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Circular Economy in Gelderland, the Netherlands

Interview with Helga Witjes Regional Minister for Economy and Innovation Province of Gelderland, Netherlands.

Where do the Netherlands, and more specifically the Province of Gelderland, stand in the transition to a circular economy?

The Netherlands is one of the forerunners in the transition to a circular economy. The goal is to have a fully circular economy by 2050. Key to reaching this are: reducing the use of raw materials; use as much raw materials when they are needed that are produced sustainably; expand the lifespan of products and materials; and ensure high quality processing of materials for recycling to reduce waste.

On all levels of government, policy has been actively implemented to promote this transition, from legislation to subsidies and support for innovation, to organisational procurement terms and measures. Creating awareness and educating people on the importance of transitioning into a circular economy are also strong focus points. People and organisations are encouraged to consume more consciously and embrace more sustainable manners and practices. The National Circular Economy Plan (NCEP) was drawn up at the national level to provide a framework for policy. For its implementation, 4 transition agendas (kunststoffen, consumptiegoederen, bouw, maakindustrie) have been formulated within which stakeholders can come to further agreements. The new European Corporate Sustainability Report Directive (CSRD) contributes to this on the business side of the transition.

In the Netherlands cooperation between the government, business and society is key in making the transition to a circular economy a success. One cannot succeed in this transition without the other. A fact that is also abundantly clear to Helga Witjes, the Regional Minister for Circular Economy in the Dutch Province of Gelderland.

A circular economy encompasses a wide range of issues. Gelderland is no exception here. For us, themes of great significance are for example circular construction and resource security, waste management, infrastructure and our internal matters as an organisation. A framework for this comes from the NCEP. For instance, we have made circular requirements a standard part of our procurement process.

So, in Gelderland a lot is happening already to realise the objectives of a circular economy. What are some very innovative initiatives from your region?

Gelderland is one of the twelve provinces, or regional governments, in the Netherlands. It is located in the east of the country on the border with Germany. With over 2 million inhabitants in our province, we need to ensure that it remains a comfortable and enjoyable region to live in. In this respect, working towards a circular economy greatly contributes to accomplishing this.

Within the field of circular economy, waste management is one of the main focus point of Gelderland. In moving forward, it is key to deal with sources of ‘waste’ more sustainably and more efficiently. One source of material that generates tons of waste each day/month/year is textiles. We participate through our regional development agency Oost NL in RegioGreentex, an I3 Instrument European project which aims to make the textile industry more circular. In this project for example SMEs are supported to participate in pilot projects to accelerate the creation, development and use of new textile materials with increased recycled content by sharing technologies and methodologies. The larger goal is to generate investment opportunities.

As we are a relatively small region in Europe, we need to cooperate with other partners at the national and international level. Through projects like RegioGreentex, and networks like ENCORE with strong regional and youth participation, we are able to move forward with the transition to a circular economy. Through the ENCORE network for instance, we closely cooperate with the Danish region of Midtjylland on these themes of circular textiles and youth participation.

Alongside waste management, resource security becomes an increasingly pressing matter in times of climate change and uncertainty about access to resources and energy sources. Circular construction is an interesting example in this regard. In Arnhem, the capital city of Gelderland, our offices used to consist of 5 buildings. In 2022, one of these buildings called the

The collaboration between government, business and society is key in the transition to a circular economy. How do you as Regional Minister assist in bridging the gap between policy and practice?

On topics such as circular construction, manufacturing industry, the transition in agrifood, we aim to cooperate with knowledge institutes, businesses, regional development agencies and other provinces. We do this partly by using intermediary organisations (Foodvalley, KIEMT). They work specifically on these themes by spreading knowledge, matchmaking, chain formation and boosting innovations.

One of our main roles is to facilitate and cooperate with partners in moving forward in the transition to a circular economy. And I think that role is very important for governmental organisations to actively fulfil.

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