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The Circular Economy Monitor: An Outline

The Circular Economy Monitor shows that actual material use in Amsterdam is 61 times higher than previously thought. Material use is currently still increasing, and a trend reversal is needed to achieve the goal of using 50 percent less primary abiotic material by 2030. In addition, new estimates suggest that the ecological impact of material use is greater than previously thought. The CO2 emissions from consumption (scope 3) outweigh all other types of emissions in Amsterdam. At the same time, support for solutions is strong among the people of Amsterdam.

The circular economy is a key factor in meeting climate targets and is essential to securing the availability of raw materials. With these aims in mind, Amsterdam is aiming to use 50 percent less primary, abiotic raw materials by 2030. Amsterdam also wants to realise a doughnut economy, one that provides a solid social foundation while remaining within the ecological limits of the planet. Understanding material flows is essential to tracking Amsterdam’s impact elsewhere in the world.

Amsterdam’s material use is significantly greater than previously calculated

The previous edition of the Amsterdam Circular Monitor reported that 1,216 kilotons (1.2 billion kilograms) of material was used annually in Amsterdam. This estimate did not cover all the material in Amsterdam and relied on indirect data. Based on new data from Statistics Netherlands (CBS) it was found that 73.4 billion kilograms was needed for the entire Amsterdam economy in 2019. For consumption within Amsterdam, 18.5 billion kilograms of material was required. In other words, depending on whether we focus on local consumption or look at the entire economy, material use in Amsterdam is 15 or even 61 times higher than was previously thought.

By 2030, Amsterdam aims to halve primary, abiotic material. Approximately 70 percent of material use in the Amsterdam economy involves primary, abiotic raw materials. Current figures on material use in the city have yet to show a downward trend. Despite many initiatives, the bulk of Amsterdam’s economy is still based on intensive primary material consumption. If the city is to meet its targets, consumption of primary, abiotic material would have to decrease annually by 2.3 billion kilograms starting in 2019. That is enough material each year to fill the Johan Cruijff Arena fifteen times over.

Primary, abiotic material consumption for the entire Amsterdam economy, 2015-2019

The use of primary, abiotic material in Amsterdam has increased since 2015, to approximately 50 billion kilogram in 2019. There is some uncertainty about this estimate. The margin of uncertainty ranges from 37 billion to 63 billion kilos in 2019.

The city’s climate and ecological footprint is probably much larger

The current consumption of materials has a negative impact on the environment: not only on our immediate environment, but also elsewhere in the world. In an earlier monitor, we estimated that about 63 percent of Amsterdam’s total CO2 emissions are attributable to material consumption. These are scope 3 emissions: emissions that do not occur within Amsterdam but are caused by the city’s consumption and production. Our new, preliminary calculations show that these scope 3 emissions are probably higher than previously assumed. This means that the city’s overall footprint is also bigger than previously thought. Its scope 3 emissions are now estimated at between 70 percent and 90 percent of total emissions.

There are certain commodity flows that either make up a large proportion of the city’s material consumption or have a relatively high impact on the environment when they are consumed. These flows can serve as a starting point for determining the areas where the greatest impact can be made towards the goal of halving consumption and/or reducing the environmental impact. Below we identify the largest flows and indicate their weight (Figure 2).

Materials consumption, final consumption and companies (DMC) by commodity group (kilotons), Amsterdam, 2015-2019

The consumption of materials by Amsterdam per commodity group. Most of the material consists of coke and petroleum products, salt, sand, gravel, clay and food. These three categories are larger in 2019 than their average from 2015 to 2018.

This figure shows all materials consumed in the city, not only the primary, abiotic materials like in the previous figure

Coke and petroleum products and Coal, lignite, natural gas and crude oil account for 37 percent of all material consumed in the city (DMC, direct material consumption). Coke and petroleum products (e.g. petrol) is a commodity flow that has increased in volume over time. In 2019, consumption was 10 percent higher than the average consumption of the previous four years. Fossil materials such as natural gas and petrol are also the flows with the greatest environmental impact. The environmental cost indicator (ECI) shows that Coal, lignite, natural gas and crude oil and Coke and petroleum products collectively account for up to 35 percent of the environmental costs of Amsterdam’s material consumption.

Salt, sand, gravel and clay is another major material flow, accounting for a quarter of total material consumption. In addition, other minerals (such as glass, ceramics, cement, lime, plaster, tiles, bricks, concrete, asphalt, bitumen, graphite, non-metallic products, prefabricated structures) account for another four percent of total material consumption. These types of materials are mainly used by companies in the built environment. Waste analyses show that a large volume of construction and demolition waste is produced in Amsterdam and that its reuse could be more effective; only 33 percent of the soil and masonry from construction and demolition activities are recycled directly. This is well below the city’s recycling average of 54 percent of all waste. There is potential to be harnessed by using this waste to meet the city’s considerable need for construction material and in doing so to help achieve the goal of halving primary, abiotic material consumption through the reuse of building materials.

Amsterdam residents are open to changing their eating habits to reduce environmental impact of food

The categories Food, other and Agricultural and horticultural products also account for a large proportion of material consumption in Amsterdam. Food, other6 accounts for 11 percent of the total weight and Agricultural and horticultural products for 6 percent. These product groups are categorized as biotic material, which means they do not fall under the weight reduction target of halving the amount of material used.

Yet we also see these product groups at the top of the list when we look at environmental impact. The category Food, other represents an 11 percent share of the ECI of Amsterdam material use, with Agricultural and horticultural products accounting for a further 5 percent. A yet to be published study conducted by Material Economics for Amsterdam suggests that the city’s environmental impact in terms of food and organic flows can be reduced by changes that include transitioning to a plant-based diet and reducing food waste. If an additional 20 percent of Amsterdam residents switch to a plant-based diet this could make a difference of 16 percent to CO2 emissions by 2030. A recent survey of Amsterdam residents shows that the potential for change is certainly present in the city. In this survey, one-fifth said they would like to consume less dairy and 44 percent said they would like to eat less meat.

In addition, many people are concerned about the impact of human activity on nature and the environment in general. A recent survey of Amsterdam residents shows that over half of the respondents (55 percent) is very concerned about climate change and 84 percent said they think it is important to reduce their carbon footprint.