‘One person’s waste is another’s raw material’

  12 May 2021  |    Interview

There really is no better place for C-Creators than C-Bèta. The aim of this foundation is to help scale up the circular economy in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area’s construction sector. And circularity is exactly what the site on the Rijnlanderweg is all about. Construction specialist Merel Stolker offers her insights into the necessity for circular change.

As a construction specialist and architect, you combine your work for C-Creators with your own business. Firstly, tell us about that business.
“I run my own architecture firm TransforMEER, together with Mirjam Schmull. One project we are really proud of is UCo, which stands for Utrecht Community. We transformed an old warehouse owned by the NS [Dutch Railways] into a trendy, inspiring and – above all – sustainable place to work. I really thrive on projects like this.”

So, C-Creators. What does that ‘C’ stand for?
“For circular. But it could just as easily stand for ‘change’. Because to focus on circularity requires change. The sector association Bouwend Nederland could still be better at considering how something can be built, taken apart and reused elsewhere. C-Creators is currently engaged as a ‘spinner’ in various Cirkelsteden (Circle Cities) projects in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area (AMA). Cirkelsteden is a platform for frontrunners in circular and inclusive construction, and its ‘spinners’ initiate and drive change. As part of our Building Programme AMA, we are focused on guiding and implementing both large and iconic circular projects, and scalable circular projects. A core value is to always share the knowledge gained in the process.”

Cirkelstad Amsterdam has existed for two years now; C-Creators too. Can we already see a change in the landscape?
“Yes and no. Breaking habits is difficult, especially for companies. It starts with knowledge and awareness. Amongst individuals – and certainly the younger generation – you do see change and awareness. But it still takes time before that results in a change in behaviour. A good example: we’re all starting to live more consciously, but we’re actually eating more meat. Becoming aware and acting on it are two very different things.”

Not all progress is necessarily an improvement. Which changes weren’t necessary?
“Innovation isn’t necessarily better. And cheaper production doesn’t always mean better or faster. Mechanised work saves time and maybe money, but craftmanship may be lost. Often, machine-made products or materials can’t be modified. So faster and cheaper doesn’t always equate to a top quality product. And there’s a lot to be said for the value of maintenance. Why throw away broken things – be it your toaster or your phone – when you can reuse, maintain and repair them? Better and easier maintenance leads to a longer product life, so that should be considered at the design stage. Even in buildings.”

Back to the theme of this edition… Why is circularity a game changer?
“Because there’s no avoiding it. Raw materials are becoming scarce and so we have to get back to basics. ‘Have to’ is the key phrase really. We have to constrict, delay and close. By constricting, I mean prevention, using as little energy and raw materials as possible. By delaying, I mean using something for as long as possible, extending its lifespan. And by closing, I’m talking about recycling or biodegradability, ensuring that all components or parts of a building return to the start of the production chain when they’ve reached the end of their useful life. Our goal is that one person’s waste is another’s raw material.”

Noble goals, I think. I’m tempted to say, what are we waiting for? Do you hold such clearly defined goals on a personal level?
“To consider things more carefully and consciously: why do I want to buy this? Can I achieve that in another way? Be it clothes or toys, I want to consider things more before I buy them. I’m also busy with decluttering. It would be ideal if every product had a clear footprint, so that it’s obvious to everyone what it’s made of and what that actually means.”

Finally, do you have an inspirational closing message for the readers?
“That you can always change and contribute to something in a positive way, even if it’s just taking small steps. That there’s always room for improvement is exactly what’s so nice. That’s why you do it, right?”