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How Amsterdam is Closing the Loop on Textiles

For years, Amsterdam has been hoisting the banner for the circular economy, where products are created to be recovered and recirculated rather than interred in landfills. Now, the Dutch capital wants to rally other cities to the same cause.

With the help of social enterprises Circular Economy and Cooper8, Amsterdam is sharing its key learnings from 70-plus circular projects, validated by more than 100 businesses, in a bid to offer “practical action perspectives” for municipalities that want to accelerate their transition to a “circular future,” according to Marieke van Doorninck, the city’s deputy mayor of sustainability.

“We are facilitating and supporting people who actually want to do business in a circular economy, who want to reuse things, who want to have a minimal footprint,” van Doorninck said. “We have started 70 projects, from which we learn: learn both from the mistakes we make but also from the successes we have, to make sure that these projects are examples, and they can inspire others to do the same.”

“Amsterdam Circular: Evaluation and Action Perspectives,” published last week, is both an evaluation of the city’s 2017 circular innovation programs and a testament of the circular economy’s practicality and profitability, the report noted.

“The transition to the circular economy is no easy feat,” it said. “By effectively deploying the available instruments, municipalities can harness the city’s agile form of governance, urban innovation power and engaged business community to lead the transition to the circular economy.”

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Among the value chains the study covers is consumer goods, the production of which the report says make up the greatest environmental burden for Amsterdam households—more so than transport and living.

The “current emphasis” on the end-of-use for things like clothing needs to be adapted into a structural approach for the entire value chain, the report noted. “Little has been done by the private sector in the production of consumer goods (beginning phase chain),” it said. “Initiatives, on both the national and the urban level, for collection and high-value reuse (by both public and private parties) are, at this moment, scattered and difficult to connect.”

Amsterdam has made efforts to close the loop, however, by establishing repair cafés and secondhand shops. Progress has also been made in the expansion of municipal waste points. A “spatial strategy” is currently in the making with the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences to optimize the logistics of how textiles are being collected, sorted and turned into grist for future products. 

Municipal interventions aside, the report also touted the dozens of sharing platforms that have been developed in the past few years, including LENA, a fashion library that lets patrons check out garments in lieu of books. Similarly, MUD Jeans runs a subscription service that allows members to lease as many as three pairs of denim at the same time. Such platforms help foster a “dramatic mentality shift” in customers, the study said, “from valuing the possession of products, to using them.”

Amsterdam, which plans to become a fully circular city by 2050, admits that it’s still in the midst of a shift and that growing pains can only be expected. It’s also empathetic to the disparate circumstances other cities around the world face: To wit, as their populations continue to grow, so will their challenges. Local policy can—and should—help, however.

“Indeed, policy can provide the foundational support that circular projects need to transform theory into practice, or scale up a best practice to a standard,” the report said.