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Windesheim and Saxion help municipalities to be circular transition brokers

  • Wednesday 20 September 2023
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Our society is still producing too much waste. And that has to change because it causes excessive environmental pollution. That’s why governments are collaborating with various parties to make our economy sustainable. Such a circular economy produces virtually no waste and raw materials are reused. But municipalities are looking for the right way to drive and accelerate the circular transition and ask for practical recommendations and examples. The research group Networks in a Circular Economy (NiCE) of Windesheim University of Applied Sciences and the research group Sustainable Areas and Soil Transitions (SAST) of Saxion University of Applied Sciences and several partners are joining forces in a new research project to help regional municipalities assume their role as circular transition brokers.

A report published by the European Court of Auditors in July 2023 states that the transition to a circular economy is proceeding rather slowly. All kinds of measures, policy and billions of Euros are not having the desired effect yet. The Court concludes that realizing the EU ambition of using twice as much recycled material this decade as in the previous decade is not really feasible. And this also jeopardizes the Dutch government’s goal of making the Netherlands completely circular by 2050, with an interim target of 50% less use of raw materials by 2030.

Municipalities struggle with their role as circular transition brokers

So something has to change, because our economy is still operating largely in linear mode, meaning that we make unrestrained use of raw materials to manufacture products that we throw away after use. The explosive demand for raw materials and negative environmental impact combine to make this practice unsustainable. Municipalities play a crucial role in this, but in day-to-day operation they still appear to be struggling with their role and position, amid all actors. They find it difficult to formulate local targets based on the abstract ambition The Netherlands entirely circular by 2050. And initiators at the municipal level are facing a host of stakeholders as well as a multitude of scale levels on which circularity is to be developed. Moreover, there is a need for increasing mutual knowledge exchange.

Municipalities ask for specific tools and examples

There are hardly any specific examples available of how local government can effectively boost and accelerate the circular economy. The question is then: What works and what doesn’t? For instance, consider government purchasing more circular products. A municipality the size of Zwolle annually spends hundreds of millions of Euros on the market. If they demanded that all purchased products must be circular, this would encourage companies to switch rapidly to circular products. The research project With local networks on our way to circularity – coordinated by Windesheim and with Saxion as a consortium partner – aims to find out what really works. And by joining forces, the municipalities can find out what is the right way to drive these efforts.

Getting to work with 15 municipalities in the greater Zwolle area

The 8 municipalities taking part are: Almere, Elburg, Hattem, Hoogeveen – De Wolden, Kampen, Meppel, Steenwijkerland and Zwolle. And 7 other municipalities are participating remotely, viz.: Dronten, Enschede, Hardenberg, Olst-Wijhe, Raalte, Staphorst and Urk. Besides the research groups SAST and NiCE, the University of Twente, Zwolle Area Knowledge Gateway, the Zwolle Area Economic Board and the province of Overijssel are also involved as partners. The project supports these municipalities in their efforts to strengthen the circular economy locally and in the regional area. The object is for them to be able to assume their role as circular transition brokers within a strong and coherent local network that contributes to the development of a circular economy. 
In the words used by Markus Popkema, project manager and Associate Professor of the research group Networks in a Circular Economy, when endorsing the need for transition: “If we do nothing, the circular economy will be too slow to start and the problems of material scarcity and impact on the climate will not be tackled soon enough.”


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