The city of Almere, working with the business sectors and local stakeholders has developed an innovative circular economy partnership.
The city of Almere was established over 4 decades ago on land reclaimed from the sea. With Weerwater lake at its heart, the area became a hub for sailing, fishing and water sport activities and businesses. However, its crystal clear water, also created a problem. The sun penetrates deep down into the water, encouraging aquatic plants to grow in such abundance they were damaging boat engines, preventing yachts from leaving harbour and risking the area’s reputation and economy. The annual bill for mowing, transporting and burning the water plants was €60,000, but the real costs were at least three times this figure.
The city government has turned a local crisis into an economic opportunity by developing a novel way of reusing the city lake’s over-abundant aquatic plants. This solution uses this unwanted raw material to make paper and furniture, creating a closed-loop waste system that also improves recreational use of the lake and reduces management and maintenance costs.
Originally published by EUROCITIES, the network of 130 European cities - PDF: http://nws.eurocities.eu/MediaShell/media/innovation_Almere.pdf
This project was shortlisted for the 'EUROCITIES Awards' in 2017 in the following category: Innovation.
As a city ambitious to generate zero waste by 2022, Almere started to view the water plants as a raw material that might be used to make other products. The city administration was also keen to comply with another principle of the circular economy and reassign only the original budget to the project, rather than find new money. This involved taking the calculated risk that the €20,000 spent on a report into potential uses of water plants would be recouped by reduced disposal costs the following year. One of the first actions of the Weerwater project team was to bring together the regional authorities, water boards, local university, water sport companies and housing and residents’ associations to draw up a plan agreeing the most effective and sustainable way to mow the plants. The coordination, consensus and communication involved with this task laid foundations that proved helpful for the rest of the project.
Local firm Millvision, who already made paper from tomato skins, was the first to suggest paper could be the simplest thing to make from the aquatic biomass. Antalis, a major paper producer, came on board and together with other stakeholders put together a business case for this idea. The result was a high quality paper, attractive to designers and architects, which Antalis added to its catalogue and sells at a premium price. The cost to produce five tons of the paper matched the cost of transportation and incineration of the aquatic plants.
The project team went on to create a water plant based biocomposite which has been used to make benches. The benches have been installed in Almere’s park and harbour with information panels telling their story. The city government also approached a company that provides 200,000 meals a day for the airline and healthcare sectors and is currently developing food boxes and plates for them. Apart from their ecological benefits over plastic packaging, as organic waste they also save airlines €0.70 per rubbish bag when clearing up at the end of each flight. The cost of mowing the water plants has now been reduced to almost nothing as the entire stock is being used as the raw material for other products. The two main commercial collaborators are now producing the water plant paper themselves, without any involvement from the city.
The lead agency for the project is the City of Almere in partnership with Milivision and Antalis who contributed to the research and development costs.
This first Weerwater lake project has encouraged the city to continue thinking in a circular way, not only in relation to products but also to whole systems. It has identified, for example, that the water in the lake is particularly warm and could be used to heat local houses. Taking heat out of the lake for this purpose could make it possible for the lake side hospital to dispose of its unwanted heat into the water, as it has been requesting, rather than having to use machines to cool the buildings. Ideas like these are being considered as the city of Almere prepares to host the world horticultural expo, Floriade 2022. The city is developing a new 60 acre expo site near the lake which will be founded on the principles of the circular economy with the aim of achieving its energy-neutral and zero-waste objectives. To capitalise on the city’s growing confidence and expertise in this field, a circular collective open platform has now been established with 35 partners to help boost the circular economy in the area.
The benefits of the project extend deep into the municipality too, encouraging ‘outside-the-box’ thinking and cooperation along entire value chains, which is vital if the circular economy is to work.
The successful implementation of the project has required persistence and persuasiveness from the municipal team as there were a number of challenges to overcome. These include changing the mindset of co-workers who used to be responsible for disposing of the water plants and convincing departments, whose budgets were reassigned to the project, to have faith in the concept. There was also a need to persuade leaders to look at how structures and rules can be made more flexible to support the circular economy.
Due to the success of the aquatic plants project, seven other projects that make abundance out of nuisance have commenced in the city.
- Almere aquatic plants to paper & bench, innovative waste project turns water plants into paper - Eurocities, November 2017
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