Circularity in the Netherlands

With the help of our partners STBY and Circle Economy, we’ve put together a brief summary of the difference that circular design could make in the Netherlands. Scroll on to take a closer look at the challenges and opportunities facing this region.

Less efficient, more circular

The Dutch are known for their efficiency. This also translates in how people in the Netherlands consume and produce. As a wealthy country by global standards, citizens are generally able to afford goods and services without the economic need to be frugal or maintain their belongings for a long time. If something breaks, buying new is often easier and faster. In some cases it’s even the cheaper option.


But the Dutch are also pragmatic. And even though it might seem hard to change the current standard of consumerism, there are also lots of opportunities. First, there clear momentum and increasing awareness  about the circular economy, catalysed by the European Green Deal and circular action plans developed by national, regional, and municipal governments. In fact, the Netherlands has officially made it an ambition for the country to be fully circular by 2050. With cities being responsible for their own waste management, some are even planning to do so by 2040, defining their own circular strategies and collaborations. Amsterdam has the aim to halve the use of new raw materials by 2030 and to achieve a fully circular city by 2050. Designers can play a significant role in this transition, making it more attractive and accessible for people from all walks of life.



Thinking in opportunities

In the Netherlands, the built environment consumes about 60 million tonnes of primary raw materials — more than a third of the country’s total usage. Only 8% of all materials used in this sector come from secondary sources. Things aren’t expected to get better any time soon: in response to a serious housing crisis, the Dutch government has set a target of building 75,000 new homes annually until 2025, on top of infrastructure development, public spaces and commercial buildings. How could the country’s circular ambitions be used as a guide for changing the way we design, construct and collaborate on the built environment?

Rethinking textiles

The Dutch already buy a lot of clothes, but consumption levels are set to increase in the coming years. Unfortunately, the textile industry is the most polluting industry after oil and gas and accounts for about 10% of global CO2 emissions. Each year, 14,000 tonnes of textiles are thrown away in Amsterdam only. Recycling clothes is one solution, yet this still only happens with 1% of all textiles. Fortunately there are efforts to do better: in July 2016, the Dutch Agreement on Sustainable Garments and Textile was concluded to address the need to reduce the environmental impact of this industry, with a focus on the use of raw materials. Designers can also contribute by using new methods to extend the lifespan of textiles and turning discarded textiles into newly applicable fibres.

Food for thought

After experiencing mass hunger during WWII, the Dutch set up a food system that is driven by efficiency. Now, after many decades of development, the country’s food production system runs on a large and complex scale, importing and exporting food all across the world. Change is difficult in a system this large, due to its many rules and regulations. It is challenging for smaller local producers to compete with massive distributors. Consumers are disconnected with how their food is made and where it comes from, resulting in a culture where food is not seen as a valuable resource and can easily be wasted without a thought. In 2019, the Netherlands wasted 5 million kg of food per day, 42% of which was attributed to household consumers. Moving towards a circular food chain won’t be easy, as the topic is highly sensitive and political. Even so, designers can take the lead in showcasing different ways of producing and consuming by designing products that tell a bigger story.


To accelerate the transition to a circular society in the Netherlands, we must bend the line where it matters most. Here are some key opportunities to consider:




  • What can you do to encourage the construction industry to adopt circular processes, materials and systems more quickly?

  • How can you use creativity to come up with potential solutions to famine, and work together with local farmers and producers to provide people with affordable and nutritious food?

  • What can you do to reframe the value of clothing, and extend the life-cycle of textiles, looking at its entire journey from fibre to fashion?

  • How could you encourage consumers to learn more about the impact of their buying habits, and help people engage with the circular ambitions of their country?