The definitive guide to the circular economy

This is a complete guide about anything related to the circular economy in 2021. In this guide, you will learn:

Let’s begin!

The circular economy: the beginning, the end and everything in between

The global population is growing at an unprecedented pace and it shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Consequently, the demand for natural resources is skyrocketing, whereas the supply (the stock of natural resources) is decreasing. In addition, we are generating an ever-increasing amount of waste as a result of increased levels of consumption.

Circular Friesland pushes for the only real solution to this problem: the circular economy.

From a linear economy…

Our economy as we know it is called a linear economy, or an economy with recycling. In a linear economy, goods are produced, consumed and then disposed of, without serving a new purpose. The economy with recycling adds an extra step, in which residual flows are partly recycled.

Both the linear economy and the economy with recycling are characterized by a (mostly) one-way relation from natural resources to waste. Therefore, these economies aren’t particularly sustainable or environmentally friendly.

To a circular economy

The circular economy is a sustainable and durable alternative for the linear economy. A circular economy is characterized by a continuous loop of reusing our natural resources in such a manner that they provide the most value to the economy.

Waste does not exist in the ideal circular economy. Producers take back used products and use these residual flows to make new products. As a result, natural resources are used over and over again. Thus, a circular economy requires the use of fewer natural resources than a linear economy. Or, to put it differently: the economic cycle is closed instead of open.

In the circular economy, we make a distinction between two types of cycles: the technical and the biological cycle.

De circulaire economie / the circular economy
Agriculture is a main theme in the transition towards a circular economy – Photo: Imazzo

The technical cycle

Most technical resources are finite materials, such as petrol or metals. These materials don’t grow by themselves, hence the need to treat them with care and use them sparingly.

We can achieve this by using these technical materials, instead of consuming them. In order to do this, we need to recover the used materials with their original value from residual flows. That way, a sustainable and durable technical cycle comes into existence.

The biological cycle

We need to go about reusing resources in the biological cycle differently compared to resources in the technical cycle. Whereas technical resources are finite, nature generates the resources in the ecosystem of the biological cycle – such as wood, food and water – over and over again.

For a successful circular economy, the ecosystem needs to be able to run its course freely. Consumption of the resources in this cycle doesn’t disrupt it, as long as the cycle isn’t depleted or contaminated with dangerous or poisonous substances. This means we must treat everything we produce thoughtfully and respectfully, so we can reuse products for a long time and at a high level.

The circular economy according to Circular Friesland

To us, the ultimate goal of the circular economy is a flourishing society on an earth with self-healing and regenerative abilities. In our efforts to ensure the transition to a circular economy, we look at the seven pillars of the circular economy created by the sustainable think tank Metabolic.

Together these seven pillars, described below, form an exemplar of the circular economy. In an ideal world, all products and services comply with these pillars. We are working towards this ideal step by step.

De 7 pijlers van de Circulaire Economie volgens Metabolic
De 7 characteristics of the circular economy by Metabolic

Materials are cycled at continuous high value

For the realization of a sustainable and durable circular economy, natural resources need to be reused continuously and at a high value. To reduce the negative impact on the environment, we opt for biodegradable materials if possible.

Additionally, products need to be either reusable for as long as possible in its most complex form, or easy to take apart, so that the different components can be reused separately. A good example of this is Energy Campus Leeuwarden, about which you can read more further down on this page.

Sustainable energy supply

The energy supply in a circular economy is based on durable sources that are renewable within one generation. This includes energy extracted from the sun, water and wind. In other words: green energy.

Sustainable water extraction

Water is one of the most important resources in our economy. No one can live without it. In a circular economy, the value of water must be kept at a constant high level. To ensure this, we need to minimize the use of fresh water and maximize the energy and nutrient extraction from water. Additionally, we need to stop the pollution of aquatic ecosystems.

Strengthening biodiversity

In a circular economy, human activity supports and strengthens biodiversity. It is important to take this into account when designing products and services, because the preservation of biodiversity is essential for an earth with regenerating capacities.

De circulaire economie

Cultural diversity in the circular economy

The goal of a circular economy is ‘a flourishing society on an earth with self-healing and regenerative abilities’. This means a flourishing society for everyone – regardless of, for example, one’s culture – because different ideas and viewpoints are of tremendous value for the resilience and social inclusiveness of our society.

Supporting health and well-being

In a circular economy, we are aware of the negative impact of the emission of dangerous and toxic substances. When we do use these substances, we use them in a controlled environment to make sure that no living thing is exposed to them unnecessarily. Economic activity may never pose a threat to health and well-being in a circular economy.

The circular economy adds value

The old-fashioned definition of ‘added value’ is extended in the circular economy. Besides financial value, this new definition also includes increasing both social and environmental value. Money is no longer the sole purpose in the circular economy. Instead, money is a means towards realising increased social and environmental value, which can’t be expressed in monetary terms.

De circulaire economie

The significance of the circular economy on a national and international level

Today, many countries depend on other countries for the supply of scarce natural resources. As an economy becomes more circular, the dependence on other countries diminishes. In a circular economy, resources aren’t lost in the production process. Instead, they are reused continuously.

Nevertheless, a country can’t become one hundred percent circular on its own. Supply chains are often spread out across multiple countries and large companies aren’t bound to a single country, but have subsidiaries in multiple countries. This means that steps in the right direction must be taken on a supranational level as well.

It is important to start the transition to a global circular economy on a small scale, but it’s equally important to think big. Which is exactly what Circular Friesland excels in.

The circular consumer

To successfully transition to a circular economy, we need to realise that all aspects of the economy, such as people and companies, are connected. This is called system thinking. Every decision has short-term, but also long-term consequences. We need to take this into account in everything we do and every choice we make.

Consumers play a crucial part in all of this, because the circular economy doesn’t just come into existence overnight. For a successful transition to a circular economy, we need to bring about certain changes in the behaviour of consumers and their mentality regarding consumption.

A change in behaviour and mentality

For every purchase, opting for the sustainable alternative should become the norm. If you need new soap, for example, choose a bottle that can be refilled, or an option with biodegradable packaging.

Moreover, it is important that consumers start treating the products they buy and own in a different way. For instance, don’t throw something away immediately when you don’t need it anymore, but see if you someone you know can use it or bring it to a local thrift store. Repairs are also a good option. Instead of buying new appliances such as laptops or phones, try to get them repaired first. 

Examples of circular economy businesses in practice

  • Fryslân Fungies. This company transforms coffee grounds into fresh oyster mushrooms. This way, Fryslân Fungies offers a circular product, while simultaneously stimulating consumers, companies and organizations to contribute to the circular economy as well.
  • OPnieuw (which translates as Again). OPnieuw offers products as a service. Customers pay for the use of furniture. In exchange, OPnieuw takes care of the maintenance whenever necessary, eventually takes back the furniture and ensures that it can be reused. This way, the furniture doesn’t end as waste, but it becomes part of a sustainable and durable cycle.
  • The Energy Campus in Leeuwarden. The building of this organization is detachable, which means that it can be taken apart easily and completely. Whenever the building becomes redundant, the different construction parts and materials can be reused in the construction of new buildings. 
Energiecampus Leeuwarden circulaire economie
Energy Campus Leeuwarden

A circular Dutch economy in 2050 – and Europe’s next

The Dutch government has stated that, in cooperation with the corporate world, they want the Dutch economy to be circular by 2050.

Circular Friesland encourages this goal and is taking action. Not tomorrow, but today. We believe that by connecting and inspiring entrepreneurs, the education system, social institutions and governments, we can be an example for the Netherlands and a circular Europe.

Circular business models and entrepreneurship

As mentioned before, waste doesn’t exist in the ideal circular economy, because reusing products and resources is vital. Therefore, in order to conduct business successfully and in a sustainable and durable way, a change in mentality is pivotal. 

Central to a circular business model is maximizing the re-use of resources and minimizing the decrease in value of these resources. This entails, for instance, that firms should opt for a biodegradable resource, free from toxic substances, whenever they face a situation in which they need to choose between certain inputs for their production process.

In addition, the extent to which your product is detachable is important. Because when a product is easily detachable, the separate parts can consequently be sold and re-used separately.

The benefits of conducting business sustainably

Conducting business sustainably contributes directly to a better world and, by reducing the negative effect of the economy on the environment, offers entrepreneurs a great deal of business opportunities as well.

Global policy is slowly moving towards favouring firms that conduct business in a sustainable manner. For example, during the corona crisis the Danish government prohibited companies with nondurable practices from accessing bailout funds. 

This transformation in global policy will continue to be necessary until we stop treating the earth in a non-sustainable way. Thus, entrepreneurs that already commit themselves to undertaking business sustainably have a significant advantage over other entrepreneurs when conducting business sustainably becomes standard practice.



The best way to learn is by just getting on with it: learning by doing. However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t familiarize yourself with the subject and develop a strategy. Because by doing exactly this, you create guidelines for your sustainable enterprise. Just beware that it doesn’t take away your attention from actually getting on with it, because great ideas are worthless if you don’t execute them.


It’s not realistic to expect that you can tackle all the different aspects of the circular economy at once. For example, a completely circular supply chain will be difficult to realise from the get-go, because of your dependence on partners in the value chain. Therefore, we recommend starting with the parts you can influence, and work your way up from there.

By starting on a small scale, but thinking big, you are able to slowly expand into a full-fledged sustainable business. While making a lot of positive impact along the way!


Everybody likes to listen to stories. And what better story than the story of the sustainable entrepreneurship that is actively trying to make a positive impact on our world. Your company is supporting the transition from the old to the new economy  there is no shame in being proud of this. On the contrary!

Thus, communicate the story of your company to everyone who wants to hear it. The most important rule to follow when communicating about sustainability? Be transparent. If you claim to undertake more than you’re actually doing, it will become known eventually, which comes with the risk of being called a so-called greenwasher.


Every day, many innovations are being done in the field of undertaking business sustainably. Instead of being focused solely on the sector you operate in, expand your vision and let yourself be inspired by sustainable entrepreneurs from many different backgrounds. A fresh perspective might yield the perfect solution that you were so desperately looking for!

Wondering how you can meet these people from outside your direct network? By becoming a member of Circular Friesland! Our continuously expanding network contains more than 100 companies from many different backgrounds. They all have one thing in common: they are contributing to the new, circular economy. Do you want to contribute to building a sustainable and durable world as well? Then become a member today.


The local governments in Friesland have signed a Circular Economy ambition statement. This was an important step towards creating a more durable Friesland and being an example for a more circular Europe.

The agreements made in the ambition statement are:

  • Only buying circularly produced street furniture
  • When making replacements in the vehicle fleet, we aim towards making it completely fossil free.
  • In 2020, at least 10% of all physical products are purchased circularly

In this article, we will zoom in on the last point in the ambition document: circular procurement. What is it exactly? How do you purchase circularly? And in what ways is it being implemented already? Read on to find out.


In circular procurement, the purchasing party pledges that the materials will be optimally inserted into a new product cycle at the end of their useful life. It is important that the re-use of these materials is done in a way that ensures keeping the value of these materials as much as possible. As such, we counteract waste and depletion of our scarce natural resources.


In an ideal world, the complete supply chain would purchase circularly and as a result, pass circularity onto each other: a closed cycle of resources. Thus, collaboration is necessary in order to purchase circularly successfully. The first customers, the so-called launching customers, are key in this process.

If the launching customers act as partners in the purchasing process for a couple of years, it is easier for circular products to get a foothold and consequently, to spread the circular purchasing process to new markets.


In Friesland, many firms, big or small, are already purchasing their materials (partly) circularly. Down below, you can read a couple of interesting examples.

  • The circular catalogue ROEN. In this online catalogue, local entrepreneurs are able to offer their sustainable innovations to anyone that might be interested. Moreover, you are able to filter by the seven design principles of Metabolic. This way, you can make sure that any product you buy complies with all your circular demands.
  • The cycling bridge in the village of Ritsumasyl. This bridge is made out of bio composite, which consists of plant fibres bound by a natural resin. The construction has been realised as a result of an alliance between multiple (Frisian) parties.
  • Limm coffee cup recycling. Limm takes care of the supply and discharge of coffee cups and ensures that they are being recycled at the highest possible level. In addition, they make sure that you never run out of coffee cups. So, a complete unburdening concerning your firm’s coffee cups!


Every day, Circular Friesland goes out of its way to come a little closer to our ultimate goal: a flourishing society on anEarth with self-healing and regenerative abilities.

In order to accelerate the transition to a circular economy, it is important to teach our children, the next generation, how they can make a positive impact on the world around them from early on. In order to realise this, an integral approach to our education system is essential.


Circular Friesland helps and inspires educational institutions – ranging from primary schools to universities- to incorporate sustainable development and circularity into their education programmes. To achieve this, it is vital that educational institutions look beyond the obvious and easy to implement solutions, such as solar panels and a healthier canteen.

This is not to say that they aren’t good initiatives. On the contrary, we applaud them. However, in order to enable the next generation to make a significant positive impact on our world, an integral approach is necessary.


The integral approach preached by Circular Friesland is based on three pillars. Each pillar supports thinking about circular talent in an integral way.


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), created by the United Nations, make up the first pillar. The purpose of the seventeen sustainable development goals is to create awareness about the different aspects of sustainability. The SDGs stand for the biggest global problems that we are currently facing, climate change being just one of them.

Thus, in order to transition to a sustainable and durable world, a multifaceted approach to sustainability is warranted. The SDGs help to encompass the full scope of sustainability, including for example social inclusivity, equality and decent work for all.


In order to work towards a more sustainable future, we use the seven principles of the circular economy by Metabolic as a starting point to progress towards a sustainable, resilient and just realisation of the seventeen SDGs.


In order to successfully incorporate circularity in the education of our youth, the education has to breathe circularity. Solely preaching its importance is not enough. Students must learn to recognise it and perceive it as a constantly recurring theme in their education and school environment.

circular economy and education

Therefore, next to a sustainable type of tenure, carefully embedding circularity and sustainability in the curriculum is important as well. Not just as a subject, but also didactically.

Moreover, circular talent can’t be developed solely from a textbook. It is therefore important to support schools in building a local network of sustainable institutions that are ahead of the curve. As such, the world outside of the direct learning environment will be included in the education programme. For example, through guest lectures, assignments and internships.

Thus, when educational institutions spread the idea of thinking and acting sustainably in all their activities, it will become part of the mindset of students and teachers. That way, the next generation gains the best possible skillset to make a positive difference on the world of tomorrow, which is the ultimate goal of the Whole School Approach.


Circular Friesland is proud of all the educational institutions in Friesland that are incorporating acting and thinking sustainably into their policy and curriculum, of which you can read an example below.


In Friesland, multiple studies are offered which let you investigate the importance of sustainability for your future specialism. Most notably, Campus Fryslân, part of the University of Groningen, offers students the opportunity to follow a master Social Entrepreneurship or a bachelor Global Responsibility and Leadership.

Circular Friesland encourages the integration of the circular economy into the educational system every single day. Simply by doing. Not tomorrow, but today. Strengthened by policy makers, teachers and students, we try to realise our ambition to be the most circular region of Europe by 2025.


The construction sector plays an important part in the circular economy. It has a vast impact on the environment and uses large amounts of natural resources. Moreover, there are major steps to be taken in the extent to which these resources are being re-used, and even bigger steps in making the sector at large more sustainable.

circular economy and construction


As mentioned earlier, the construction sector has a significant negative impact on the environment. It’s extensive use of diverse natural materials contributes to the depletion of these finite resources. In addition, more often than not the place where the resources are extracted is different from the place where they are used. Thus, they need to be transported, which adds to the negative impact of the construction sector. 

Next to having a negative impact on the environment, the construction sector experiences the negative consequences of climate change first-hand as well. For example, during the hot and dry summer of 2019, the rivers in the Netherlands experienced unprecedented low water levels. As a result, large cargo ships weren’t able to navigate them and factories couldn’t receive the resources they needed to continue their production process.

Thus, the moral argument for circular construction – the importance of preserving our world for the next generation – goes hand in hand with the economic argument. If construction doesn’t start incorporating sustainability and circularity, the existence of the entire sector will be put at risk.


The first thing to probably cross your mind when it comes to building circularly is the importance of using recycled materials. And even though this is a very important aspect of circular construction, it’s only one of many.

In order to build circularly, an integral approach (sounds familiar, right?) is essential. Constructing a road with asphalt from re-used materials is a good start. However, to really build circularly it is important to broaden your scope.

The maintenance of a road is the perfect moment to reflect on the way in which it was constructed years ago. For example, is it necessary that the road is set up as broad as it is, or could the side of the road be exchanged for a greener roadside? A greener roadside ensures better water storage during torrential rains, which contributes to highway safety and biodiversity.


A step in the right direction to make circular construction the norm is a change in mentality regarding the financing of construction projects. Therefore, instead of the acquisition value on day 1, the life cycle costs (LCC), which incorporate the costs of the complete usage period, must be our guide.

For example, using higher quality materials or parts with a salvage value higher than zero significantly reduces life cycle costs. However, this way of reducing costs doesn’t become apparent if you only consider acquisition value.

Thus, an integral approach is warranted. Specifically, an integral approach of environment, quality and financing.


By connecting and inspiring firms, knowledge institutions and governments, we have been able to realise some great initiatives concerning circular construction in Friesland. Two of which you can read about below.


The Swettehûs in Friesland is an ambitious collaboration between the province of Friesland, the municipality of Leeuwarden and members of Circular Friesland. The purpose of the Swettehûs is a bridge control centre with high circular ambitions, which are reflected in, for example, its self-sufficiency regarding energy use and its construction solely from re-used materials.


The bike lane between the two cities Leeuwarden and Stiens in Friesland is the world’s first bike path that is made from recycled toilet paper. On a yearly basis, Dutch citizens flush 180,000 tons of toilet paper down the toilet. KNN Cellulose, member of Circular Friesland, is able to extract paper fibres from sewage and manufacture an asphalt product from it, suitable for a bike path. This is a great step towards a more sustainable construction sector.

Do you want to set an example for a circular Europe with your sustainable initiative as well? Then become a member of Circular Friesland today!


The extent to which any product is circular, or actually, can be circular, starts with its design. Everything we see, use,and buy, starts with a projection of how we would like it to be: the design. This is the intention of the product, why it exists.

Circular economy

In the old economy, products mainly exist for a single, functional purpose. For example, a bottle to pour water in or a vacuum cleaner to vacuum dust. In the new, circular economy, we adopt a broader scope regarding the purpose of a product. Besides a good functional design which prioritises high-quality preservation of the used materials, products must be produced using sustainable energy and must take the seven design principles of Metabolic into consideration during the design process.


Designing to recycle or reusing the materials of a product as the resources of a new product, differs from designing circularly. The main difference being value retention.

During the recycle process, the complete product is processed into new resources. Even though the product usually contains several parts which you can reuse immediately. Sometimes, you can even reuse the complete product after just a few reparations.

Therefore, circular design focuses on creating products which can be used for as long as possible, at the highest quality level possible, without requiring many additional resources. That is the only way to realise our ambition of a flourishing society on an Earth with self-healing and regenerative abilities.


Friesland has many great examples of circular design. You can find a selection of such examples below.

  • The Biosintrum (Biocentre). This building is, for the most part, made from biodegradable natural materials. It is also an exemplary project of an integral construction approach with attention for biological materials, circular construction and adaptation within the natural environment. The Biosintrum is the main meeting place for companies, knowledge institutions and governments expanding their knowledge of and experience with the circular economy.
The Biosintrum
  • The Upcycle Collection by Louise Cohen. This furniture collection consists of different kinds of furniture, made from waste and surpluses, and is sold in cooperation with a network of thrift shops.
  • vanAfval (fromWaste). This company designs and produces street furniture, such as bins and benches, in a circular manner. The assembly of the products is done by people with a disability.
  • The ROC Friese Poort home base for the education of safety professionals is a circular and 100 percent energy neutral building. This location was designed by Pieter Schievink, from his period at Wind Architects and Advisors, and provides education for about 800 students. It’s the first circular school building in the Netherlands.