The cabinet would like to see all raw materials recycled by the year 2050. This is set down in the raw materials agreement. And that is a result of the wish to achieve a circular economy. What do we need for that? Well, for one thing, new and circular concepts.
The essence of a circular economy is that linear terms like ‘raw materials’ and ‘waste products’ are the very ones that will disappear. The essence of a circular economy is that processes will be designed in such a way that waste from one process will be used as a raw material for another.
What is a raw material?
The first question that occurs to me, if in the future we are to recycle all raw materials, is what exactly is a raw material? In the past, with our linear mindset, things were simple. Processes converted raw materials into products, by-products, and waste products. A raw material went into a process at one end, and products, by-products, and waste products came out at the other. But how does a circular economy work? Where is the beginning of the circle, and where is the end?
I think I do understand the cabinet - really. It has realized that we are still living - and thinking - in a linear economy. But, on that basis, how can you recycle a raw material? After all, you can use a raw material only once, while a waste product, product, or by-product can be reused. However, I don’t want to make things even more difficult than they are, but one thing is clear to me, and that is that you cannot recycle linear concepts and you cannot use linear wording anymore. They, both, will have to be redesigned too.
“Thinking differently leads to acting differently. And that’s what it is ultimately all about”
A transition to a circular economy requires new concepts and different ways of thinking. And that is exactly what I am doing at TNO. Together with partners from elsewhere in the Netherlands and abroad, I am looking for practical ways to shape this new economy. Thinking differently leads to acting differently. And that’s what it is ultimately all about.