Amsterdam has the potential to make the circular economy work

In Amsterdam, at the United Repair Centre (URC) near Foodhallen, Bakri Zaitoun, a tailor from Syria, is diligently repairing a dark blue Patagonia puffer jacket. Mr. Zaitoun is one of eight refugees employed as tailors at URC, a company established last year to prolong the lifespan of clothing by repairing garments for brands and their customers.

With the assistance of a translator, Mr. Zaitoun reveals that he has been practicing tailoring for 25 years. However, upon his arrival in the Netherlands, he had to undertake various jobs. When I inquire about his experience in returning to tailoring, he responds with a wide smile.

Mr. Zaitoun’s contribution is just a fraction of Amsterdam’s larger endeavor to establish a circular economy.

In a conventional industrial economy, raw materials are utilized to manufacture products that are often discarded prematurely, even before their useful lifespan ends.

The circular economy, on the other hand, strives to sever the connection between economic activity and resource depletion. This entails practices such as reusing, repairing, and sharing materials and products.

Thami Schweichler, the CEO of URC, an organization established under his social enterprise Makers Unite, a creative textile platform, highlights the significance of circularity in the fashion industry, stating that it is currently the most talked-about subject. According to him, every brand is exploring ways to become sustainable, with repairs playing a crucial role in the future of circularity for brands.

In order to drive change, he emphasizes the need for a systematic solution, stating that relying solely on consumer behavior will not suffice.

URC is currently collaborating with five brands, including Patagonia, Scotch & Soda, and Decathlon. These companies send garments in need of repair to URC, which strives to complete the repairs within a week.

Mr. Schweichler aims to surpass 200,000 repairs annually by 2026, already handling more than 400 repairs per week or roughly 20,000 per year.

The clothing industry, propelled by the growth of fast fashion, is notorious for its wasteful practices. The World Economic Forum reports that three-quarters of our clothing ends up being burned or buried in landfills, highlighting the industry’s significant waste output.

Between 2000 and 2015, clothing production witnessed a twofold increase, while the duration for which clothing was worn dropped by 40%, as per the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s findings.

While sustainability is gaining traction globally, the Dutch government has embarked on ambitious initiatives to swiftly transition to a circular economy.

In 2020, Amsterdam became the world’s first city to make a formal commitment to establishing a circular economy, with a particular focus on food and organic waste streams, consumer goods, and the built environment.

Amsterdam aims to reduce its consumption of new raw materials by 50% within seven years. By 2050, the city aspires to achieve full circularity by relying solely on used and recycled materials.

This poses a significant challenge for the construction industry, as it currently accounts for over 30% of global natural resource extraction and generates 25% of the world’s solid waste.

Madaster, a Dutch start-up, aims to make a modest impact on these statistics by introducing an innovative solution. The company has developed an online registry that documents the materials utilized in buildings across Amsterdam. Additionally, it provides valuable information on how these materials can be effectively reused when they reach the end of their life cycle.

According to director Pablo van den Bosch, the built environment heavily relies on materials and energy for product creation. Instead of generating waste through the traditional “make and waste” approach, Madaster emphasizes the significance of reuse. This approach benefits both carbon emissions reduction and waste reduction.

Madaster collaborated with Amsterdam authorities to establish a comprehensive digital database encompassing buildings throughout the city. This database enables the city to gain insights into the materials that can be salvaged and potentially reuse the existing materials in redevelopment projects, rather than resorting to complete demolition.



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By Ryan

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