The programmes Amsterdam Circular: Learning by Doing and the Circular Innovation Programme 2016-2018 are based on Amsterdam Circular: Vision and Roadmap. Learning by Doing engendered 20 circular projects for the municipality, including procurement and land development. Within the Circular Innovation Program, the municipality works closely with market parties and knowledge institutes on 30 innovative projects.

The board of Mayor and Deputy Mayors has commissioned the evaluation of Learning by Doing and the Circular Innovation Programme. In this evaluation, a total of 73 projects were assessed.

This case study wants to show the lessons learned from the Amsterdam experience, and indicate which action perspectives are possible to further accelerate cities transition to a circular economy.

Projects evaluation and lessons learned:

The evaluation of the projects shows that the transition to a circular economy is realistic and profitable. Realistic, because the technical possibilities are great: existing projects, as well as new innovations, show that resource loops can be closed locally and are of a high quality. Profitable, because circular projects are financially more competitive than traditional projects when external costs are taken into account.

From the evaluation of 73 circular projects and a validation with businesses, it becomes evident that three value chains (Construction, Biomass & Food, and Consumer goods) and two instruments (Procurement, and Research, Information provision, and Newtworks) in particular are very promising to scale up. For the sake of brevity, only these will be taken into account, but further in-depth information on the evaluation of these and other value chains and instruments are available here.

Value chains

Construction value chain:

Together with market parties, the Municipality of Amsterdam developed the Roadmap Circular Land Issue. This Roadmap was successfully applied in four circular tenders. These circular starting points – included in the development strategy of the City-Port area – can now be applied in other areas as well.

Research, networking and the exchange of information and experiences have shown to be the most important tools in the construction chain. Market parties are willing to build in a circular way. They need clients who specifically demand circular ambitions. Every building that is constructed in a non-circular way hinders high-value reuse of building materials in the future and slows the looping of the value chain. For the near future, instruments like spatial planning policy, land issue and regulations are indispensable.

Biomass & food value chain:

Within this chain there are several successful projects: sugar extraction from biomass in Biopark Havengebied; ammonia extraction from sewage water by Power to Protein; and phosphate extraction from urine at De Nieuwe Stroming. The municipality focuses mainly on research, networking and information exchange and, in some cases, offers financial support.

The chain is often closed in a low-value manner, including the use of biomass for heat production. There is a need for scaling up initiatives that make high-value reuse possible. In addition, logistics, financing, and unclear or restrictive regulations are still obstacles for scaling up. There is a need for the deployment of spatial planning, business support, financing and regulations in order to achieve a successful upscaling of this chain.

Consumer goods value chain:

The municipality started supporting second-hand shops with a payment for the collection of specific products. Progress has also been made in the further development of municipal waste points to resource hubs. In addition, waste points De Pijp and Toetsenbordweg are in full preparation. The municipality is also critically examining the way in which textiles are being collected in the city (less pollution) and if by means of post-sorting a more valuable processing can be reached. Apart from municipal interventions, dozens of sharing platforms have been developed, which enable consumers to initiate a dramatic mentality shift; from valuing the possession of products, to using them. The municipal organisation itself has also taken steps towards further closing the Consumer goods value chain, by, for instance, establishing an internal marketplace for street furniture.

However, several parties in the chain have conflicting interests. New financial models also require a change in the behaviour of consumers, not to mention suppliers. Furthermore, the municipality needs to communicate and create awareness for consumers to change their behavior, also by investing on the role of Primary education, incorporating schools into its network approach.



Procurement is the instrument par excellence that connects the municipality with physical products. It enables the municipality to create a market for circular products. In recent years, there have been a number of procurement processes in which circular principles have been applied, with circular procurement of office furniture as the best known example.

A further deployment of the procurement instrument can make a major contribution to the transition to a circular economy. This requires, among other things, a coordinating role of the lead buyers in the purchasing process, a different organisation of budgets and more functional questions.

Research, information provision, and networks & information exchange:

With its knowledge tools, the municipality has both developed knowledge as well as shared it between market parties. These instruments have helped to acquire knowledge on all value chains.

The instruments have been used successfully to increase the level of knowledge in the city, both within the municipality and with market parties and consumers. Especially the Living Lab approach and the public-private-people partnerships stand out as successful. Therefore, the continued deployment of these instruments is important for all value chains.

Tools for upscaling

The three promising value chains and the two mentioned instruments, together, form five action perspectives. These action perspectives are based on what is needed to scale up to the next phase of the transition.

A. Upscaling the Construction value chain:

In Amsterdam, the challenges in the construction sector are great: they are not restricted to new construction, they also include renovation/transformation, public space, and infrastructure. Should these projects not be built in a circular way, renovation or disassembly becomes difficult, or even impossible. It hinders the future high-value reuse of building products.

The municipality of Amsterdam can accelerate the transition by a further deployment of the instruments of land issue, spatial planning, and legislation & regulations. In order to realise circular projects in the short term and to guarantee circular performance in the long term, a good cooperation with market parties is essential.

B. Upscaling the Biomass & Food value chain:

This chain has seen many activities in recent years, thanks to the Circular Innovation programme in particular. These innovative projects prove that there are many opportunities within this chain for high-value reuse.

A further deployment of the instruments of spatial planning and business support by the municipality offers the greatest contribution. After all, in this chain it is the private sector that has to take the largest steps, and these need support. Continuing the commitment to the Biomass & Food chain ensures scaling up of innovations for high-value reuse. In this action perspective, for example, attention will be paid to activities that specifically focus on food and physical space in the city for decentralised solutions.

C. Upscaling the Consumer goods value chain:

As in any urban area, many consumer goods are being consumed in Amsterdam. With the continued growth of the city, the demand only increases further. Even more than transport and living, these consumer goods constitute the greatest environmental burden of households.

Continued focus on this value chain will mainly be in the fields of business support and information provision. The current emphasis on the end of the chain (waste phase) can be transformed into a structural approach for the entire chain. This leads to a lower environmental pressure.

D. Expanding the Procurement instrument:

Both at the European and the national level, procurement is seen as an important government tool to drive the circular economy. An integral circular demand from the Municipality of Amsterdam drives suppliers to involve the complete chain.

The procurement instrument can be applied to all value chains. The greatest potential for municipalities, however, lies in the value chains of Construction (in the physical city) and Consumer goods (for own management). Structural circular procurement of Amsterdam creates an incentive for suppliers to produce circularly, and also offers them a secure market.

E. Expanding Research, Information provision, and Networks:

The transition to a circular economy shows, in many areas, a need for more knowledge and for sharing experiences. This does not only hold for technological knowledge, but also for knowledge on economic and financial incentives.

By means of research, it should be feasible to chart technical and economic opportunities. Education & information provision should enable the municipality to involve new stakeholders and organisations in the transition. Furthermore, the municipality should also share knowledge and experiences in its networks, enabling all those involved to engage.

The importance of working together

Stating that the transition to a circular economy is realistic and profitable, there is still a demand for many changes in as many areas. The importance of intensive cooperation should not be underestimated. This concerns both internal cooperation within the municipality (both within and between departments) and cooperation with external parties, including between the triple helix of government, business, and science. For this cooperation to be successful, an open attitude, transparency and a willingness to share knowledge and experiences are essential. Learning from each other not only entails sharing successful projects, but failures as well. Learning by doing and the formation of valuable networks are good first steps. However, we need to step up our efforts to make scaling up to the next phase possible. The philosophy of Learning by Doing could therefore be supplemented with Learning by Sharing.

Links to further Information

Please find a comprehensive list of ‘Sources of Information’ here.

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Key Impact
This case study provides five guidelines for upscaling value chains and instruments in the shape of concrete action perspectives, pushing for the importance of having local and national governments, businesses and science cooperating together.
In 2015, Amsterdam became the first city in the world to explicitly explore the opportunities of a circular economy.
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