The geoFluxus manifesto



Change in waste generation 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 to achieve human well-being within planetary boundaries

Human population has already exceeded several vital limits that ensure balanced coexistence on this planet, such as climate change, biodiversity loss and nitrogen pollution. As long as economic growth is closely tied to the use of material resources, an increase in the circular use of resources will never be able to meet our needs.

In the Netherlands in 2018, there was a significant gap between the demand for resources and the amount of resources discarded as waste. Meaning that even if all waste were reused, it could only meet 25% of the year's demand, leaving a 75% gap of 185 million tons.

Instead of focusing on circular practices, we need to keep an eye on the remaining linear part of the economy because it is more defined, reliable and accurate. By focusing on what can be improved, we can simultaneously address the shortcomings of both the linear and circular economies, thus getting to the root of the problem.

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All achievements are proportional to their contribution to the transition

Every small step toward a sustainable economy counts, but it's time to take bigger steps. In 2016, the Netherlands promised to become 50% circular by 2030. Despite all the efforts, money and time spent, resource consumption has continued to rise at the same rate.

It's not that those efforts have led to no change; the change just isn't big enough to be visible. Systemic change - such as a circular economy (or beyond) - requires investment in changes with the greatest impact and the greatest inertia to carry the small changes along. The action potential for achieving the greatest impact can only be determined by considering the whole of the system. By tracking the use of all resource flows, the relative contribution of efforts to the total can be calculated.

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Amsterdam waste generation by waste source, 2018

Principle 2

Source: Amsterdam Circular Monitor, Municipality of Amsterdam, 2020


Percent distribution of waste treatment methods used in the Netherlands, 2019

Source: analysis of national waste data, geoFluxus, 2020

Questions cannot be answered by data, searches can

Today, we have more data, statistical methods, tools and computational power at our disposal than ever before. And yet, data analysis often leads to statistically insignificant findings, contradictory conclusions and questionable discoveries. Those who formulate the questions are often not those who answer them. Conversely, those who answer the questions need not act on 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 question, and vice versa.

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

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Numbers have no meaning, we provide them with that

All data-based responses gain meaning by placing them in a broader interpretive context. Of course, each figure can be interpreted in multiple ways. Before this interpretation is validated, however, it is only an assumption. If an incorrect assumption persists, it risks becoming an axiom, which must be avoided.

Clarity in numbers requires clear communication about what each number means, what it could mean and what it should not mean. Although data queries can provide us with accurate numbers, they do not help us unless we are able to assign a correct meaning to them.

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Decision tree for waste classification algorithm according to which 19.6% of waste in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area is directly reusable, 2018

Source: Amsterdam Circular Monitor, Municipality of Amsterdam, 2020


Word cloud generated from the free text fields in the Dutch national waste reports

Source: analysis of national waste data, geoFluxus, 2020

There is plenty of data available

Data is not only digital pieces of information arranged in tables, but also non-digital types of data, such as invoices and notes. Often this data is already being 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, unified, digital data available to me or my organization." Essentially, this is a matter of data translation and logistics, not data creation.

Therefore, "not enough data" is not a valid excuse for doing nothing. The current challenge is not to produce more data, but to collect and reuse the data that is already there.

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There is no "one size fits all" sustainable economy

As appealing as it sounds to have a universal recipe leading to a sustainable economy, in reality we need recipes of varying complexity. Just as there is no universal elixir to cure all human diseases, each circular economy initiative will need to be tailored to its context. Any strategy will be able to affect some flows, materials and businesses and be completely ineffective for others, while potentially causing unwanted side effects.

Instead of (or in addition to) trying to establish generic principles for a sustainable economy, we need to carefully analyze all its different aspects and describe its expected effects in as much detail as possible. We should take global metabolism research as seriously as medical research.

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

Source: Sileryte, R., Wandl, A., & van Timmeren, A. (2022). The responsibility of waste generation: Comparing European Regulation Waste Statistics and Dutch National Waste Register. Waste Management, 151, 171-180.

Linear is not the opposite of circular

The answer to the question "how circular is our economy?" implies that the entire economy can somehow be divided into two non-overlapping parts - linear and circular. However, these two terms are not each other's opposites, but merely two sides of the same coin. Every resource flow is simultaneously circular and linear, depending on the limits of our perspective. Every single resource must have been extracted at some point, even if it happened before we were concerned about the circular economy. Likewise, every single resource will reenter the environment at some point, even if in small amounts over a long period of time.

Rather than blindly separating products, flows, companies and economies into linear and circular, it is more important to give them labels that explain how they do and do not contribute to a more sustainable economy.

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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 linear to assume that local reuse of imported critical resources such as iron, phosphorus, gold, etc. can be called "circular" because they do not return to their origin. In the global context of resource use, extended life is not circular, local reuse of global resources is not circular, and recycling is not circular.

Circular resource use can only be defined within a specific time and space context. It is critical to be specific about the actual circumstances in which circular claims are made. It is time to stop touting pseudocircles.

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Global coverage of secondary materials imported into the Netherlands in 2019

Source: analysis of national waste data, geoFluxus, 2020


Knowledge about resource flows is as open as possible, but as closed as necessary.

Private organizations and companies may have good reasons to keep certain data private for competitive reasons. However, government agencies, like research institutions, serve the public. When it comes to knowledge of resource flows, available data and the methods used to collect them are often unintentionally, or sometimes intentionally, kept secret. Such a practice can lead to much duplication of effort, undetected errors and mistrust between organizations. Since negative impacts are typically addressed with (potentially limited) public resources, government agencies bear the responsibility to be efficient and spend wisely.

Therefore, all figures and statistics published by (or for) government organizations should be substantiated by raw data and open-source calculation methods. This creates trust between institutions and lays the foundation for the sharing economy.

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It's time to break down the silos

The metabolism of our society is global. Global resource consumption and impacts transcend geographical, legal and disciplinary boundaries. Resources follow economic routes that may not be geographically the closest or the most sustainable. Changing patterns of resource flows therefore requires consideration of the entire supply chain, including its direct and indirect impacts within and beyond local borders. Cross-border problems require a cross-border approach.

It is time to step out of our own shoes and realize how the transition to more sustainable resource management relates to the transitions taking place in energy, climate adaptation, mass migration and digital transformation.

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Annual carbon dioxide emissions on road network caused by waste transport in 2019

Source: analysis of national waste data, geoFluxus, 2020