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The need for action: a perspective from Metabolic and Renewi

Eva Gladek, one of the top sustainability influencers in the Netherlands and CEO of Metabolic, a company tackling global sustainability challenges, met with Otto de Bont, CEO of Renewi, to explore the need for action on climate change and the opportunities the crisis presents.

Otto de Bont: Metabolic brings forward the science of sustainability – driving a transition to a more sustainabile, circular and equitable society. Can you give a perspective on what must be prioritised if European countries, such as the Netherlands, are to become fully circular by 2050?

Eva Gladek: 100% circular by 2050 is a very high ambition – particularly if we look at where we are today! Delivering on the circular economy will require huge systemic change and rethinking from the top to the bottom of the value chain. Circularity has to be about fundamentally redesigning products and value chains and creating new co-operation models between parties. Re-examining how products are designed so they can stay in use for longer, redefining how new business models are set up and taking consideration of the ownership relationship – do you own or lease? And when a product has come to the end of its life, finding the most effective way to recycle it for re-use.

EG: While recycling is critical, it is an end-of-pipe solution. Can you give a perspective on progress being made?

OdB: Currently, the societal recycling rate is pretty low. According to the Circularity Gap Report 2022, only 8.5% of materials are recycled worldwide. Based on my understanding, Northern Europe is leading the world, and while the statistics are higher than the global percentage, total amount of waste collected and recycled remains low. Renewi plays a part in finding new ways to give new life to used materials – particularly where materials are not easily recyclable. Our focus is on ensuring that materials don’t end up in landfill or incineration. We are actively supported by the governments in Netherlands and Belgium, where a taxonomy has been created, allowing us to compete with incineration and landfill. This taxonomy has delivered real progress – today between 1 and 2% of total waste in the Netherlands goes to landfill. This should be compared with other countries, including Southern Europe, where regulation hasn’t been put in place. In these countries, almost half of all waste ends up in landfill.

EG: Renewi operating in Netherlands and Belgium prioritises collection from commercial – or business – waste. This means that you collect monostreams – mixed dry recyclables separated – at higher volumes and you can therefore make more from the waste you collect. What prevents you from achieving a 100% recycling rate?

OdB: 100% is not currently possible. Right now we are on a journey to step up from a market-leading 65% of waste being recycled to 75% by 2025. To deliver on this we are making significant investments in technology. Once we get there we will of course take further steps. But as we know, every time you come closer to 100%, it gets more complicated – and expensive.

OdB: The latest IPCC report rings the alarm bell on climate change, and of course, we hear about it daily in the news. If you look forward, with all the challenges we have to face, how do you remain hopeful?

EG: It’s not just climate change that is alarming. It’s also massive biodiversity loss and nutrient cycle destruction. All these things are interconnected, and we face tipping points across the board in these planetary boundaries. People ask me how I get up every day and keep fighting the good fight on climate change and these other issues. I admit to Renewi plc Sustainability Review 2022 9 being a stubborn optimist. I have been using this term in our company to keep the spirits of the entire team up. The term is from Christiana Figueres, the architect of the Paris Climate Agreement. She brought forward ‘stubborn optimist’ and ‘patient ambition’. In truth it takes time and the requirement is simply that we do our best. So let’s try to make stuff better. And also, maintain the belief that even when chances look slim, they are there. As long as we are trying, there is a shot.

Listen the entire conversation on our podcast: