Circular economy

Rotterdam as a circular hub for the raw materials transition

Rotterdam’s port and industrial area is eminently suited for giving shape to the circular economy. The region has a high concentration of raw materials and residual flows from numerous industrial and logistics activities. Combined with its good accessibility, this creates an excellent foundation for the broad introduction of circular production and consumption structures.
The current economy is generally based on ‘linear’ principles: we extract raw materials, turn them into products and treat whatever remains as waste. And while recycling efforts in our country are relatively widespread, substantial volumes of raw materials still end up in a landfill or waste incinerator.

This will be fundamentally changed after we have adopted circular processes. In a circular economy, the focus is on generating maximum value from the smallest possible quantity of raw materials. We strive to reuse as many products and raw materials as we can – by collecting plastic after use, for example, and recycling it into pellets that can be used to manufacture new products.

In a circular economy ‘there’s no such thing as waste’. And since whenever possible, we work to close the cycle from A to Z, we will only need to add a limited volume of new raw materials to our production chains.
Rotterdam is home to one of the largest complexes of refineries and chemical plants in the world. Combined with the port’s extensive network connections with the hinterland, this makes Rotterdam an ideal circular hub for the raw materials transition. The port of Rotterdam has a strong international position as a Waste-to Value Port with numerous existing circular companies and new projects.

In the Port Authority’s vision for Rotterdam, this position will be strengthened even further in the years ahead. By 2050, local industrial and logistics activities in the region will be completely circular.
This will not only help us to achieve the set climate goals; it will also allow the region to deal more effectively with geopolitical and economic fluctuations and serve as a magnet for innovation and new enterprise. A port area like this can create both economic and social value.

Four pathways

To give concrete shape to this vision, the Port of Rotterdam Authority is working together with a wide range of partners, following four key circular pathways: innovation and scaling-up; sorting and recycling; industrial symbiosis; and capture and reuse of CO2. For further details on the Port of Rotterdam Authority’s investments in the circular economy, you can review its position paper via this link.
Realising a circular economy is not just a precondition for a successful energy transition. Ultimately, it will also strengthen the competitive position of Rotterdam’s port area.

‘China waste ban: the upside for plastics’

On 1 January 2018, China imposed an import ban on plastic waste. Up to that point, a large share of Europe’s commercial waste was shipped to China for processing. Which consequences will the Chinese import ban on plastic waste have? “The ban forms an opportunity for Europe to embrace the circular economy,” says Ray Georgeson, guestspeaker at the workshop.

What are the opportunities?

The most significant challenge of the circular economy is that goods have a limited physical or economic service life, so their value lessens over time (or even becomes negative, as in the case of waste). The most important opportunity is for companies to capitalise on extending the economic service life. The five following business models show how we can reduce wastage.

  1. Resource recovery
    Recovery of raw materials from low-quality products instead of discarding or incinerating, for example by recovering useful materials from waste flows through recycling, or using the by-product of one company as the raw material for a product of another company.

  2. Circular (renewable) raw materials
    Vegetal raw materials can certainly be used in the production industry, for example in the production of biofuels and biochemicals. Plants grow rapidly (grain and sugar beets in one season, trees in several decades) so the bio raw material supply can be replenished quickly.

  3. Extending the service life
    Products last much longer through maintenance and repairs, remanufacturing or second hand sales/purchases.

  4. Sharing models (sharing economy)
    For example several households sharing a car. After all, a car is only actually used for a few moments a day (sometimes even less). The same applies to most equipment.

  5. Product as service
    Rent, lease or user contract for washing machines or a high-pressure sprayer, for example.

In short: the circular model creates new business and is a solid stimulus for our economy, like the nine business models illustrated below show.

Concrete projects in Rotterdam

The port is an ideal location for developing the circular economy, since all facilities required for the industry of a circular economy are present. We can develop a future-proof Industrial Cluster and stimulate companies and entrepreneurs to adhere to the international ambitions of the energy transition in collaboration with the Port Authority. We are therefore searching for steps to be part of the chain in the circular economy and are working together in deciding how to deal with raw materials. We can support the existing industry in the transition from fossil to bio-based and circular by investing in, facilitating and consulting on both new prospects and potential coalition partners, and at the same time attract new industry. Examples of ongoing projects are presented below.

Waste to Chemicals

A consortium of companies comprising Air Liquide, Enerkem, Nouryon, Shell and the Port of Rotterdam Authority has signed a development agreement for the initial investments in an advanced waste to chemicals plant in Rotterdam. The aim is that this will be the first plant of this type in Europe to offer a sustainable alternative for waste incineration, by converting plastic and mixed waste into new raw materials for industry.

From plastic to plastic: Ioniqa

Ioniqa is a good example of a new industry reacting to the need for high-quality circular re-use: this start-up originally from Eindhoven developed a recycling process entailing the recycling of plastic PET bottles (made of polyethylene terephthalate), fleece sweaters and all sorts of different types of PET waste into a previously impossible colourless pure usable chemical raw material for new products: ‘the forever PET bottle.’

On-demand industry: RAMLAB

RAMLAB (Rotterdam Additive Manufacturing LAB) is the first Field laboratory with 3D metal printers focusing on the port related industry. RAMLAB uses 3D metal printers (also called additive manufacturing) for the development of knowledge in the area of metal printing, 3D design and certification. The purpose of RAMLAB and partners is to facilitate making the WAAM (Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing) technology commercially usable through Research & Development projects. Thus RAMLAB and partners are working on a future in which parts can be printed on demand, making a large stock unnecessary, and where the search for specific or specialist components is no longer required.


Would you like to know more about this subject? Please contact:

Monique de Moel
Program Manager Circular Economy

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