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Assessing sustainability of residual biomass applications : Finding the optimal solution for a circular economy


Various activities are underway for making new products from organic waste materials in order to minimise the quantity of materials that are wasted (circular economy). For example, the fertiliser struvite is being extracted from wastewater, and energy and fertilisers from cow dung or from beet pulp. New technologies are also increasingly making such developments possible. In order to facilitate sustainable and safe recycling processes, the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment (I&M) wishes to obtain insight into which of such activities it can encourage and which not. In order to decide on this, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) has made an inventory of which information is needed to do so.

The RIVM finds it important to consider the impact of recycling on the environment from an integrated and broad perspective. Such an approach makes it clear what the consequences of a product are, from a social (human perception/experience, employment), financial, and environmental perspective. This avoids scenarios in which a recycling activity may be beneficial from the perspective of one production chain but damaging from the perspective of another.

For example, recycling processes should take into account that certain nutrients must remain behind in the soil to ensure that the soil remains healthy and can continue to fulfil its function. Situations must also be avoided in which a recycled product is no longer available for its original use and an alternative needs to be imported. For example, the consequence of recycling frying fat for use as biofuel is that there is no longer enough available for making soap and that palm oil needs to be imported for that purpose.

To ensure that organic waste materials are optimally recycled, it's advisable to properly weigh the impact of different alternatives and choices. To do so, a clear step-by step plan is needed that makes it possible to measure the consequences from a broad perspective. The RIVM is therefore a proponent of developing a standard method to do so.


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