Transforming waste into raw materials for new products through reuse or recycling of these products or the substances that were used. A circular economy is about closing product chains to preserve raw materials and their value for as long as possible. The use of biomass as a renewable raw material for products and energy (bio-based economy) plays an important role in making the circular economy carbon-neutral.

The circular economy already exists partly:  construction debris serves as a foundation under roads, old paper is raw material for the paper industry and plastic is made from plastic bottles. Nevertheless, not all chains are closed in a sustainable and safe manner, for example, because a lot of energy is needed for recycling, or because products contain dangerous substances that come into the cycle or can disappear into the environment. Often the design of products simply does not take into account reuse or recycling (for example electronics and textiles).

Moving towards a circular economy

The Dutch Government and the European Union are aiming for a circular economy in the Netherlands in 2050. RIVM committed to a health and sustainability, has the expertise to ensure that the transition to a circular economy is responsible, safe and clean. For example, RIVM is working on assessment frameworks with which the impact of closing product chains on safety, health, and sustainability can be made visible and measurable. Waste water contains e.g. phosphate residues that can be used as fertilizer but also contains pathogens and medicine residues. What product criteria must be met to ensure safety?

Safety of substances and products and the assessment of sustainability are still often separate worlds, which RIVM is trying to bring together. We work closely with stakeholders from our network, including companies in product chains. This gives us a better understanding of practical questions and needs and an opportunity to combine our knowledge with the practical knowledge of e.g. entrepreneurs.

RIVM pools resources with governments, knowledge institutes and businesses to learn and share expertise on a safe and sustainable circular economy.

Safe and sustainable loops

The Netherlands set the target to become 100% circular in 2050. At the same time, the government wants to realize non-toxic material cycles, as described in the 7th Environment Action Programme. To this purpose, RIVM shares expertise on sustainability, safety and health aspects of the circular use of materials and waste streams in a project called 'Safe and Sustainable Loops'. The project is commissioned by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management.

Relevant legal frameworks, existing and new methodologies are combined to assess circular scenarios. This offers opportunities for resource efficiency while minimizing risks for human health and the environment. When re-using or upcycling particular waste streams, the assessment can be customized using specific applicable modules, such as how to deal with substances of concern, medicine residues or pathogens. Results of this project will be published spring 2018.

More information

If you have any questions or would like more information please contact biobased@rivm.nl