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Circular Economy

Circular cities, regions and countries

A Circular Economy asks for  new forms of governance in cities, regions and countries. Municipalities, provinces and governmental organizations can make a difference by making policies that contribute to a circular economy. Frontrunning cities, regions and countries show best practices in how this can be done.

Cities (The Netherlands)


The City of Amsterdam currently works on circular economy issues in a broad collaboration between the City of Amsterdam’s Environmental and Building Department (Dienst Milieu en Bouwtoezicht), the Department of Physical Planning (Dienst Ruimtelijke Ordening), Waternet (water provider) and the Waste and Energy Company (Afval Energie Bedrijf). Amsterdam has identified their current and desirable future systems of food, phosphate, waste, water, electricity and heat.

City of Amsterdam, 2014


The Rotterdam / Delta region aims to develop towards a circular economy. This is done in collaboration between the municipality and many stakeholders. Circular economy pathways are described for the Energy sector, the Metals sector, the Chemicals sector and the Food and Agricultural sector. The Port of Rotterdam is at the heart of these developments.

Port of Rotterdam & Rabobank (2012), p29-60.


The municipality of Haarlemmermeer has developed the program Haarlemmermeer Beyond Sustainability, with amongst others the first fully cradle-to-cradle business park and 100 more sustainable initiatives.

More info on the website of Haarlemmermeer.


The municipality of Venlo has built a cradle-to-cradle town hall. Nearly all components can be disassembled and reused, enabling a cycle of resources. Lots of green facilitate a pleasant and healthy work environment. A green facade purifies the air and provides natural ventilation. Large windows and solar panels optimize use of the sun.

Nederland Circulair!, p8 (in Dutch).


Guiyang (China)

In 2002, the city government committed to exploring the circular economy approach, which resulted in the adoption of the Guiyang Circular Economy Development Plan. The plan has defined sustainable economic development goals and has laid out a road map on achieving these goals by focusing on six sectors: coal-based industry, phosphorus- based industry, aluminium industry, herbal medicine, tourism and organic agriculture. To implement this plan, a significant shift in government policy and economic system has been required.

UNEP, 2006, p6-7.

Kalundborg (Denmark)

Kalundborg has become one of the most widely cited examples of industrial symbiosis. According to participants in the industrial park, open communication and strong relationships are key factors enabling transformation of one company’s waste into another company’s new product. Examples include excess heat, fly ash (turning into gypsum) and straw (converting into ethanol).

More info on the Kalundborg Symbiosis website.

Flanders (Belgium)

The Flanders Materials Programme (FMP) combines an ambitious long-term vision, a 45-item plan of concrete actions and the development of policy-relevant research. It aims to streamline the many public and private initiatives in the field of sustainable materials management into a coherent whole.

More information on the website of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.


The Netherlands

The Netherlands aims to spearhead a movement towards a more circular economy and to become a ‘living lab’ that provides the rest of the world with examples to learn from. Being a frontrunner in the circular economy will create benefits for both the Dutch economy as well as the society as a whole. To this end, the campaign ‘Netherlands as a Circular Hotspot’ was launched.

The Dutch Government has also addressed non-financial barriers regarding the circular economy with a whole new programme, the Green Deal. The programme is a joint initiative of the ministries of Economic Affairs, Infrastructure and the Environment, and the Interior and Kingdom Relations, with a board comprised of businesses, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and government. Through this programme the government has taken a new role of providing a responsive service to organisations that ask for help to realise green growth. This includes circular economy opportunities that face implementation barriers.

More information on the Green Deal on the website of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.


The Circular Economy and Waste Law is based on the political credo of waste hierarchy through “Avoidance, Reduction, Disposal” and was implemented in the 1990s. Since, there has been a paradigm shift from the waste management policy approach towards a circular economy model. This meant that producers and sellers were now obliged to design their products to meet the following criteria:

  1. Minimization of the amount of waste arising from production and use;
  2. Possibility of maximum high-quality waste recovery; and
  3. Feasibility of environment-friendly disposal of unusable waste.

Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences, 2014, p8-9.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is focusing on waste reduction in the framework of Circular Economy. The WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Program) is the overarching governmental program to stimulate a low-resources future.

More info on the WRAP website.


The Circular Economy initiative Development Strategy, focused on sustainable consumption and production, was implemented in 2002. Since then, it has been developed in a number of pilot areas in China. The concept of circular economy has been introduced as a development model to help China leapfrog to a more sustainable economic structure. The focus of circular economy policy in China has shifted from waste recycling to broader efficiency-oriented control at every stage of production, distribution and consumption. Besides resource and waste problems, the improved strategy also encompasses energy efficiency and conservation, land management and soil protection and integrated water resource management as key issues.

UNEP, 2006, p2-3; Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences, 2014, p6-7.


Devised around the concept of ‘establishing a sound materials-cycle society,’ Japan’s system of policies in the 2000’s focussed on waste management and resource depletion. An important law in this perspective was the Law for the Promotion of Efficient Utilization of Resources, ratified in the year 2000 and aimed at minimizing waste by producers and consumers alike. The law was the first in the world to cover the entire product life span from upstream to downstream.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2014, p35.

Further reading

Read more about frontrunners in the circular economy.