Logo of the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency
To the main menuTo the main content

Outline of the circular economy

Report | 29-05-2019

In many countries, governments are looking for ways to change their economy into one that is circular, or to improve the level of resource efficiency (e.g. see the EU programme ‘Closing the loop’ or the World Circular Economy Forum). To do so effectively, having an overview of the current state of circular activities in the economy is important. To date, such an overview has been lacking. This PBL report provides an outline of the current state of the circular economy in the Netherlands.

PBL constructed this inventory by examining a database of Dutch companies, holding a survey and conducting internet searches using a web crawler.

The inventory shows that many companies and organisations already are contributing to the circular economy—either consciously or unconsciously—amounting to around 85,000 activities and involving around 420,000 jobs. To provide some context, this amounts to 5% of the current number of firms and 4% of all jobs within the Dutch economy.

This inventory describes the current situation for the Netherlands, but provides information that may also be of interest to other countries. It shows opportunities and suggestions for subsequent steps towards achieving a circular economy.

Circularity is already common practice, in certain markets

Activities, such as bicycle mechanics, shoe repair shops, and the online market for second-hand goods, are part of a circular economy. These activities are often not recognised as being circular, because they have been around for so long. And then there are a number of new products that are contributing to the circular economy and that have rapidly become part of everyday life, in the Netherlands, such as reusable water bottles (e.g. the ‘Dopper’).

1,500 innovative circular initiatives

At this point in time, there are around 1,500 innovative circular initiatives implementing new product designs, business models or technologies. Examples are modular headphones, mobile phones by Fairphone, subscriptions to washing machines, sharing platforms, bottles made of recycled plastic and a bicycle path paved with recycled plastic material.

Circularity is combined with other societal objectives

Some circular activities are coupled with other objectives, such as targets related to climate change mitigation or adaptation, new housing developments, and various societal objectives. For example, there are small, moveable modular homes that represent an efficient use of resources while also decreasing CO2 emissions and reducing housing shortages. And companies, such as second-hand shops and the Surplus Food Factory, form another example, as they contribute to a circular economy while providing jobs for socially vulnerable groups of people.

Taking the next step

Current circular activities and initiatives are not sufficient. Additional, new circular initiatives are needed but they are slow in gaining popularity for a variety of reasons, such as people’s persisting old habits, mismatches between circular processes and existing standards, insufficient pricing of environmental pollution and, sometimes, conflicting rules and regulations. This study provides three recommendations for government, the business community and other organisations for achieving a circular economy by 2050.

1) Pay attention to the entire range of possibilities for a circular economy

  • focus on repairing, reusing, sharing, renting, and circular product design, besides recycling.
  • Combine circularity with other objectives, such as climate-related targets and other societal objectives (win-win situations). 
  • Lessons can be learned from the success factors of the established circular activities. 

2) Promote new collaborations in recycling, reuse, repair and services. 

3) Increase public support and engagement of citizens and the business community

  • Point to common practices and show that certain circular activities have already been part of everyday life, for a long time. 
  • Initiatives that combine circularity and local and social objectives can provide solutions to people’s problems.
  • The circular economy will bring together various parties. The apparent mobilising and uniting impact of circular initiatives on society could be utilised effectively.
Author(s)Trudy Rood and Maikel Kishna
Report no.3633
Publication date29-05-2019