ensure that 90% of all e-waste is recycled. Victoria announced a $16.5m scheme to develop 130 electronic waste collection sites, ahead of a ban on e-waste in landfill in 2018. The funding includes $1.5m for a consumer education program to reduce e-waste or avoid it altogether.

With such schemes, 2019 could and should cause a shift to realise their potential.    

Report

Tackling food waste at the urban level

27 February 2019

In the European Union (EU), around 88 million tonnes of food waste are generated annually with associated costs estimated at 143 billion euros. According to the FAO, up to one third of all food is spoiled or squandered before it reaches the consumer. This food is lost or wasted throughout the supply chain.

Wasted food is not only an ethical problem, but also has negative environmental impacts. Food production is one of the major contributors to climate change, it consumes large amounts of water and contributes to soil depletion. Production of food that never gets eaten exacerbates these issues in vain. On the other end, organic waste makes up about half of municipal waste in the EU. All the while poor households still struggle to afford healthy meals. 

When talking about food waste, we need to distinguish avoidable and unavoidable food waste and losses. Produce that spoiled, or is thrown out due to overproduction or for aesthetic reasons is considered avoidable, whereas waste associated with food production that cannot be used for human consumption, such as husks in grain milling is unavoidable food waste. This category of organic waste can still be used for other purposes such as compost or biogas, but not for human consumption.

It is the avoidable food waste, which makes up about 30% of food waste and loss, that policy makers  need to tackle.  Contrary to common belief, food production and processing industries – not the end consumer – contribute the largest share of avoidable food waste and losses. Cities can play an important role in addressing these stakeholders and effectively reduce food waste.

A public school canteen in Belgium has managed to cut their food waste from about 30% to only 10% of food prepared and served in the canteen. As part of the ambitious programme, the canteen operators weigh the occurring food waste every day and make adjustments to meal plans.

Together with citizens and stakeholders, the UrbanWINS project pilot cities Cremona (Italy), Leiria (Portugal) and Sabadell (Spain) are developing local pilot actions that seek to eliminate food waste. Among the initiatives, Cremona has started a “last minute market” for recovered and donated food surpluses and expiring products, which will also contribute to social solidarity.

The Portuguese city of Leiria is developing a guide for food waste reduction addressing restaurants, canteens, bars, catering services and citizens. And Sabadell has kicked-off a programme of activities to raise awareness on the topic. So far, they have conducted some talks at schools, organised “cooking with leftovers” workshops and are planning a popular “gleaning” – a collection of leftover fruits, vegetables and crops.

Representatives from the three cities will share their experiences in tackling food waste in an upcoming webinar, Tuesday 12 March 11.00-12.30, organised by the UrbanWINS project.

They will also be joined by a speaker from FoodWIN , who will present the networks views on the importance of fighting food waste.

To register to the webinar, click here.

 

Analysis

Modelling the Urban Metabolism for Circular Cities

22 February 2019

Becoming Circular is an important goal for cities worldwide. And it is promising. A circular economy could put an end to resource exploitation without halting global production.

But to get to that place, a deep understanding of current resource flows is necessary. Traceable data about most material stocks and flows is still scarce. This limits policy makers’ leverage to design new policies and hinders industry from reusing materials efficiently.

The UrbanWINS project sees cities as living organisms that eat, digest, and dispose of materials. It seeks to understand the process whereby resources enter, stay, and leave the system.

A key tool to reach this level of understanding is the Urban Metabolism Analyst (UMAn) model. It is a method of material flow accounting that allows decision makers to investigate the relationship between the economy, policies, lifestyles, and flows of resources. It helps to implement more efficient and targeted waste management and prevention tools – eventually transitioning to an advanced circular economy.

For this edition of Sector Watch, we have spoken to researcher Leonardo Rosado of Chalmers University (Gothenburg, Sweden) about the potential of analysing material flows on a city and regional level.

The UMAn model is a powerful tool to support cities and regions in the transition towards a circular economy. It is a holistic model of material stocks and flows that accounts for all product and material categories that enter, stay, and leave the urban system. Its power lays in the comprehensiveness that this overview provides to decision makers.

The model combines analysis of stocks and flows. The flow analysis provides insight into material consumption over time, which allows for comparisons and shows trends in material consumption. The stocks analysis shows which materials remain in the urban system – accumulating and eventually becoming so called waste in the future.

The UMAn model is about more than just waste. It addresses the broader topic of material consumption and therefore allows for active interventions rather than reactive waste management.

This can be achieved by modelling various future scenarios, which show the impacts of different waste management and prevention policies. Combined with environmental impact data on the materials that are tracked in the model, it can reveal hotspots in the environmental impacts of a city, identifying the most problematic product categories.

Results

As part of the UrbanWINS project, the UMAn model is used to research material stocks and flows of several cities. The results point to priority areas for intervention in the region. The analysis of the material flows in for instance the city of Leiria has successfully identified the top product groups and materials in circulation in the city.

Agricultural products such as straws and husks, maize and corn produced in the livestock industry and construction materials are among the biggest consumed products. These product types offer circular opportunities. By-products from straws and husks can be used to improve the nutrient level of the soil. Waste biomass can be converted to energy using the maize waste, and sands and other building materials can be used for new construction works. The City of Zurich is an inspiring example of how the construction and demolition waste can be used in new building material.

Challenges ahead

The UMAn model is designed to account for every conceivable product, which is a strength and a weakness since often the required data is either not available or it is confidential.

The fact that the model examines at the city level is another two sided coin: it allows for precise insight on the one hand, but on the other, the boundaries of a city are not as clear cut, and often it is more useful to look at regions.

Analysing the resource flow of a city with the UMAn model is just a starting point. The results need to be translated into solutions, such as sustainable procurement or urban planning tools and the model in turn can be applied to evaluate their success.

To learn more about the UMAn model and how you can apply it on your city join us at the UrbanWINS final conference in Brussels on April 4, 2019. For more information on this full day conference dedicated to the urban metabolism and local action for a circular economy click here.

Event

Conference on Food Waste Prevention and Management

9 January 2019

Food waste is an important policy issue across Europe, from France to the Czech Republic, policy makers are adopting new laws urging producers and retailers to eliminate and donate unsold food that would otherwise go to waste.

The University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, is now inviting to a conference on the topic of food waste management and prevention. The event tackles one of the most pressing issues when it comes to waste management and prevention.

From a circular economy point of view, it is necessary to reduce and manage food losses occurring along the whole supply chain. More sustainable food systems can be and need to be achieved in order to reach the targets defined by the UN’s development agenda for the 21st century.  

Although there is a lot of research done in the food waste sector there are still fundamental issues that need to be faced first like identifying appropriate methods to monitor the food waste amounts along the food supply chain or identifying how different actors can work together in future. Beyond that it is necessary to cope with slowly changing attitudes and behaviours of actors along the food value chain - therefore possible solutions to transfer knowledge and arouse interest need to be tested. 
 
This conference focuses on new findings as well as new solutions for the prevention and management of food waste along the whole supply chain in the Central Europe region but would love to share and discuss current scientific insights on this issue from all over the world.
 
Several pilot actions of the European project UrbanWINS are targeted at reducing food waste in urban areas. They address different stakeholders along the supply chain of food products, including producers, retailers, restaurants, consumers, and waste management companies.

Introducing a new regulation, the city of Bucharest is developing a waste prevention guide and integrated “zero waste” separate collection system for the food industry (e.g. restaurants, catering).

In the city of Cremona, a ‘Last Minute Market’ for recovered and donated food surpluses and expiring products is created, reducing the amount of food, as well as contributing to social solidarity.

And finally, the city of Leiria is developing a guide for food waste reduction, addressing restaurants, canteens, bars, catering services and the general public. The city will also offer a training program to help implementing measures to prevent, reduce and separate urban residues at the source.

InterviewReport

Circular Procurement in Malmö

12 December 2018

10 million tonnes of furniture are discarded by businesses and consumers in EU Member States each year, the majority of which is destined for either landfill or incineration, finds a report published by the European Environmental Bureau. The report calls on policy makers and officials to focus more efforts on higher-value circular resource flows, such as refurbishment or remanufacturing.

As part of the European project CircularPP, Procura+ Chair city of Malmö is taking action on this issue. The city is looking to award a new framework contract to one or multiple suppliers of used furniture, minimizing the material footprint of its office furniture and contributing to the transition to a circular economy. The CircularPP project is using innovation procurement and capacity building to promote a circular economy.

We spoke to Emma Borjesson, who works at the Environmental Management Department of Malmö City, about the city’s ambitions to become more circular and how this new tender will help with that.

When we found out about the CircularPP project, we decided that we should participate, but we were not sure what kind of procurement we could make circular. It then turned out that the framework contract for our office furniture supplier was about to be re-awarded. The person responsible for this tender process was interested in doing something more environmental and had already started to look into reused furniture as an option.

Therefore, we eventually decided that furniture, and reused furniture specifically is the right way to start because it is quite straight forward but nonetheless a highly necessary product category to address.

When the city officials first started looking into the issue they quickly realized the scale of the problem – not least because they discovered a large container full of dumped furniture just behind their offices. Both production and disposal of office furniture require large amounts of resources and energy – stress on the environment that could be avoided through buying used furniture and keeping it in the loop longer. ´

We already have an internal second hand market, where colleagues can offer used office furniture online and colleagues from other departments can use them in their offices. With the new framework contract, we hope to create more awareness about this internal service as well.

To prepare the tender, city officials have already begun to do some market research and have visited multiple suppliers of second hand furniture.

When we visited these suppliers, we realized just how much second furniture is available, and this fact only strengthened our belief that what we are doing as a city is really important and useful. The suppliers we visited were very happy to speak to us and hear about the city’s ambitions in this regard. From what we know until now, we will not have any issues finding suppliers that meet our requirements.

The requirements included in the tender go beyond providing used furniture. The new contractor is also expected to offer services such as repair or refurbishment in collaboration with the city’s internal works and repairs service, as well as short term rental of furniture if needed. This will ensure that furniture used by the city will stay in the loop longer. When eventually the furniture needs to be disposed of, the city has the ambition to ensure it gets refurbished, or at least recycled. This can be achieved through supplier take or buy back schemes to reuse spare parts or redesign the furniture. Alternatively, furniture user can also hire 3rd parties to take care of recycling.

It is crucial for us to have our colleagues on board. This will be a framework contract, which is why of course we cannot force our different procurers to make use of it. Ideally though we want all procurers of the different departments, when furniture needs to be purchased, to check our internal options like the second hand market first. In case they cannot find what they need, they would turn to the new supplier and purchase used or refurbished furniture. This is why we are planning such an extensive internal marketing campaign around it, to show that there are better ways than make, buy, replace out there!

We are organising a couple of information events on the circular economy, some of which have already taken place. Our colleagues are keen to learn more about this topic and it helps us to raise awareness. And at the end of the day, used furniture is not only more environmentally conscious but also cheaper. This factor will convince the doubtful ones as well.

We have the ambition to work with our interior designers and architects to familiarize them with this idea and to get them on board in terms of designing solutions that suit this new approach.

The call for tender is intentionally designed to be quite open – the city does not want to exclude good submissions, just as long as they fit into the set of requirements. This way the city maintains the option to award a contract to multiple suppliers.

The city views this tender as a pilot and envisions that it will embed circularity in more tenders in the future. A couple of topics that the city would like to address include the procurement of textiles, the construction sector, as well as food and catering.

During this tender process we are already learning a lot on how to cooperate better with our suppliers – something which is key when comes to asking the market to provide solutions that are more outside the box. We are asking quite a lot and are also working with new suppliers that have not been suppliers for cities before.

A challenge the city of Malmö, and many other public bodies looking to purchase used goods, are legacy substances that could potentially be hazardous. Making sure that second hand products are safe to use means additional costs for recyclers who often lack information on chemicals contained in products and on ways on how to deal with them appropriately.

The city of Malmö published the call for tender mid-November. The city is confident it will award a contract by January or February 2019. We will be following the process and report back once the contract is awarded.

 

Report

Plastic Waste: Global Solutions to a Global Problem

5 December 2018

The last two editions of Sector Watch have looked into policy developments and practice examples to deal with what some have termed the plastic waste crisis. But oceans do not respect country borders and plastic pollution is a global issue.

While Europeans are amongst the biggest plastic waste generators on the planet, in 2010, Europe and Central Asia combined only contributed 3,6% to global marine plastic litter. This is thanks to comparatively well managed waste disposal.

But 79% of global plastic is still accumulated in landfills or the environment, including the oceans.

And Europe is not exempt from responsibility in tackling the global marine litter problem. It hit the news last year when China refused to accept any more plastic waste exports: After 25 years as the world’s salvage king, China refused to buy any recycled plastic scrap that wasn’t 99.5 percent pure. And Thailand was quick to follow this October. This development sheds light on a key problem in European waste management: Plastic waste is a global issue and the fact that countries can get paid to accept plastic and other forms of waste poses a huge problem which the EU strategies to curb the plastics issue only partially address. Countries willing to take waste for cheap expose themselves to higher risks of pollution, particularly when they lack the capacity to treat plastic waste properly.

"East and West are inextricably connected by their plastic trash, as wealthy nations sell their recycled plastic scrap to Asia for the simple fact it’s easier to ship it around the world than process it at home." (National Geographic)

South-East Asian countries are among the biggest contributors to marine litter. It is also these countries that import the largest share of recyclable waste, including from EU countries. If the EU wants to address marine litter beyond its borders it needs to enforce strict waste treatment practices when exporting waste to countries at high risk of waste mismanagement.

Plastic waste: moving to solutions

Activists and policy makers alike have argued that waste treatment and recovery solutions are just the start of a comprehensive waste management strategy that tackles plastic waste globally. More efforts need to be focused on the source of plastic waste: packaging material and single-use items such as the ones banned by the EU.

Procura+ participant City of Oslo supports this stance: It is one of the first to completely phase out unnecessary single-use plastic. And the Mayor, Raymond Johansen, calls on the EU to take the next step and shift more responsibility to the industry through extended producer responsibility schemes, sharing the cost of cleaning up litter and to raise awareness. Industry stakeholders need to share knowledge about what is required for a product to be recyclable to get the design solutions that allow for high quality recycling, says the Mayor.

There are some inspiring examples out there showing that recycling can be profitable and environmentally sound. The Dutch company CeDo has combined a recycling business with a plastic bottle manufacturing line. The recycling arm of their operations is directly linked to the manufacturing end, closing the loop of the plastics value chain, a process that previously has been thought to be impossible.

The European Parliament seems to be on board: the ENVI committee (Environment, Public Health and Food Safety) of the parliament proposed to direct EU funding to higher waste hierarchy options – waste prevention, reuse and recycling – to help member states advance towards a Circular Economy, while excluding funding for residual waste treatment facilities, e.g. waste incineration and Mechanical Biological Treatment.

While the policy world is slowly but steadily moving toward a plastic litter free world, others are taking on the task of removing the damage done: The Ocean Clean Up, a project seeking to remove plastics from marine environments without harming them, has launched its operations in the Pacific this October. So far, the newly developed technology seems to be highly successful. Hopefully, it will not have to run for too long.

Report

MEPs agree to ban single-use plastic items

21 November 2018

Plastic waste and marine litter are major environmental hazard that requires political action as pointed out in the last edition of Sector Watch.

EU policy makers have long looked to address the issue of plastic waste on multiple fronts. In what was celebrated as a major success, EU parliamentarians (MEPs) have recently approved a bill that bans various kinds of single-use plastics. The ban will have to be adopted by member states as of 2021. It covers plastic cutlery and plates, cotton buds, straws, drink-stirrers and balloon sticks. These items were chosen because of readily available alternatives such as paper straws and cardboard containers. The new regulation also requires member states to reduce plastic items that have no alternatives by 25% by 2025.

The bill is part of a larger scale EU initiative to tackle the issue of plastic waste. The EU strategy for plastics in the circular economy, adopted in 2017, seeks to introduce a holistic approach. Among others, it requires that all plastic packaging put on the market is either reusable or recyclable by 2030.

So why are plastic bans necessary when top-notch recycling practices are implemented? Practice has shown that despite all efforts to recycle plastics, several issues are not solvable by better recycling: some items are highly likely to end up in the environment, they are used outside, taken by the wind, forgotten. Recyclable and reusable, after all, does not mean that all plastics are actually recycled or reused. The move to straight up ban certain single-use plastic products could even improve recycling rates – the less waste there is to treat, the more of it can be treated properly in recycling facilities.  On top, recycling of plastics, depending on the type of plastic, still means down-cycling: The process hampers the quality of the product and can only be repeated a few times until the material is not recyclable anymore.

Within a circular economy, the priority is always to reduce material use, before recycling it.  A future looking circular strategy thus not only improves recycling practices, it also reduces the need to recycle at all.

The European project CIRCPACK is one example of how this could be achieved in practice. In three demonstration cases, it shows how plastic packaging waste could be reduced and transformed into a resource. For the first case, new bio-based polyesters are developed that have the potential to replace fossil based materials. The second case looks into eco-friendly packaging design that requires little material input put offers the same qualities as regular packaging does. And finally, the project also develops and enhances sorting and recycling practices to improve the reuse rate of recycled material and this way keep them in the loop longer.

Improving materials and their use is just one dimension of a comprehensive circular strategy. UrbanWINS, a European project that develops and tests innovative waste management and prevention methods, looks at the Urban Metabolism of cities. This helps to understand waste streams and to prevent or turn them into resources wherever possible. To learn more about the pilot actions that are implemented as part of UrbanWINS, go to the project website.

In the coming edition of Sector Watch, we will take a look a global perspective on the plastic waste problem. Stay tuned.

Report

A Circular Economy for Plastics

15 November 2018

The tides are turning for plastics and with them marine litter and plastic pollution will hopefully vanish. From the first image of a turtle squeezing its shell into a fishing net to recent news of microplastics found in human poop, the issue of plastic pollution is looking dire.

Plastic is not per se an evil material. It is highly flexible, stable, and durable, while also cheap in production. It can be used for a wide range of purposes, from light weight vehicles to prostheses. But its longevity is blessing and curse: Plastic items left to their own devices in the environment tend to stick around for up to 400 years.

Experts estimate that the total amount of marine litter might be as high as hundred million tonnes, crumpling into ever smaller pieces of non-biodegradable micro beads, entering marine life’s food chains with toxic and harmful effects.

A lot is happening in the EU to tackle the issue. And two EU stories hit the news recently: The EU bans single-use plastic items from 2021 while 14 EU member states are lagging behind on meeting the recycling target. For a small Sector Watch series on plastics we look into these developments in plastic waste management, what has been achieved and what still needs to happen to implement a successful circular plastics chain and to once and for all stop plastics from entering the oceans.

In May this year, European Member states approved a set of ambitious measures paving the way toward a more circular economy: By 2020, all EU member states have to reach recycling rates of at least 50% of household waste, 55% by 2025, and 65% by 2035. For packaging waste, a target of 70% recycling by 2035 has been set. Household waste only makes up for 10% of waste generated in the EU, however, it is one of the most complex sources of waste in terms of management and hence a major contributor to landfills. Landfills are the least desirable option for managing waste as they come with a range of associated adverse environmental and public health impacts.

And while some EU countries are well on track to meeting this goal, a recent report issues early warnings: 14 members states are at risk of failing to meet this target. The early warning report urges policymakers in the respective countries to step up their game in municipal waste recycling.

The UrbanWINS project's pilot actions show the way on how to tackle the recycling issue on a local level, involving citizens in the solution finding process. The City of Bucharest is testing a promotional tool for separate collection of waste generated during public events. These events usually generate tons of waste and separate collection could lead to recycling rates of up to 75%. And the City of Cremona is piloting household waste disposal charges that raise with the amount of waste disposed as to incentivise recycling on a household level.

Public procurement of innovation can stimulate higher recycling rates as well as high quality material recovery. This has been shown during the PPI4Waste project where a group of public authorities procured eco-innovative waste management solutions. Cooperation between the authorities helped them to better formulate their tenders and find the solutions they were looking for. More guidance material for public bodies on how to stimulate innovation in their waste management can be found here.

Stay tuned for the next Sector Watch which will look at another way of dealing with plastic waste: banning single use plastic.

InterviewStoryline

Circulus Berkel Interview with Michiel Westerhoff

6 September 2018

The textile industry is known for its devastating environmental and human rights impacts. According to recent estimates, the total greenhouse gas emissions from textiles production, are at 1.2 billion tonnes annually which are more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Textile production is steadily increasing – and with it the adverse effects it has on humans and nature.

So in the face of these facts - what needs to happen to make circular textiles chains a reality and what can public waste management companies do to contribute to a more circular textile industry?

One year ago, we talked to Michiel Westerhoff of Circulus-Berkel, the public waste management company that serves eight municipalities with around 440,000 inhabitants in the Dutch Province Gelderland, about their plans for a new textiles sorting centre. In July 2018 the centre starting operating and we are meeting Michiel once more to hear about how they got to where they are today. Read on to learn about the procurement process and how the centre tackles some of the major issues of the textile chain in a sustainable way.

 

Interview

You just opened a new textile sorting centre, which is operated by ReShare, tell us what is special about this centre.

We wanted to create an approach to used textile disposal that really challenged the business as usual – textile still lags behind in the whole recycling world. There is very little regulation about how to dispose of textiles and the whole situation is not very transparent. About 38% of waste textiles are currently collected in the Netherlands, which means first of all that 62% are going straight to incineration together with the regular household waste.

Although it is commonly assumed that used textiles are used for a charitable purpose, more often than not they are simply sold for the highest price to buyers around the globe [1]. And what happens once they are shipped is often unclear. They are sold on local markets or burnt or landfilled. And this is where we need to start – with the textile sorting centre we are taking a huge step towards more transparency. All reusable clothes that we sort are traceable. And with the idea in mind to keep them in the loop as locally as possible, they are either sold in Dutch second hand shops or within Europe.

Textiles that cannot be reused as clothing are recycled on the fibre level, where we separate the different fibres going into the product and sell them to manufacturers of recycled clothing or other materials that require fibre. About 25% of the collected textiles are still non-recyclable and will be incinerated. We are looking into the possibilities of new recycling techniques like chemical recycling to see how this number can be reduced.

But we aimed for more: we also created 25 full time equivalent jobs for people with difficulties integrating in the work force. This way we don’t only contribute to sustainability globally but also support our community here.

These are indeed some ambitious goals you achieved – tell us how you set up the tendering process to get to this point.

We were looking for a solution to textile sorting that did not exist before. Which is why we opted for an innovation procurement procedure. Our award criteria were based on four important pillars, on each of which we gave points.

Firstly, we asked bidders to show us how they plan to ensure full transparency along the recycling or reselling textile chain. Secondly, we required a strong vision on how recycling of non-reusable clothes was going to be organized. And thirdly, we asked for a risk analysis, since the quality and quantity of textile collection can always vary – something which the contractor needs to be fully aware of. And of course we judged the business case bidders were presenting.

Our contractors buy the textiles we collect in our eight municipalities and usually, contracts were awarded to those who offered the highest price for textiles. Unfortunately, this practices incentivizes unsustainable behaviour!

With this tender we wanted to send the right signal. We set a cap on how much we would ask the contractor to pay us for the textiles – just enough to cover our costs of collection. This price was clear from the start and therefore bidders did not compete on price. Any revenues the operation now has on top of a defined revenue is shared between our contractor and us. In this way we are both incentivized to create economic value within the framework of transparency, sustainability and social employment.

And how did you ensure that bidders came up with robust solutions that fulfilled these criteria?

Key to our success was definitely the intensive market engagement process that characterized the whole tender. Prior to publishing the call for tender, we consulted the market. We invited eight potential market parties and asked them about topics such as the necessary scale for a sorting operation, their sorting process, desired form of organization, possibilities for jobs for people with difficulties joining the workforce, location requirements, transparency and traceability, possible reaction on price and volume fluctuations and treatment of non-reusable textiles.

Based on this consultation we updated the business plan – asking ourselves, what can realistically be achieved? This resulted in a number of pre-conditions for the tender that required the support of our municipalities. On this basis we developed and published the tender. After a selection phase we then entered an intensive market dialogue phase with the selected parties. It was during this phase that we really fleshed out how to achieve everything we had set out to do.

What was the most important advantage of such an intensive process?

The goals we had set after the market consultation for transparency, recycling and creating job opportunities for socially disadvantaged citizens were quite challenging for the bidders. The intensive exchange helped them and us to come up with a good solution. We also involved the social institutions that were our contact for employing people with difficulties finding jobs. 

Which impact did your tender have on the market?

We got a lot of surprising and positive feedback. For one, as I said before, the textile sorting and recycling model is far more ambitious than the business as usual because it achieves higher and traceable rates of recycling and higher rates of reuse of clothes. On top of that, we managed to create jobs for socially disadvantaged groups. Our tender pushed the market in that direction. But even the losing parties thanked us in hindsight, because they learned a lot throughout the market dialogue. This really surprised us but also shows how much need there is to work together if we want to move toward more sustainable solutions in waste management.  

If you had to do it all over again – what are the most important lessons learned?

The most important aspect of this process was its cooperative nature – as purchasers we weren’t sitting across the table from our market parties and testing them. We wanted to create an atmosphere of collaboration, a shared mission that we work towards together. If you challenge the market in a fair way – innovative solutions will come up!

As you said, the textile sector is lagging behind in recycling. Which challenges do you still see ahead?

Most importantly, the recycling of textile materials that cannot be used as clothing anymore is still in its infancy. There are some small brands that use recycled fibre, but most of our fibre is currently down cycled rather than kept in the fibre loop. For example, fibres are used for insulation material instead of new clothes. Here we really need designers and producers of clothes to think with us and produce for recycling, which means using high quality fibres, and non-mixed materials. This allows us to produce high quality fibre which can be used for textile production. The market and the entire supply chain need to develop and adapt in this regard.  

What drives you to change the game in textile recycling?

We are a public service company. Our goals are set by our elected officials and luckily, politics in our region are quite ambitious. The region has the goal to become completely waste-free by 2030. Without this political commitment and broad societal support for our mission we wouldn’t be where we are today.

Thank you so much for speaking with us and good luck for your future ambitions!

In addition to intensifying the high quality recycling of textile and textile fibres, Circulus Berkel is currently also working on a plan to improve the recycling of diapers, which make up 8% of residual waste, improved plastic packaging recycling, extraction of protein from food waste and creating more jobs in the field of recycling, including repair, reuse, and remanufacturing of e-waste



[1] 71% of the collected textiles are exported.