August 4, 2022

Only 8% of used building materials are circular in the Netherlands

Circle Economy publishes the first Circularity Gap Report on a sector level

With a recycling and reuse percentage of 88%, the Dutch built environment appears to be a circular frontrunner. While the amount of cycled waste sounds impressive, it is mainly used for low-grade applications like road construction, which locks away a potentially valuable resource and downcycles its value. Only 8% of materials used for construction come from materials that have been cycled back into use. The Circularity Gap Report for the built environment in the Netherlands, initiated by Circle Economy and Metabolic, was presented to the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management as well as FNV, a national trade union centre and CNV, a federation of trade unions of the Netherlands. The report highlights the pain points, but also concrete solutions, for a more circular construction sector.

Problems are piling up in the construction sector 

Many of the major crises in the Netherlands converge in the construction sector: the biggest labour shortage seen in years, the nitrogen crisis, a huge housing shortage, the rapid growth of raw material scarcity, and climate change. The construction sector is the largest consumer of raw materials, accounting for 40% of energy consumption and 30% of water consumption. The sector is working in overdrive and has to pull out all the stops to meet demand; the government expects 75,000 new homes to be built every year until 2025. One of the solutions proposed is sustainable and circular construction, so more can be done with less and raw materials are used more efficiently. However, the construction sector is still only at the beginning of the circular process. Different skills are needed, a different way of dealing with waste and a different way of doing business overall, but how? With four what-if scenarios to turn the tide, the report answers this question.

What needs to change

The report shows that the Dutch construction sector is a lot less circular than it appears to be; only 8% is circular and gets an equivalent or even improved application in the construction process. Still, there is cause for optimism. Jacco Verstraeten-Jochemsen of Circle Economy; “The Netherlands is well prepared to enable the shift to a circular economy. The sector has great initiatives, the infrastructure is in place and a mentality change is underway. But the planned actions are not yet being applied on a large scale.” Circle Economy and Metabolic developed – in collaboration with partners – concrete solutions for businesses, national and local politicians, urban planners and trade unions. Some key solutions the report proposes include:

  • Invest in human capital. The construction sector employs 685,000 people, but it has difficulty finding new workers and current workers are getting closer to retiring age. In addition, the current workers currently do not have the right skills to shape the transition to be more circular. As many jobs will change towards the circular transition, t and retraining will be necessary, as well as a culture shift towards lifelong learning. It is also important to invest in better working conditions: both financially and in terms of health and safety.

  • Create a fair playing field. Right now, circular strategies have not yet been competitive with their regular, linear counterparts, as negative environmental effects are not included in the pricing of linear materials and processes. In short: reward solutions with a lower impact on the environment, for example through taxes or other incentives. To make new circular business models possible more investments are needed in the innovation and the labour that is required to build with secondary materials.

About the report

In 2019, Circle Economy published the first Circularity Gap Report (CGR) with the aim of making the circular economy measurable on a global scale. Circle Economy has also applied the CGR methodology at national and regional levels. This research, which was developed in collaboration with Metabolic and C-Creators and with support from the Goldschmeding Foundation and De Hoge Dennen, is the first to analyse at a sector level. The aim of the Circularity Gap Report for the built environment is to provide insight into how circular interventions could contribute to a systemic change in the built environment. Zooming in on one specific sector helps Circle Economy to get a better insight into the transition and the operational and personnel implications and requirements. The aim of this project is to measure progress towards achieving the Dutch goal of being fully circular by 2050. It also explores the potential employment effects of four key strategies to achieve that goal.

You can find out more here: https://www.circularity-gap.world/sectors

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