Towards circular organic waste management: Exploring the potentials for coffee residue use in the province of Utrecht.


This paper analysis the potentials for a transition towards circular waste management in the province of Utrecht, the Netherlands, and proposes a transition agenda to facilitate the transition. We specifically focus on the potentials for small & medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) for several reasons. Firstly, little research has been done on the contribution potential of SMEs to a circular economy. Secondly, a recent survey amongst 300 Western European SMEs found that 50% were not familiar with the concept of a circular economy and that a quarter does not understand the concept (Fusion 2014). Thirdly, given the large number of SMEs in the province of Utrecht (X in year Y), this paper hopes to make a contribution towards new business models and concepts within this important group of actors.

Our paper is structured as follows. In Section \ref{utrecht-province} we briefly highlight the current state of waste management practices and economic developments in the province of Utrecht, followed by a short theoretical review on the circular economy in Section \ref{circular-economy}. In Section \ref{methods} we introduce our methodological approach, which is used in Section \ref{transition-agenda} to develop a transition agenda that can be used by regional policy-makers, companies and other interested actor groups to faciliate the transition to more circular waste management in the province of Utrecht.

  1. What are the opportunities for the province of Utrecht to accelerate the transition to a circular economy?

  2. How can the opportunities be facilitated, barriers removed and the transition be shaped?

  3. What is the desired role for the provincial government in this?

Key highlights of the province of Utrecht


Waste management

The province of Utrecht has a number of projects towards a more sustainable future. These projects are bundled in a sustainability strategy called Utrecht 2040 (Utrecht2040 2014). This strategy consists of a network, established in 2008, bundles comercial industry, governments and social organisasions. Its key projects are a transisionpathway towards 10% sustainable energy in 2020, an integral development of the A12 zone, counteracting empty buildings, a reduction of CO2 and energy usage in exsisting buildings, electrical commuting and green area development.

Recycling and upcycling are notably absent in these key projects. A pathway towards a circular economy or circular waste management has not (yet) been agreed upon - instead the province focusses on a more anthropological view on sustainability. While this is certainly an important aspect of sustainability it does not paint the entire picture.

It should be noted that recycling is absent in the province. Besides a number of shops buying and selling second hand clothing, furniture et cetera (called ’kringloopwinkels’), the province takes care of central waste collection points at which recycling takes place, also most places future waste seperation possibilities, allowing for plastics and glass to be recycled and organic waste to be composted. These opportunities for a reduction of outflow of waste from the system often happen autonomously or are regulated by national or local regulation. If the province of Utrecht were to set challenging targets in this field this could potentially have major impacts on the provinces waste flows.

The Utrecht Sustainability Institute has set up the project ’Circular Economy Labs’, intended to give the circular economy a significant place on the agenda in a number of key sectors (Institute). So far it has not been implemented in the province’s major targets.

Economic performance & latest developments

Theoretical review circular economy


For the scope of this cross-sectoral study, we follow the approach on the circular economy as taken in a study by TNO (2014) on the potentials of the circular economy in the Netherlands. Thereby the main quest of a circular economy is the reusability and recycling of final products and the minimisation of value destruction.

The concept of circular economy aims into turning the old waste sector into a resource industry. The benefits of such a transition from linear economy to the circular one are numerous. Nevertheless, the realization of this transition is a complicated issue requiring a number of actions to be taken from several actors in order to overcome the associated obstacles. A list of actions towards a circular economy is given below:

  1. Establish a clear and consistent strategy.

  2. Create a coherent educational and research system.

  3. Investigate the benefits and drawbacks of the existed legislation and reshape it in the direction of the new and desirable regime.

  4. Provide with benefits the frontrunners of the new concept (e.g. subsides).

  5. Create a promotion program and inform the publicextensively.

  6. Investigate the cooperation possibilities with international actors.



As the foundation of our methodolical approach towards designing an effective transition agenda, we use the transition management cycle (TMC) developed by LOORBACH (2010) and Rotmans et al. (2009). We begin by designing the transition arena1, using the multi-level perspective (MLP) approach (see Geels 2002, Geels 2007) to define relevant niche actors, current regime players and important landscape developments. In a second step, we design an agenda and envision the theoritical potentials of circular waste management in Utrecht based on a study by TNO (2014) on the potentials of a circular economy in the Netherlands. In a third step we operationalise our agenda and introduce an exeperimental setup with a selection of SMEs in the province of Utrecht. The selection is based on a questionnaire that we sent to 150 SMEs in the province of Utrecht (see the appendix). The questionnaire included two questions about the five largest input and waste streams of these companies. The responses had been used to specify X and Y as the waste streams under consideration for the experiment. Lastly, we propose a monitoring scheme for reflexive evaluation of what has already been done regarding circular waste management and how to measure the effects and outcomes of our experiment. We use all these insights gained from the TCM to propose a selection of transition paths that mark steps to be undertaken towards a desirable use of circular waste management.

  1. Define the term