Our mission
The geoFluxus manifesto
10 principles against a linear economy
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.
Geofluxus approach
At geoFluxus, we make tremendous efforts to get our hands on the most detailed and precise data available, even if it involves tiring bureaucratic processes and tedious data crunching. From there, we incorporate the actual material needs of the country or region, including local production, imports and exports. In short, we consider the entire geographic metabolism, not just the waste.

Only the detailed information about the content of resource flows allows us to understand how to reduce the demand for resources in such a way that consumption and regeneration are at least as fast. Knowing which materials or products are discarded as waste in a region is not enough until we know who discarded them and why and where they came from. If we know that 78 000 tons of high-grade wood have been discarded by construction companies inAmsterdam, we can target specific actors and understand the reasons for their waste.

At the same time, we need to know the context of our resource flows well to ensure that positive changes do not come at the expense of everyone's right to constantly strive to improve their well-being. We make sure that all of our data analysis covers geographic location and time as precisely as possible. By knowing where and when positive changes occur, we can compare those changes with indicators of well-being in the same time and space. For example, the dip in waste generation in 2020 unfortunately correlates better with unemployment benefits and mortality rates than with positive environmental recovery.
Change in waste generation in the Netherlands since 2016
Change in waste generation in the Netherlands since 2016
Source: analysis of national waste data, geoFluxus, 2020
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.
Geofluxus approach
We determine the areas of greatest impact by first gathering as much information as possible about the area in question. Then we estimate how much we know, and how much we don't know. We communicate the uncertainty between known and unknown to our clients, because identifying data gaps is a good way to determine practical next steps. We place all figures in the larger context by comparing them with each other and selecting the largest ones based on size or environmental impact.

Reducing household waste is high on the agenda of many governments. Although households and individuals are also responsible for reducing the impact of their consumption, their relative share of total waste in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area is barely 11% compared to the 89% of commercial waste. The unique combination of data allowed us to accurately track this ratio for the first time for the Amsterdam municipality. This creates perspective on the relative contribution of household waste to the total amount of waste in the area. This leads to increasingly informed decision-making.
Amsterdam waste generation by waste source, 2018
Amsterdam waste generation by waste source, 2018
Source: Amsterdam Circular Monitor, Municipality of Amsterdam, 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.
Geofluxus approach
Our experience in data science, sustainable resource management and urban planning enables us to bridge the gap between policy makers and data providers. We formulate questions, and translate them into queries that the data can answer. The precision of our work is communicated to our clients and is inherent in our tool.

For example, if we are asked about a city's recycling rates, we must first establish our boundaries and terminology. Are we talking about the downtown area or the entire urban area? Are we looking at the waste collected in the city, or all the waste processed in the city? Do the recycling rates refer to municipal waste, industrial waste or both? This could also lead to the question of what is considered recycling in the first place; everything that is actually recycled, or does collected unusable waste also count?

Even if a number were calculated, it could be misinterpreted. A larger number or ratio here would often be interpreted as a positive change, even if it increases due to increasing total inputs - and thus does absolutely nothing to reduce resource extraction.

This example shows how a simple question about recycling rates quickly requires extra attention to be worded correctly in a search query.
Percent distribution of waste treatment methods used in the Netherlands, 2019
Percent distribution of waste treatment methods used in the Netherlands, 2019
Source: analysis of national waste data, geoFluxus, 2020
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 should 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 give them a correct meaning.
Geofluxus approach
We provide not only numbers, but also knowledge. We put our numerical findings in the right (human) context. This means we communicate what we think the numbers mean, what they don't mean, and where to start digging if we want to know more.

To give an example: through our reclassification algorithm, we found that 19.6% of all commercial waste in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area was directly reusable. This was the first time such a summary statistic was calculated. Yet it also turned out that only a few economic sectors provided sufficient additional data to make the calculation possible, leading to the identification of sector-specific data gaps.

However, this did not mean that these materials were immediately reused. In some cases, they were simply stored, without knowing if and when they would be reused or disposed of. In some cases, we saw such streams going to incineration. It seems plausible that they could have been processed by a method that retains a higher value. The reasons for not doing so can be varied, from legal to economic. The difference between streams that were labeled as directly reusable and their final processing option allowed us to identify specific material streams that consistently lost value, such as A-rated wood from construction that was burned or composted.

These important lessons provided the municipality with new insights, statistics, and starting points for policy development.
Decision tree for waste classification algorithm according to which 19.6% of waste in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area is directly reusable, 2018
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
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.
Geofluxus approach
We help identify and translate messy data sources into structured information. During our projects we have seen the difference between what private actors in the value chain know about their resources and what is captured in (centralized) government databases.

Often the available information is not centrally accessible. Partly because of the perceived (administrative) burden, partly because it is simply not mandatory. Waste registration systems are designed to record waste, not resources. Similarly, the function of invoices is to record financial rather than material flows. But if every material transaction has a corresponding (digital) financial flow, all the necessary data exist.

Such indirect data sources can be transformed using sophisticated data analysis methods and algorithms. We use machine learning, natural language processing and geospatial probability algorithms to transform and enrich relevant datasets.

While reviewing government reports on waste, we noticed that there was more information available than we thought. In addition to the mandatory European list of wastes, waste reports contain an optional free text field in which further information can be provided. In our experience, about 20% of all waste reports record useful information in that field. Using natural language processing algorithms, we analyze the free text fields, and use them to reclassify waste streams for their potential reuse in a circular economy.
Word cloud generated from the free text fields in the Dutch national waste reports
Word cloud generated from the free text fields in the Dutch national waste reports
Source: analysis of national waste data, geoFluxus, 2020
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 must take global metabolism research as seriously as medical research.
Geofluxus approach
Clearly, not all discarded products and materials can fall under the same objectives and policies. Organic waste obviously cannot be "refurbished" or "repaired," scrap from the production process cannot be "reused," and renewable energy sources cannot be "rejected" if they replace critical raw materials. This calls for the distinction of targets - and thus metrics - at least by material group and economic sector.

Although this seems a rather obvious example, we see that the unexpected effects and mismatches occur in every dimension analyzed. Therefore, we approach the problem with five lenses and their combinations for providing metrics. The lenses allow us to view each data point in its specific context, minimize generalization, and keep the focus on the big picture.

1. The geospatial lens allows metrics to be viewed according to different administrative units and compared with other administratively available data, particularly social and environmental quality. Since waste generation and treatment often do not occur within the same administrative units, the flows and relationships between them also become important.

2. The Temporal Lense allows tracking changes over time, observing seasonal patterns, relating changes to other large-scale events, determining cause-and-effect relationships between policies and effective changes.

3. The Economic Sector Lense enables targeted policy design, identification of opportunities for industrial symbiosis, and differentiation of the environmental impacts of economic activities themselves from the impacts of their materials. Economic sectors can be explored using internationally recognized NACE codes or special groupings, e.g., based on position in the value chain.

4. The material lens distinguishes streams based on their content: original raw material, product, composition, waste classification taxonomy are all different parameters that can be explored through the lens.

5. The process lens focuses primarily on the end-of-life products that undergo a particular treatment. This lens allows to see potential value retention and assess the effects of material disposal.
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.
Geofluxus approach
The clearest example we can give to show that circularity can easily become a vanity metric is the proposal of building two houses, both using exactly the same raw materials, but with one being traditional and the other completely modular; built with standardized units or sizes for flexible reuse. The first house will stand for 100 years as originally built and then be demolished. The second house is torn down and rebuilt by each of the 5 new owners. After 100 years, all the modular components are so worn out that they are discarded, just like the first house. If we were to look at this example from the perspective of 100 years - both houses would be linear. But at any point in those 100 years, the modular house would have been called "a perfectly circular house" and included in all the statistics of "resources returned to the economy."

It is not to say that modular houses should not exist, but to emphasize that even the most circular solutions can be linear in the long run.

This is why we give more nuance to the monitoring of resource flows and stocks and use labels such as biotic / abiotic, organic / inorganic, pure / composite, modular / fixed, critical / non-critical, etc. The labels make it possible to determine which strategy can be applied to each of the potential risks of resource loss, how long the resources are expected to last, the urgency of replacing their use with an alternative, and the strategies needed to dispose of them.
Resource distribution according to the parameters of circularity / potential to be renewed or reused, based on national waste data in the Netherlands, 2019
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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2022.07.022
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 crucial to be specific about the actual circumstances in which circular claims are made. It is time to stop touting pseudocircles.
Geofluxus approach
We integrate the principle of identifying truly circular resource flows by engaging in networking. We literally map resource flows to understand which resources, in which context, can be considered circular. We convert all the data, using geospatial algorithms and specially developed correspondence tables, into a format that can tell us more about the content of the flows and spatial movements.

First, we break down the content of the flows into materials and conditions for high-value applications to reverse the process; from end-of-life to cradle. The material content helps us understand whether the material can make a full circle and be reused in the same product or process. Sometimes such a cycle is possible only at the substance level (e.g., phosphorus can be recovered from wastewater and reused for food production), sometimes at the material level (e.g., using recycled glass to produce bottles over and over again), rarely at the product level. By assigning labels to material streams such as pure/mixed, compound/raw, product/material, etc., we can see if the given stream can find its way back to its source.

The spatial context is important to follow the stream's journey back to its origin, to truly understand whether or not its use can be made geographically circular. Resources leaving a country's borders do not necessarily indicate resource loss or less sustainable use. At the same time, imported resources are not necessarily less sustainable than locally produced ones. Only by tracking global reach is it possible to make reliable assessments.
Global coverage of secondary materials imported into the Netherlands in 2019
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.
Geofluxus approach
geoFluxus is a spin-off company of Delft University of Technology and Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions. We started our careers as academic researchers and took academic values with us. Therefore, we believe that anything paid for with public money should be accessible to the public.

Clearly, governments have information that is too sensitive to disclose publicly. Yet this data and information can be used by governments themselves, under their strict conditions, for the public good. We see that often data from one department is not available to another simply because the purpose of the data collection was different. We take on the task of finding and connecting the missing pieces of information and initiating partnerships across departments.

Some of the data used by our platform in the Netherlands comes from a national database that records corporate waste. While its company-specific information is currently used primarily to drive regulatory agencies, we have extended its value for transition to private parties and nongovernmental organizations through user-specific levels of anonymization. Access to these data creates opportunities for cross-integration of information, such as enrichment with other data sources for monitoring material flows and identifying opportunities for industrial symbiosis.

Finally, although the data are not open, our methods for processing them are open source and accessible to the public. So are the conclusions and aggregate figures we extract from the raw data.
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 the closest or most sustainable geographically. 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.
Geofluxus approach
When it comes to resource flows, we gather as much information as possible to see the big picture. We combine knowledge and methods from different disciplines into one platform. At the same time, we ensure that our findings can be reused by other organizations and combined in the broader knowledge network.

Currently, in our platform we combine traditional Material Flow Analysis (which answers the question, "How many resources are there in a system?") with Geographic Information Systems ("Where do these flows go?), Input Output Analysis ("Which economic activities consume which resources?"), Life Cycle Assessment ("What is the environmental impact of these flows?") and data visualization ("How can we understand the patterns?").

The road network on the left represents the amount of carbon emissions produced in 2019 on each road segment from waste transport alone. Producing such a picture from the underlying data requires integrating all the analysis methods mentioned earlier.

The road network, metadata and all related data can be downloaded for each visualization, and the calculation methods are freely accessible in our code repository. Therefore, our approach is scalable, open-source and multidisciplinary.
Annual carbon dioxide emissions on road network caused by waste transport in 2019
Annual carbon dioxide emissions on road network caused by waste transport in 2019
Source: analysis of national waste data, geoFluxus, 2020