The geoFluxus manifesto

10 principles against a Linear Economy

1

Change in waste production in the Netherlands since 2016

Change in waste production in the Netherlands since 2016

Source: analysis of national waste data, geoFluxus, 2020

A circular economy is insufficient for reaching human well-being within planetary boundaries

The human population has already crossed several vital boundaries that ensure a balanced co-existence on this planet, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and nitrogen pollution. As long as economic growth is tightly coupled with the use of material resources, increasing the circular use of resources will never be able to satisfy our needs.

In the Netherlands, in 2018, there was a considerable gap between the demand for resources and the amount of resources that were discarded as waste. Which means that even if all of the waste was reused, it would have only been able to satisfy 25% of the year’s demand, leaving a 75% gap of 185 million tons.

Instead of focusing on circular practices, we need to monitor the remaining linear part of the economy because it is more defined, reliable and precise. By focusing on what can be improved, we can simultaneously address the shortcomings of both the linear and circular economy, allowing us to address the root of the problem.

geoFluxus' approach

All achievements are relative to their contribution to the transition

Every little step towards a sustainable economy counts, but it is time to take bigger steps. In 2016 the Netherlands pledged to become 50% circular by 2030. Regardless of all the effort, money, and time spent, resource consumption has been increasing at the same rate.

It is not that those efforts led to no change; the change is just not big enough to be visible. A systemic change - like a circular economy (or beyond) - requires investment in changes with the biggest impact and the biggest inertic power to carry along the small ones. The action potential for achieving the biggest impact can only be identified by taking into account the totality of the system. Monitoring the use of all resource flows helps calculate the relative contribution of the efforts to the total.

geoFluxus' approach

2

Amsterdam’s waste production according to waste source, 2018

Principle 2

Source: Amsterdam Circular Monitor, Gemeente Amsterdam, 2020

3

Percentile breakdown of waste processing methods applied in the Netherlands, 2019

Source: analysis of national waste data, geoFluxus, 2020

Questions cannot be answered by data, queries can

Today, we have more data, statistical methods, tools, and computational power than ever before. And yet, data analysis often results in statistically insignificant findings, conflicting conclusions and dubious discoveries. Those who formulate the questions are often not the ones answering them. Conversely, the ones answering do not have to act upon them. This can create room for miscommunication, leading to unsatisfactory conclusions. In many cases, the miscommunication can be traced back to the translation process from a human-based question to a computer-based query, and vice-versa. 

In other words, only questions formulated to the smallest possible detail - and thus queries - can be answered by data. The same applies in reverse - every answer is only true for the corresponding parameters.

geoFluxus' approach

Numbers have no meaning, we provide them with one

All data-based answers receive a meaning from being placed within a broader context of interpretation. Evidently, each number can be interpreted in multiple ways. However, before this interpretation is validated, it is only an assumption. If a wrong assumption persists it risks becoming an axiom, which is to be avoided. 

Clarity in numbers requires clear communication about what each number entails, what it might mean and what it shouldn’t mean. While data queries are able to provide us with precise numbers, they do not help us unless we are able to correctly assign them with a meaning.

geoFluxus' approach

4

Decision tree for the waste classification algorithm according to which 19,6% of waste in Amsterdam Metropolitan Area can be directly reusable, 2018

Source: Amsterdam Circular Monitor, Gemeente Amsterdam, 2020

5

Word cloud generated based on the free text fields found in the Dutch national waste reports

Source: analysis of national waste data, geoFluxus, 2020

There is enough data out there

Data is not just digital bits of information arranged in tables, but also non-digital types of data, such as invoices and notes. Often these data are already processed into valuable information through decentralized, informal, and non-digital networks. When people say there is not enough data, they often mean to say: “There is not enough centralized, uniform, digital data available to me or my organization”. In essence, this is a matter of data translation and logistics, not data creation.

Therefore “not enough data” is not a valid excuse for inaction. The current challenge is not to produce more data but to gather and reuse the data that is already there.

geoFluxus' approach

There is no “one size fits all” sustainable economy

However appealing it sounds to have a universal recipe that leads towards a sustainable economy, in reality we require recipes of varying complexity. Similar to the absence of a universal elixir to cure all human illness, every circular economy initiative will have to be specified to its context. Every strategy will be able to affect some flows, materials and businesses and be completely ineffective towards others, while potentially causing undesired side effects.

Instead of (or next to) trying to define generic principles for a sustainable economy, we need to carefully analyse all the different aspects of each of them, and provide the most detailed account on the expected effects. We need to take global metabolism research as seriously as we take medical research.

geoFluxus' approach

6

7

Resource division according to the parameters of circularity / potential to be renewed or reused, based on the national waste data in the Netherlands, 2019

Source: Sileryte, R., Wandl, A., & van Timmeren, A. (2022). The responsibility of waste production: Comparison of European waste statistics regulation and Dutch National Waste Registry. Waste Management, 151, 171-180. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2022.07.022

Linear is not the opposite of circular

Answering the question “how circular is our economy?” implies that all of the economy can be somehow divided into two non-overlapping parts - linear and circular. However those two terms are not the opposites of each other but merely two sides of the same coin. Every resource flow is at the same circular and linear, depending on the boundaries of our perspective. Every single resource at some point in time must have been extracted even if that has already happened before we cared about the circular economy. Similarly, every single resource will be disposed of back into the environment at some point in time, even if it is in small quantities over a long period of time.

Instead of blindly separating products, flows, businesses and economies into linear and circular, it is more important to assign them with labels that explain how they do, and do not contribute to a more sustainable economy.

geoFluxus' approach

If a circle is not round, it is not a circle

Too often claims are made about “circular” products and services without providing sufficient context and validation. It is too straightforward to assume that locally reusing imported critical resources such as iron, phosphorus, gold, etc. can be called ‘circular’ as they do not make their way back to their origin. In the global context of resource consumption, prolonged lifespans are not circular, local reuse of global resources is not circular, recycling is not circular.

Circular resource use can only be defined within a specific temporal and spatial context. It is critical to be specific about the actual conditions in which circular claims are made. It is time to stop praising pseudo circles.

geoFluxus' approach

8

Global reach of the secondary materials imported in the Netherlands in 2019

Source: analysis of national waste data, geoFluxus, 2020

9

Knowledge on resource flows is as open as possible, but as closed as necessary

Private organisations and businesses may have good reasons to keep certain data private for competitive purposes. However, governmental institutions, just like research institutions, serve the public. When it comes to the knowledge of resource flows, the available data and methods to collect it are often kept secret unintentionally, or sometimes deliberately. Such a practice may cause lots of double work, uncaught mistakes and mistrust between the organizations. Since the negative effects are generally addressed with (potentially limited) public resources, public institutions carry the responsibility to be efficient and spend wisely.

Therefore, any numbers and statistics published by (or for) the public organisations need to be backed up by the raw data and open-source computational methods. This builds trust between the institutions and lays the foundation for the sharing economy. 

geoFluxus' approach

It is time to start breaking down the silos

Our society’s metabolism is planetary. Global resource consumption and its effects cross geographical, legal, and disciplinary boundaries. Resources follow economic routes, which might not be the closest geographically, nor the most sustainable. Therefore, to change the resource flows patterns, the entire supply chain needs to be taken into account, including its direct and indirect effects within and outside of the local boundaries. Cross-boundary problems require cross-boundary approaches. 

It is time to step out of our own shoes and realise how the transition towards a more sustainable resource management relates to the transitions happening in the fields of energy, climate adaptation, mass migrations and digital transformation.

geoFluxus' approach

10

Annual carbon dioxide emissions on the road network cause by waste transportation in 2019

Source: analysis of national waste data, geoFluxus, 2020