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"We have a lot of questions, and PlastiCircle will help us" - the latest from Utrecht's Eric Velthuizen

16 October 2019

At PlastiCircle we've turned our attention from Valencia to the project's second pilot in the Dutch city of Utrecht, where we'll be rolling out innovations in the disctrict of Terwijde. To get a feel for the new pilot, we caught up with Eric Velthuizen, project manager at Gemeente Utrecht, and co-ordinator of PlastiCircle activities in the city.

PlastiCircle’s second pilot phase has just begun in the city of Utrecht. But why do you need this particular circular economy project? What will PlastiCircle deliver for you?

We are a large city with some challenges when it comes to waste. One of the big challenges we have is with plastic waste because the amount of plastic waste here is increasing, it’s difficult to get rid of it and even recycle it.

But here in Utrecht we want to move from a linear to a circular economy. We want to close the raw material gap by 2040-2050, and it will take a lot of hard work to get there. And we have a lot of questions. For instance, how can we motivate our citizens to separate their waste? What do we need from them? What do they need from us? PlastiCircle will help us formulate the questions, but also collect the answers – answers from not only our citizens, but from companies. Companies that sort the plastic waste, companies that recycle the plastic, and companies that use the recycled material for new products.

Tell us about the pilot district of Terwijde. What are you going to do here and why is it a good place for the pilot?

Terwijde is one of the relatively newer areas of Utrecht, with around 3,000 households and 6,000 or 7,000 inhabitants. The area has a good mix of younger and more senior citizens, and is therefore a good place to test various approaches. Plus it is large enough that we can recruit enough volunteers to answer our questions and participate in the pilot.

What’s going to happen there over the next few months?

The pilot will take about three months. First, over the initial six-week period, we will try to raise awareness of plastic waste. People have to be aware and conscious of the issue before they can act on it. We’ll be asking questions of households such as: “how much plastic waste is being generated in one week?” or “what types of plastics are you using?” or even “what do you need from the local authorities or government to help you?”

The second half of the pilot will be about reducing plastic waste. This could, for example, involve encouraging our citizens to only buy plastic products that can be recycled into new materials. In other words: to avoid purchasing or using single-use items.

By the end of the pilot, we hope that the amount of plastic collected will have increased, but also that our citizens will become more aware of the need to purchase products that can be recycled.

How are you going to get citizens actively involved in this pilot? What’s your strategy?

We have an online platform which, apart from being a good way of reaching people, reduces the need for paper and brochures and waste, etc. With this platform we can reach out to those who have signed up for the pilot and provide them with a weekly “assignment”. This might simply mean asking them a question on how they deal with their waste, or it might involve raising awareness of a particular issue such as types of plastic. The thing about the online platform is that we can share videos, information and all types of media. And it’s easy. The assignments will only take five minutes a day, and can be completed from the couch using a smartphone or tablet.

Are there any particular PlastiCircle innovations that Utrecht and indeed the Netherlands should keep an eye on, be it smart containers or anything else?

Of course in Utrecht we are relatively advanced with our use of smart containers, but the thing is we always try to do better.  If PlastiCircle shows us that we can do things more efficiently, then we will not hesitate to take up these new methods or technologies. It’s not just the smart containers we are keeping an eye on, but also the driver behaviour guidance and software – we want to improve how our waste truck drivers operate. That means driving more efficiently, using less fuel and improving safety.

On the whole though, plastics are not just a Dutch problem but a worldwide problem. The more information we get from the other PlastiCircle pilots in Valencia (Spain) and Alba Iulia (Romania), the better it is for us in Utrecht. How do they motivate their citizens? How do they approach the challenges of plastic waste? We need to know so we can learn lessons!

On the “big picture” then, how far along is Utrecht towards a circular economy?

Well here in Utrecht we want to recycle 100% of our waste by 2040 or 2050. I know that this isn’t the only goal of a circular economy, but it is one of our objectives. And currently we’re only half way there – about 50% of our waste is recycled or reused as a raw material. It’s pretty good but it’s not good enough. And based on the information we get from Plasticircle and other projects, we are trying to improve our performance. But in general we are going in the right direction.

What do you want to see happening at an EU level to make the linear economy a thing of the past? How does Europe “get circular”?

At the EU level, we really need a level playing field across the continent, with guidelines and regulations that can be fully implemented in every Member State. But the first step we have to take is prevention – how can we prevent waste in the first place, not only for plastics but for many materials? And the second step is ensuring that materials which are used should always be fit for reuse. That’s why new EU regulations on single-use plastics are very welcome – because these materials aren’t reused and therefore shouldn’t be in circulation. It’s unwise to bring materials into society that can’t be recycled or reused. We need to see this at the EU level.

 

PlastiCircle turns spotlight to Dutch city of Utrecht

8 October 2019

For the pan-European PlastiCircle consortium, last week’s flurry of intense activity marked the start of the second PlastiCircle pilot initiative. After a hugely successful pilot in Valencia, Spain, we now turn our attention to pilot number two in the Dutch city of Utrecht.

With the starting gun fired on 30 September, the Utrecht pilot has got off to a strong start. In the pilot district of Terwijde, more than 65 participants have already signed up to a virtual citizen participation platform – designed to accompany people through each stage of the pilot. Here it’s all about increasing locals’ knowledge of plastic waste, motivating them to separate this waste better, and encouraging Utrecht citizens to reduce the plastic waste they produce in the first place.

For Eric Velthuizen, project leader at the City of Utrecht, the emphasis on “reduce, re-use, recycle” is central to Utrecht’s engagement with its citizens:

“Like other European cities, Utrecht wants to reduce the amount of waste we produce and recycle as much as possible. In fact, this means recycling at least 50% of our waste by the end of 2020. And by 2050, we want to recycle 100% of our waste. For this, our local economy will have to change from a “linear” to a “circular” economy – and PlastiCircle can help.”

Mr Velthuizen adds: “PlastiCircle can help us to improve our citizens’ awareness on waste in general, and in particular the knowledge our citizens have on plastic packaging waste. With this increased consciousness and knowledge they will be able to reduce the amount of plastic packaging waste and to recycle more.”

Every week, citizens who participate in the pilot will receive a different ‘assignment’ on how to: treat their household plastic waste; better separate it before collection; reduce their waste, or even how to recycle it more effectively.

“Let’s not forget that the PlastiCircle approach offers a number of solutions that can help the way we do things in Utrecht,” recalls Mr Velthuizen.

“For example, we now have techniques that can help us reduce the number of kilometres driven per waste disposal truck (thus reducing costs and CO2 emissions), and also software that makes for safer driving behaviour.”

A series of PlastiCircle innovations tested during the Valencia pilot will be rolled out in Utrecht over the coming months, with route optimisation software for collection trucks of particular interest to innovators within Utrecht's local authorities.

The PlastiCircle consortium will be visiting Utrecht in late November to early December for a closer look at how PlastiCircle innovations are being rolled out, and what challenges need to be addressed on the ground to make the pilot more successful and more relevant for the inhabitants of Terwijde.

For more updates, follow PlastiCircle on Twitter via @circ_economy.

EU plastics projects join forces – “multiplier effect” to boost circular economy in Europe

7 October 2019

Twenty innovation projects joined forces today to boost European Union efforts towards a circular economy for plastics. The ‘Plastics Circularity Multiplier’ group will communicate to policy makers, the public and industry on a range of EU-funded innovations – innovations that aim to bring plastic materials into the circular economy of the future and create new business opportunities and jobs in Europe.

Launched on 7 October in Brussels, the newly formed group will pool resources and expertise to “multiply” key messages from the ecosystem of projects that receive funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. More than 300 projects dealing with plastics in a circular economy have been supported by the FP7 and Horizon 2020 programmes – part of the EU’s global push to invest in circular economy solutions to achieve the goals of the 2018 EU Plastics Strategy.

“The investment that the EU is making in the circular economy is on such a scale that it’s vital to communicate what that means for the environment, citizens, businesses and cities across the continent,” said Alexandre Dangis of DEMETO, the project leading the group.

“With the initial participation of 19 projects, the Plastics Circularity Multiplier will look to boost our impact, but also identify the regulatory barriers to be overcome and the investment needed if we are to put in place a truly circular economy for plastics in the EU,”  added Mr Dangis.

The first round of results by the Plastics Circularity Multiplier will come in the summer of 2020 – earmarked for a Brussels conference showcasing synergies among the participant projects.

The Plastics Circularity Multiplier will go on to open up its activities and participation in September 2020 to all ongoing EU projects, whether in Horizon 2020 or in the new Horizon Europe framework programme.

As Mr Dangis explains, “The group aims to complement existing resources set up by the EU institutions, such as the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform, the EASME Project Data Base, and the ‘Innovation Radar’ – all designed to engender a veritable ecosystem of EU investments in the circular economy and innovation.”

The initiative is managed by EuPC, as Communication and Dissemination leader of the DEMETO project, with the participation of other Horizon 2020 Projects in the field of plastics circularity:

CIRC-PACK, Circular Flooring, CREAToR, DECOAT, FiberEUse, HARMONI, iCAREPLAST, ISOPREP, MultiCycle, NONTOX, PlastiCircle, polynSPIRE, PUReSmart, REACT, REMADYL, REPAIR3D, SMARTFAN and TERMINUS.

Life project REPOLYUSE has also joined the initiative as guest participant.

EIB, banking institutions launch EUR 10 billion circular economy initiative

25 July 2019

The European Investment Bank (EIB) has teamed up with multiple national banking institutions to support the circular economy in Europe. The partnership will target more than EUR 10 billion of investments to prevent waste, increase resource efficiency and foster innovation across multiple sectors of the European economy.

On 18 July 2019, the Luxembourg-based EIB announced it had teamed up with five “national promotional banks and institutions” from Poland, France, Italy, Spain and Germany to deliver the Joint Initiative on Circular Economy (JICE) with initial investments spanning the next five years (2019-2023).

Supporting the circular economy transition

According to the EIB, JICE will provide “loans, equity investment or guarantee eligible projects and develop innovative financing structures for public and private infrastructure, municipalities, private enterprises of different size (sic) as well as for research and innovation projects”.

In particular, this means supporting investments in European Union member states that accelerate the transition to a circular economy, targeting all stages of the value chain and life cycle of products and services.

This will include investments in circular design and production – applying “reduce and recycle” strategies to design out waste at source – and enabling the “reuse, repair, repurposing, refurbishing or remanufacturing of products in use phase”. The recovery of material and other resources from waste will be equally important.

Stemming the tide of waste

EIB president Werner Hoyer said: “Fighting global warming and environmental crises is the most urgent challenge of our time. Strengthening the circular economy is one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal. It will not only help the Paris Agreement target but also bring huge benefits for the economy and society.”

Dr Hoyer added: “With the Joint Initiative on Circular Economy, we are scaling up our ambition and joining forces with our peers to stem the tide of waste.”

The five banking institutions joining the EIB in the initiative are: Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego (BGK), Groupe Caisse des Dépôts (CDC) (France), Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (Italy), Instituto de Crédito Oficial (Spain) and Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW) (Germany).