Transiting to a circular economy through innovation

Since the industrial revolution, the world’s economies have operated on a ‘linear’ model where raw materials and prized natural resources are used to make a product and any waste generated such as packaging is thrown away. With populations growing and natural resources depleting, this model is no longer sustainable. A ‘circular’ economy based on innovative design, technology, reusing and recycling is needed. In a circular economy, manufacturers design products to be reusable. For example, electrical devices are designed in such a way that they are easier to repair. Products and raw materials are also reused as much as possible, such as by recycling plastic into pellets for making new plastic products. It operates on the fundamental principle of producing and consuming responsibly.   

A government-wide programme for a circular economy was launched in the Netherlands in 2016 and they have set an ambitious target of being completely circular in 2050. It offers opportunities for new and existing companies, designers, researchers, the community and the environment. The fulfilment of the Dutch circular economy ambition does not appear daunting, as many businesses in the country are leaders in innovation, design, recycling and creativity and the European Union expects the transition to a circular economy to boost economic growth by €550 billion and create 2 million jobs. 

Singapore and the Netherlands are united by the similar challenge of having limited natural resources and land space. With its ambition of becoming a zero-waste nation, the Lion City could learn from the Dutch experience in the circular economy. A good place to start is domestic recycling, which has remained at around 20 per cent since 2012. According to the OECD, this is far behind Taiwan (55%), South Korea (59%), and Germany (64%).

Here to share the Dutch experience is distinguished Professor Louise O Fresco, President of Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands who serves as a non-executive director of Unilever and was a member of the supervisory Board of Rabobank and of the Socio-Economic Council, the highest advisory body in the Netherlands. She has written and spoken extensively on sustainable development and food issues. 

Louise O. Fresco
President, Wageningen University & Research

Professor Louise O. Fresco is President of Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands. She combines a long academic career as professor with Wageningen University and various visiting professorships, with an extensive involvement in policy and development. She is a member of the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences and four foreign academies, as well as Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Academy of Sciences of South Africa. She served for nearly ten years as Assistant-Director General at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, with extensive periods in Africa, Asia and Latin America. She is also a member of the Trilateral Commission. In 2014,  the EU Commission invited her as Chair of the Evaluation of the Seventh Framework Program for Research. She received two national prizes - Comenius and Groeneveld - for her work.

Professor Fresco serves as a non-executive director at Unilever, and was a member of the Supervisory Board of Rabobank and the Socio-Economic Council, the highest advisory body in the Netherlands. She is a member of the Council of Advisors of the World Food Prize. In addition to her involvement in many philanthropic and cultural foundations, she serves as a board member of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, previously a member of the Erasmus Prize Foundation and member of the editorial board of the Dutch literary magazine De Gids.

She has twelve non-scientific books published in Dutch, including three novel, and a fortnightly column in the leading daily NRC. In 2013, the six-part documentary Frescos Paradise based on her book Hamburgers in Paradise was broadcasted on Dutch TV. In 2013, she published a thought provoking op-ed in science magazine, on "The GMO Stalemate in Europe". Professor Fresco has also participated in Nobel Prize Dialogues in Stockholm and Tokyo.

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