Centre of Applied Research Technology


AUAS research results show impact of urban initiatives on waste management

18 Jun 2020 13:30

Organic waste, such as asparagus peel, apple cores or leftover potato mash, is collected separately on a very small scale in the major cities of the Netherlands. Usually it disappears into the incinerator with the rest of our waste. This is a shame, given that the smart management of fruit, vegetable and food waste can help contribute to a sustainable future. Municipalities and other clients face the issue of determining what effective waste management entails. A new tool developed by researchers at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) sheds more light on this aspect.

Organisations engaged in sustainable waste management often require an investment or grant in order to be able to implement their ideas. Parties, such as municipalities or housing associations, are happy to latch onto those types of initiatives in order to achieve their circular targets. The City of Amsterdam, for example, aims to be fully circular (zero waste) by 2050. In order to make an informed decision on whether to optimise or scale up initiatives, clients need information regarding the intended impact – which up until recently was difficult to provide. Because how can you provide insight into how your initiative contributes to a more sustainable world?


‘At the start of our research, we found that there often was a lack of knowledge regarding the impact of a waste management company initiative on sustainability,’ says Maarten Mulder, the research project leader. ‘The tool we developed offers a solution to that problem. It allows us to establish the environmental, economic and social impact of a waste management method in an accessible and transparent way. These are the three pillars of sustainability. The tool consists of an advanced spreadsheet with a lot of variables that represent the three pillars.’


The tool was applied in four case studies from practice where organic waste was collected and processed separately: food bikes, worm hotels, central processing on Java Island (Java-eiland is an Amsterdam city district and actual island) and decentralised fermentation. This is in comparison to the original situation in which organic waste was collected and incinerated together with domestic waste. ‘Surprisingly, these local initiatives, with the worm hotels and food bikes in particular, appear to have had mainly a social impact, contributing less to the pillars of the economy and environment.’


‘Local initiatives foster social cohesion in the neighbourhood,’ says Mulder. ‘Local residents are more likely to gather for a chat at a worm hotel or to help one another with waste and compost. This also entails an educational element: urban residents also learn more about circularity from initiatives in their neighbourhood. Normally they would never separate organic waste, which is something they genuinely wish to continue to do. On top of that, these new initiatives also provide additional work for people who are distanced from the labour market.’


Where the newly developed tool shows the impact of a waste disposal initiative, a new simulation model shows whether the initiative will also work in practice and in the long term. A waste disposal initiative is always part of a waste chain, consisting of various collaborating parties. The simulation models provide insight and tools for the effective organisation of the entire chain, from transporters to suppliers and waste management companies. It also provides insight into which actions must be jointly undertaken to make smarter use of organic waste. ‘Our aim is to use these simulation models to present a robust chain, to encourage the cooperation required between local organisations and to optimise the circular transition in major cities,’ says Mulder.


All the results of two years of research can be found in the final publication ‘Determining and increasing sustainability impact for urban initiatives that process food waste’ (Duurzaamheidsimpact bepalen en vergroten voor stedelijke initiatieven die voedselresten verwerken) . It tells more about the application of the tool and simulation models, the case studies from practice in the Netherlands and the social impact of various new waste management methods helping to realise a circular future.