How can we effectively recover and reuse organic waste in the city?

Key opportunity areas emerge from a month-long crowdsourcing initiative on Circle Lab

In the past couple of months, we crowdsourced over 400 contributions that highlighted key areas of opportunity, barriers to overcome, inspirational case studies, facts and figures and other key insights from four challenges on Circle Lab. These challenges focused on access over ownership in the household, organic waste in the city, fashion education, and single-use plastics.

We analysed and clustered all submissions into five key areas of opportunity that we believe are worth digging into deeper. By publishing the substance of these discussions, we hope that you too can find inspiration and examples to lead the transition to a circular economy.

Part Four: this post is the fourth in a series of four. Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three.


The “Beyond Ownership” challenge looks at solutions to empower all citizens — retailers, consumers, restaurant owners, innovators, researchers, industry leaders — to actively participate in bringing the circular economy to life and to effectively recover and use their organic waste.

1 | If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it

A lot of the value in any type of waste stream relies on our ability to measure it. What if we had an app for trash? Connecting our consumption patterns to Internet of Things-enabled devices, for instance, might help us reduce our waste on a personal level, while on an industrial level linking waste to data directly translates to fluctuations in profit margins.

How might we use technology to incentivise waste collection and processing?

Smart Trash Bins

Based on a submission by Laura Scherer

Xianhuangguo (XHG) System installed in communities. Source: WEF

“XHG in China operates smart trash bins which accept paper, plastics, metal, textiles and glass, and rebates residents directly to their WeChat wallets, a Chinese multi-purpose messaging and mobile payment app, based on the weight of their trash and the ongoing market rate of the recyclables. XHG then employs its own team of garbage collectors to deliver the segregated waste to a recovery facility for further processing”

Link waste data to profit loss

Based on a submission by Fadli Mustamin

Winnow has devised a simple way of collecting data on food waste in commercial kitchens, leading to better decision making in food preparation and increasing awareness of kitchen staff. Their mission is to connect the commercial kitchen, create a movement of chefs and inspire others to see that food is too valuable to waste. Winnow analytics correlates food waste to sales directly connecting behaviour changes to increased profits. As a result, restaurants that use this system have cut food waste by between 40–70%, leading to increases profit margins by 50% or more as well as reducing carbon emissions.

2 | Build, measure, learn, repeat

Success stories in closing nutrient loops often operate in silos, distinct from the broader system within which they operate. The fragmented nature of the value chain often contributes to preventing the successful scaling of these initiatives, but they do exist, and we stand a lot to gain from leveraging their insights and replicating their successes.

How might we learn from, replicate, and scale exist- ing lighthouse projects in similar European cities?

De Ceuvel

Based on a submission by Fadli Mustamin

Source: De Ceuvel

De Ceuvel is an award-winning, sustainable planned workplace for creative and social enterprises on a former shipyard on the Johan van Hasselt kanaal off the river IJ in Amsterdam North. The goal of the regenerative urban oasis is to provide an example for closing nutrient cycles, clean the soil in a natural way, and experiment with new technologies. De Ceuvel is a mecca for sustainable technology, or they named themselves a Cleantech Playground. Indeed, they are playing with waste. Many creative ways to re-use waste material present here. From composting toilet, biogas boat, upcycling, aquaponics greenhouse.

Replicating successful European projects

“TRiFOCAL is a three-year project funded by the LIFE program of the European Commission, which aims to incentivise sustainability in the 3 key food behaviours: food consumption, food wastage and food waste recycling. They now aim to work with at least 10 EU replication cities who will feed into the project development and act as ambassadors of the TRiFOCAL project in their countries, and have already piloted their replication programme with 8 European cities.” — Ludovica Viva

3 | Festivals with a double agenda

Amsterdam is well known for its canals, skewed houses, and, to a growing demographic of people- its festivals. Every year, the city hosts about 130 festivals generating over 2 million visitors, all of which are either directly or indirectly contributing to the organic waste in the city. Rather than pointing fingers, we could empower and include Amsterdam’s many visitors in the efforts to recover organic waste.

How might we use Amsterdam’s festival scene as a testing ground to mimic a closed loop city?

Compost toilets

Compost enabled toilet, using no extra chemicals or water. The organic waste is processed into fertiliser or biomass for heating afterwards. — Fadli Mustamin

Bread to beer

Instock’s Bammetjes Beer made from leftover breads in Amsterdam! Source: Instock

Over 30% of food is wasted, representing a significant loss in value but also leading to many potential externalities. How can we make more effective use of our food resources? Discarded bread can be used to replace a third of the malted grain used in beer brewing. Collecting surplus bread from delis, bakeries and sandwich makers. It’s then incorporated into the brewing process with malted barley, hops, yeast and water.” — Fadli Mustamin

4 | Food literacy

So much of the food loss we incur can easily be prevented through the reevaluation of quality standards at the industrial level, which can often “reject food items not perfect in shape or appearance”; and at the consumer level; through increasing cooking and meal planning literacy and through tackling common misconceptions and stereotypes around food.

How might we educate and shift mindsets in order to reduce food waste at the consumer and industrial levels?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Based on a submission by Nikolett Madai

Source: Ugly Produce Is Beautiful

Against high quality standards consumer education is necessary. For example, Ugly Produce Is Beautiful’s educational campaign in 2016 and motivating individuals. They provide facts and photographs to shift consumer’s mindset that the shape and colour doesn’t mean it’s inedible. The fruits and vegetables are just as tasty as “perfect” ones.

Self sufficiency

“Built on the principles of self sufficiency, the Co-Factory aims to connect urban companies, consumers and restaurants with local farmers. This might be the breeding ground for ideating new products to be made from surplus foods.” — Alenka Lipic

5 | It’s all about the delivery

Some pockets of communities in Amsterdam have access to Worm Hotels or their own composting heaps. One of the key obstacles in community Worm Hotels is the pre-processing and maintenance necessary to keep the worms happy. When we understand the end market of our waste, however, we are better able to sort and process the materials in order to make them easier to process.

How might we regulate bio waste to make it fit for new and existing solutions?

Vermicomposting and Fly Composting

“Using worms and Black Soldier Flies to compost organic waste has seen successful in many cases. The input of the organic waste does have to fit certain constraints, as worms are sensitive towards diet, moisture and heat levels in their environment. ” — Richa Prasad, Vanessa Leslie Bolivar Paypay

Cascade the waste

“Depending on the quality of the waste stream it should be used in a cascading way to optimise the use of the bio-resources according to the biomass cascade. As the waste hierarchy, the biomass cascade tries to retain as much value as possible in the material.” — Ludovica Viva

Peel Pioneers Citrus Waste

“Europe wastes over five billion kilos of citrus peel every year. Most
 of this waste goes to incineration, where the chemical components that are inside the peel are lost forever. PeelPioneers turns citrus peel ‘waste’ into essential oils (fragrance), chemicals (pectin, cellulose, and flavonoids) or a sustainable animal feed.” — Fadli Mustamin
Source: PeelPioneers

These themes also served to support the development of new solutions at Beyond Next, the circularity festival, where four teams presented their final solutions on stage on February 7 and 8, in front of a diverse jury of corporate, academic, and governmental representatives, including the Ministry of Infrastructure & Environment, Holland Circular Hotspot, and the KDV, among others.

Sign up for the Circle Lab newsletter to find out which solutions came out of the event! >