AMS From (urban) mine to building, and back into the supply chain

written by: Luuk Gremmen, student Industrial Ecology at TU Delft & Leiden University

Traditionally almost every blog about circular economy starts with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s famous quote: ‘Imagine an economy in which today’s goods are tomorrow’s resources, forming a virtuous cycle that fosters prosperity in a world of finite resources.’ (2012). But what does it actually mean to have an economy in which today’s goods are tomorrow’s resources?

Let me first take a step back and introduce myself. My name is Luuk, I’m a Masters student studying Industrial Ecology at Leiden University and TU Delft and Management in the Built Environment at TU Delft. My masters’ theses will build on the foundations lain by the PUMA project, as well as contributing to the project itself. My approach is based on the perspective of circular economy, so let’s start of by linking the principles of CE to urban mining and PUMA.

Current and future developments show that the demand for natural resources will increase three times in 2050. Causes underlying these developments are on the one hand the growth of the world population, from 7 billion people today to 9 billion people in 2050, and on the other hand the global economic growth in prosperity. (Swilling, 2011) In the same period, 3 billion people will be added to the middle class, which leads to an expected doubling of consumption per capita.(WBCSD, 2008) Due these developments, improving the quality of life for many is in jeopardy. (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2012) ‘‘Circular economy’ (CE) is a recent way of looking at sustainability, based on thinking in circular supply chains, maximizing the value of materials in which products can be re-used, re-manufactured or/and re-cycled.” (EMF, 2012).

With my background studying the built environment, cities seem to be my natural starting point, but this just because of my background, or is the built environment really one of the most important sectors to focus on? The built environment nowadays is responsible for using 40 to 50% of the raw materials and for 10 to 30% of the waste flow in the European Union. (Uihlein & Eder, 2009) To recycle the materials used in the built environment, there is a trend towards circular building. A method in which buildings are designed in a way that allows the materials used to construct the building to be reused. (ABN, 2014) However, a substantial share of the stock in Europe is older than 50 years with many buildings in use today that are hundreds of years old. (Economidou et al., 2011) To take the UK building stock as an example, the expansion of the building stock and built infrastructure  takes place in most areas at 1–2% per year, with the implication that up to 75% of the dwellings of the year 2050 already exist now. (Ravetz, 2008)

This knowledge makes the reuse, remanufacturing, and/or recycling of materials or parts from the existing building stock a more pressing problem than the design of new circular buildings, and that is where urban mining becomes important. My research aims to bridge the gap between the theory of urban mining and the actual practice, by bringing together the prospection of the urban mines of Amsterdam as established by the PUMA project with the actual rate of return from materials from buildings that are being demolished, and preferably recycled, right now. For me personally the following quote is what finally inspired me to find out if and how this world was possible:

‘In the highly developed economies of the future, it is probable that cities will become huge, rich and diverse mines of raw materials. These mines will differ from any now to be found because they will become richer the more and the longer they are exploited.’  – Jane Jacobs (1970)

Jane Jacobs, the godmother of urban planners, more or less predicted the rise of urban mining by giving it a definition before the term Urban Mining even existed. I hope PUMA will be a great proof of concept of this principle. But what happens after the inventory? How much of these materials are likely to actually be used? What will be their economic value? What are the policy changes necessary? What will the supply chain look like?

I will try to answer the first and the last of these questions in my research. For my two theses the research will be broken down in two parts. Firstly, determine for a specific typology how much of the dormant materials can be regained for the use as secondary materials. Secondly, set up a concept circular supply chain that involves urban mining as the source of materials.

To get to these two topics I struggled with many ideas. First of all, I had many questions, including the two aforementioned questions that I, unfortunately, won’t be answering in my research. Selecting the most relevant ones proved a difficult task. At this moment I’m struggling with the research design for the industrial ecology research. After having struggled with focussing only on the supply chain part that takes place after the act of mining the materials for MBE, I solved that when my supervisor came with the idea of taking the supply chain as a whole, and separating the two researches on a material and managerial level. In four weeks’ time I will finish the research proposal for MBE, then after an extra two weeks the research proposal for IE will be finalised and the research can begin. The planned timespan for my research is from July until December, with time until April to write up the full reports.

Project leader / contact: Ruben Huele,


ABN. (2014). Circulair Bouwen, Het fundament onder een vernieuwde sector.

Economidou, M., Atanasiu, B., Despret, C., Maio, J., Nolte, I., & Rapf, O. (2011). Europe’s buildings under the microscope. A country-by-country review of the energy performance of buildings. Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE).

Ellen MacArthur Foundation. (2012). Towards the Circular Economy: Economic and Business Rationale for an Accelerated Transition. Ellen MacArthur Foundation Cowes, UK.

Jacobs, J. (1970). The economy of cities. New York: Vintage Books.

Ravetz, J. (2008). State of the stock—What do we know about existing buildings and their future prospects? Energy Policy, 36(12), 4462–4470.

Swilling, M. (2011). Decoupling natural resource use and environmental impacts from economic growth. United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) http://www. unep. org/resourcepanel/decoupling/files/pdf/Decoupling_Report_English. pdf.

Uihlein, A., & Eder, P. (2009). Towards additional policies to improve the environmental performance of buildings. European Commission, JRC-IPTS, EUR, 23775.

WBCSD. (2008). Sustainable consumption facts & trends: From a business perspective.