Linking the Circular Economy to Sustainable Development – an SDG perspective

Over the last years, we have become familiar with the term „sustainability“ and at least those working in the sector are familiar with the „Sustainable Development Goals“. But yet, we face difficulties in measuring these and what sustainability means to begin with. Does sustainability imply to act ecological, to stop buying and moving into a rural house, while maintaining self-sufficiency? And if yes, does that mean we can simply change the system? Likely not, because in some ways we are all connected to the system, whether it is us using renewable energy sources to power our homes (who produces the means to do so ? where can it be bought? and how is energy even transferred? ) or whether we make use of other public services like hospitals, the legal system, medicine, transportation, education and IT services?

At the same time we are aware that consuming and producing -as we do now – has drastic effects on our health and the planet and we therefore need to take into consideration more sustainable approaches. Yet, putting sustainability into practice seems difficult and my favorite way of doing so is by looking at the circular economy.

Why the Circular Economy? The Circular Economy looks at keeping our resources as long as possible in the loop and by changing the way we design, produce, consume and dispose goods and services. The circular economy therefore appears  „sustainable“ by design and adds economic incentives for actors to transition instead of „good-will“ only.

How can we link the Circular Economy to Sustainable Development?

Dictionaries define poverty as “the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money, means of support or material possessions” (1)(2). Using circular approaches could help to lift people out of poverty by creating new markets. Examples are new jobs that focus on waste-products accross the supply-chain such as transforming agricultural waste into value added products. An example is the transformation of coconut-husk into chips or fiber-boards for the construction industry – instead of burning it. Or the production of paper from agricultural waste.

According to the EllenMacArthurFoundation, 10% of the global population continues to go hungry. In a circular economy, food is designed to cycle, so the by-products from one enterprise provides inputs for the next. Depending on the stage of the supply chain, end of life food waste can be used to produce new foods like pasta made from bread waste. Another example is the opening of restaurants and supermarkets that sell and transform produce that does not meet the typical “beauty and quality standards”.

In a health assessment published by the World Health Organization (WHO), direct and indirect benefits of the Circular Economy can be related to a reduction of environmental impacts of manufacturing processes (by improving air, water and soil quality and by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions). Other positive impacts could deprive from a greater focus on material health of products such as by developing bio-based products, i.e. compostable bags and building materials.

The circular economy makes it easier to observe our constantly changing world comprehensively and offers a good foundation for lifelong learning and the education of new professionals. What better way is there to introduce business models or for the CE/sustainability then at the educational level already? Preparing our current generation to become agents of change for a world with wicked challenges and where creative /entrepreneurial solutions are needed – see Windesheim Honours College NL

Gender equality, besides being a fundamental human right, is essential to achieve peaceful societies, with full human potential and sustainable development (4). Bamboo, for example is a bio-based/cricular material, that can be easily grown and transformed on homesteads and thereby helps women to create an income – frequently responsible for household tasks. In addition, bamboo can be used to create new jobs and materials that feed into other sectors and provide women with an economic opportunity not to return to their abusing (GBV) homes.

Loss of productivity to water- and sanitation-related diseases costs many countries up to 5% of GDP (WHO 2012). Universal access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation and hygiene would reduce the global disease burden by 10% (5). One way the Circular Economy can help, is through the development of applications that collect and transform human waste into value; i.e. energy produced through anerobic digestion systems and the promotion of, for instance, compostable toilets.

Modern society depends on reliable and affordable energy services to function smoothly and to develop equitably (5). As the demand for energy is growing, new ways of producing energy need to be found. A fantastic way of creating circular and affordable energy is through the transformation of biomass waste products into energy. Biomass is a renewable energy source to begin with and waste will always exist (6).

According to the EllenMacArthurFoundation it is estimated that, in the sectors of complex medium-lived products (such as mobile phones and washing machines) in the EU, the annual net-material cost savings opportunity amounts up to USD 630 billion. For fast moving consumer goods (such as household cleaning products), there is a material cost-saving potential of up to USD 700 billion globally (7). This does not yet take into consideration the amount of new jobs that could be created i.e. through innovation and new industries.

Infrastructure has a major influence on whether resources can be preserved to use again or whether they are lost forever(8). A few Circular Economy approaches are the building of modular houses, renting of materials, LEGO like buildings or the use of bio-based materials for entire buildings like up-cycled paper brickets, wood and bamboo (reinforced concrete). Did you know that UNMigration uses bamboo for emergency shelter?

Inequalities in income and wealth are severe and have been widening globally. Businesses are engines for economic growth, having the potential to create jobs, foster economic activity through their value chain, and contribute tax revenues for public services and infrastructure (9). The circular economy can be used to create employment opportunities accross the supply-chain and by creating new jobs and markets in producer regions, thereby promoting reduced inequalities across the globe.

 According to the Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation, cities consume over 75% of natural resources, produce over 50% of global waste and emit between 60-80% of greenhouse gases. Cities are places, where most challenges are encountered, but they are also the places to find the most suitable solutions. Cities can serve as innovation hubs by experimenting with circular buildings and the integration of animals into cities to feed on grass instead of using machinery as example.

Circular Economy implies developing new business models such as paying for performance, designing products for using them as long as possible, reusing and remanufacturing products at the end of service life, and recovering/recycling a maximum of resources to avoid waste in production, supply, use and disposal (10). Could we rent clothes, furnuniture and other products and return them for a discount or a new product? Yes!

As populations, economies and standards of living grow, so does the cumulative level of greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions (11). By focusing on renewable resources and replacing the use of finite materials we can avoid an increase in GHGs emissions. An example is the building with bio-digradable or recycable materials that return to the manufacturer at the end of the life – This could be particular relevant for the hotel industry, which tends to refurbish the interior i.e. tiles at an average of five years.

The world’s oceans – their temperature, chemistry, currents and life – drive global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind (14) The Circular Economy supports to keep our waters clean and profitable such as by using treated waste water for factory cooling towers instead of freshwaster. This helps the environment and keeps factory costs down as treated waste water is 50% cheaper than freshwater (15). Other examples are the replacement of plastics with bio-degradable materials.

A flourishing life on land is the foundation for our life on this planet. We have caused severe damage to it through deforestation, loss of natural habitats and land degradation (16). We can halter deforestation and still create profit. An example is IKEA in Australia that provides customer with a discount for returning their old furniture. The furniture is up-cycled and/or resold at a discounted rate. In addition, green designs i.e. rooftops bring nature back to cities and help to cycle air at a discounted rate. (Imagine the cost of treating respiratory infections due to pollution and the cost saved).

We cannot hope for sustainable development without peace, stability, human rights and effective governance, based on the rule of law. However, lack of employment and economic growth opportunities, often seem to play a barrier for sustainable development and peace and thus, leads more likely to corrupted behaviours. With the CEs huge job market potential and slower resource consumption, it could be expected that corrupted behaviours decrease and more financing for good governance was made available.

Circular Economy is one of the 14 themes for the Urban Agenda for the EU partnerships established as part of the Pact of Amsterdam. Several of the partnerships have developed actions to reduce barriers for a transition towards a circular economy in cities (17). Nowadays, where challanges are complex and unstructured, and supply-chains connected more than ever, partnerships are essential. An example is the complex construction industry in which different glues, different types of materials and building ownerships play a huge role in the circular potential of a building.

Of course, the Circular Economy is extremely complex, but what I like most about it is, that it has multiple solutions for complex problems. We just need to look at it from different perspectives and view our global economy as an interactive and creative system. We don’t necessarily have to eradicate the system, but we can work with it and begin with circular changes step by step, consume a little less, produce a little better, cycle materials as long as possible and think in systems [and ideally bio-based].

Untapping the value of bio-based waste in Asia

Article featured in : 5th Edition Circular Asia Magazine

South-East-Asia (SEA) is noted for several plantation cash crops, of which the most important are tea, rubber, palm oil, coconuts, and sugarcane. Besides these, SEA is also home to many fruit trees and fruit bearing shrubs that are productive throughout the year. Some of the fruits most familiar to us and available for direct consumption are jackfruit, dragon fruit, banana and mango

We quickly notice that many of these fruits are covered with a protective layer such as the peal of a banana or the hard shell of coconuts. Once the flash is consumed, the protective layer is often disposed, accummulates in a landfill-mix or is being burned. The consequene is that the burning and the accumulation of bio-waste contributes to an increase of GHGs emissions either in the form of methane through organic breakdown or carbon dioxide through burning.

Bio-based waste can be profitable

Many of us, including farmers and consumers, are used to this type of linear production, consumption and disposal. But, with the circular economy, we can go one step further by creating value from organic waste. In doing so, we can provide environmental benefits, but most of all create multiple employment opportunities with carbon friendly products. The uses of these products are versatile and with this issue, we would like to begin with providing entrepreneurial incentives for two organic waste products.


Banana is counted as one of the most important global food crop and is currently cultivated in around 129 different countries, with India contributing approximately 15% of the total fruit production worldwide. Banana fibre is produced from the ‘pseudo stem’ of the banana plant, which would usually be burnt or left to rot (apart from a small amount that is fed to cattle) (Mavulo, 2018).

Turning banana waste into profit

Instead of letting it rot, one one oft the world’s strongest natural fibres known as musa fibre (banana fibres) can be produced from it. The natural fibre is made from the stem of the banana tree and consists of thick-walled cell tissue, bonded together by natural gums and mainly composed of cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin. Banana fibre can be used to make a number of different textiles with different weights and thicknesses, based on what part of the banana stem the fibre was extracted from (Hendriskz, 2017). Of course, other products can be produced from it as well such as paper and rope.


Although dragon fruit is not included in the most consumed fruits or the highest produced  fruit,  the  cultivation of dragon fruit  is increasing. As people consume largely the flesh of the fruit, the amount of dragon fruit peel waste increases likewise. In Indonesia dragon fruit peel waste contributes to the 40% organic waste out of 200 tonnes of annual waste (Putri et al. 2018).

Turning dragon-fruit waste into profit

One of the most beautiful things about the dragon fruit is its color. Dragon fruit peel provides natural red color produced by pigment called anthocyanin which can be used as a subtituent from synthetic dyes to natural dyes (Sudarmi, Subagyo, Susanti and Wahyuningsih, 2015).  Because of that it has been identified as a potential source of red-purple colour with a moderate antioxidant activity for food and cosmetic decorations. Its ecological origin is meeting an economical perspective and consumers’ preference for green products as well.

Why natural dye?

  • They have a minimal environmental Impact – Because they come    from natural sources, natural dyes are not harmful to the environment, which makes it so appealing for consumers.
  • Renewable – Natural dyes are obtained from renewable sources that can be harnessed without imposing harm to the environment or simply our foods, clothes and hair 😊 (Keycolors, 2020)

Bio-waste can help us untap full environmental and economic potential in Asia.

With a growing population and more people to feed, the demand for food increases rapidly, but so does waste. Each plant and each organic material has unique featurest hat can be used and tranformed into value. In doing so, we do not only provide  enivronmental benefits, but we can also create circular employment starting on  the farmer level and rural regions.

                                               We are looking for you!

Are you an entrepreneur who already engages or produces products from bio-waste? Then, we would love to hear from you and feature you in our next magazine!


Hendriskz, V. (2017). Sustainable Textile Innovations: Banana Fibres. FashionUnited. Retrieved from:

KEYCOLORS (2020). Advantages and Disadvantages of Natural DYES. Retrieved from:

Mavolu (2018). From Waste to Value: Banana Fibre for Fashion and Textiles. Retrieved from:

Putri, C. H., Janica, L., Jannah, M., Ariana, P. P., Tansy, R. V., & Wardhana, Y. R. (2018). Utilization of Dragon Fruit Peel Waste as Microbial Growth Media. The 10th Conference of Indonesian Student Association in South Korea, At University of Science and Technology, Daejeon

Sudarmi, S., Subagyo, P., Susanti, A., & Wahyuningsih, A. S. (2015). Simple Extraction of Dragon Fruit (Hylocereus polyrhizus) Peel as Natural Dye Colorant. Eksergi12(1), 05-07.

Could the future of paper be cow-dung? An experiment to turn cow and horse dung into paper.

Background (Initially posted in April, 2020)

Since toiletpaper has become an important topic over the last weeks, I became dedicated in learning about its production process. I quickly learned that to extract fibers from wood ligning (acts as natural glue) for (toilet)paper but also textile, a lot of chemicals are needed.  Because I had no machinery to produce toiletpaper, I experimented with producing paper only with naturally abundant resources mechanically.

To begin with, I started producing paper made of grass, as the fibers are very long and stick well without having to use any glue.

Because I was drying and then processing the freshly cut grass, it appeared rather time-consuming; This made me remember the role animals play in digesting only parts of their food and dispersing seeds and other residues for further use. To avoid the processing of fiberous grass or hay mechanically, I came up with the idea to experiment with my neighbors’ cow and another neighbors horse dung.

And hurray!  the processing of it into paper was much simpler. Because the residues were rather short, I mixed it with grass fibers to hold the paper together. Ta-daa; I created different types of paper using only organic (waste) materials.

The Process

Extracting Grass Fibers as dung chip paper binder

Step 1

  • Cutting wildely growing grass
  • Drying it (i.e window or on top of a heater)
  • Because grass has long fibers, I recommend cutting it into smaller pieces
  • Cooking it between 1 and 2 hours

Step 2

  • After cooking, rinse the fibers. To do so, I used a simple noodle strainer.
  • Feel free to pour more water over the strainer and wash the grass more often with your hands.

Step 3

  • Because grass is very fiberous, I recommend using a small portion, fill it in a bucket with water (rather use more water then too less) and mix it. To do so, I used a simple blender with two blades.
  • It is likely that the fibers will quickly tweeze around the blades and knot together.
  • Unplug the blender from the socket and add the blend back into the bucket and rins it out.
  • Repeat this process multiple times until you do not see a lot of greens around the fiber mix anymore (This could take between 10 to 20 minutes)
  • Your fibers are ready and can be put aside.

Extracting dung-chips for paper

Step 4

  • Find a horse or cow dung supplier (for paper I recommend using horse dung, because the diet is less mixed. The horse dung I used came from a horse that is mainly fet with natural grass, so the residue, I would call it dung chips is available in high quantity and quality)

Step 5

  • If you try it at home, please cover the area around the sink, because you don’t want the dung splashing around
  • Fill the bucket with water and mix it with a spoon until the dung dissolves into one liquid mass. It goes very quick with horse dung in oppose to cow dung.

Step 6

  • Rinse and wash it multiple times.
  • The water will become gradually lighter

Step 7

  • Here is now the part where I am washing the horse chips with laundry detergant.
  • I followed the same processing of washing and rinsing it out. The laundry detergant (used it 1 time) really helps in cleaning the chips as you can see on the lighter water.

Step 8

  • Cook the chips (I added 5 tablets of soda) for around 20 minutes to remove the bacteria.
  • Rinse it out again for two more times to have pure and clean horse/cow chips/dissolvant.

Step 9

  • We are ready to mix horse dung chips with grass fibers.

Step 10

  • Now we can follow a simple paper making process using the grass fibers and the horse chips.
  • I recommend watching the video below, because it nicely illustrates the entire paper making process

Here are a few photos of my paper making process for which I used an old picture frame and a mosquito net.

Step 11

  • Ready!

Congrautlations – We made paper from farm waste and wild fibers!

  • Amazingly as gift 🙂
  • The paper smells very natural (not like dung)
  • The chips can be used for many more products (creating a truly circular bio-based economy), i.e. pallet parts and pellets.
  • Nature (fauna and flora) has many interacting solutions towards a more sustainable world. By using animal chips, we skip the process of wood chipping and simply create value from waste.
  • Could animal could play a solution for deforestation?
  • A mind shift may be needed to move our thoughts away from “stinky dung” to value dung.

Special Thanks to

  • Amazing YouTubers
  • Friends and family
  • My former teacher in ecology at TU Dresden for teaching me about seed digestion and dispersal
  • My former university Windesheim Honours College that engaged us students in a human waste challenge
  • My last university (Maastricht University) for reaching out to alumnis and asking how we spend our time in the face of covid-19 and motivating to write a blog on that topic
  • Maastricht Sustainability Institute, who taught us students to think in systems and about innovation for sustainability
  • My enthusiastic cowfarm neighbor
  • The wonderful owner of a horse
  • Very much, the innovative farm I get to stay and help out at 🙂

Interested to learn more about it or curious to think about new bio-based innovations? Please feel free to reach out.

Biobased materials can support mitigating Scope 3 emissions

[Note: This post is an old one of mine and on Google p.1. I no longer fully agree to it, because different products are made of different materials etc. . It’s still interesting, so I keep it. Feel free to contact me for more.]

One of the many reasons that make me support bio-based materials, is their untapped potential as circular material. There is no sand or mineral that can transform itself as a result of anerobic digestion processes as ecological and energy efficient then bio-based materials.

Transforming bio-based resources has multiple benefits. One of them is the fact that we use re-growing organic matter that (quickly) captures carbon, we then move it or simply transform it and at the end of the materials’ life-cycle it can become [ideally] one with nature again- dead organic matter.

In addition, using, re-using, up-cycling and recycling bio-based materials will be one of the key components in tackling the climate crisis and accounting for environmental responsibilty as well. The reason is that bio-based materials can be transformed into other by-products along the value chain and therefore aid in reducing scope 3 emissions (next to scope 1 and 2 emissions).

Scope 3 emissions are those emissions that occcur outside of control of the company such as transport and waste disposal. They constitute up to seventy-five percent of a company’s emission footprint and therefore inhibits a firm’s ability to pursue the most cost-effective carbon mitigation strategies (Downie and Stubbs, 2013). Another disadvantage is that scope 3 emissions are not accounted for in the National Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. Our current GHG inventories are therefore incomplete, or misleading.

Yesterday, I watched an excellent Webinar by UNDP on the Circular Economy and a New Generation of NDCs. It was highlighted that a country could be well on track to achieve its NDCs as most of the production, where emissions are occuring, have been outsourced. But if we would look at emissions from a “consumption” perspective”, countries would be much less likely to meet their NDCs. This particular relates to the fact that only scope 1 and 2 emissions are accounted but not scope 3 emissions.

Type 3 emissions can be largely reduced if we look at bio-based materials

When we look at the bio-based model of the circular economy, lets say for housing, it is relatively easy to point out that organic waste can be used for multiple purposes. On the image below, waste water is used and transformed into energy, which is again used to supply energy for the household and other applications.

This model can also be applied to entire cities such as on the image below. This model also runs on the integration of renewable energy and bio-based waste to generate energy and add value to the urban setting as well. The model would not function, if it would not incorporate organic waste.

The bio-based economy is more efficient then the non-bio based economy

Of course, circularity also works with other non-biobased materials, but there are limits to their re-utilization and their potential in mitigating scope 3 emissions. In the webinar an excellent example of a “smartcrusher”, which breaks concrete back into its homogenous ingredients was pointed out. I like that it is possible to reutilize these ingriedients, but there are emission limits towards their reutilization and value additon.

Bio-based materials can support carbon neutrality

On the opposite, if we were to adapt more bio-based materials, we could use less finite materials, create value from organic waste products and meanwhile, add value throughout the production. An excellent example for me is bamboo, because of its versatile industrial applications and alternative to steel.

If we look at the production of bamboo boards, each waste component can be used and transformed again either in the form of energy [i.e. gas, electricity] or products [i.e. pellets, charcoal, bio-char]. I like the image of a wood production process below, because it illustrates the versatility of timber waste products. This also applies to bamboo, besides that bamboo grows much quicker and drives well in degraded soils.

Bio-based materials help our planet thrive

A few months ago my former thesis -supervisor introduced me to the concept “ThriveAbility”. ThriveAbility reframes sustainability by focusing on the positive benefits of collectively living within our means ( operating within the carrying capacities of capitals). ThriveAbility does this by weaving two additional dimensions into the sustainability equation that remedy the Social and Governance weak spots, while catalysing context-based environmental performance. It basically looks at adding value to our environment instead of exploiting it (Baue, 2016).

With bio-based products we can do so. An example is bio-char that can be produced as waste product and be fet back into farms. Biochar can be used as soil enhancer as it holds carbon, boosts food security, and increases soil biodiversity, and discourage deforestation. The process creates a fine-grained, highly porous charcoal that helps soils retain nutrients and water. Biochar is found in soils around the world as a result of vegetation fires and historic soil management practices. Intensive study of biochar-rich dark earths in the Amazon (terra preta), has led to a wider appreciation of biochar’s unique properties as a soil enhancer (InternationalBiocharInitative, 2019)

Mitigating scope 3 emissions works well on the local level

Since our supply chains are connected across the globe, it is more difficult to achieve carbon neutrality during transportation. But if we would overall , in each region and city of the supply chain focus more on bio-based materials [and renewables], we could feed more energy into our transportation system and therefore ensure that we are meeting our global target under Paris.

My ideal supply-chain would be an integrated bio-based supply chain, which integrates circularity on each stage of it. Since there are growth-limits for bio-based materials, I would emphasize circular business models for end consumers and producers; 1. To capture product value and 2. To have sufficient time for circular systems to regenerate within out planetary boundaries.

My ideal and over simplified global circular supply-chain . On factory level, we can drive on bio-waste products and feed some components back into the farm level, such as bio-char as soil amendment

On a global level, there are of course more barriers and I recommend reading the article on “Bio-based Materials Within the Circular Economy: Opportunities and Challenges” by Brundklaus and Riise (2018) to receive a greater insight into that topic.

Have you become intersted to calculate your Scope3 emissions? I found an excellent technical guideline by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, which provides standards, guidance, tools and training for business and government to measure and manage climate-warming emissions. You can access it here.

For questions and comments, feel free to contact me below.


Baue, B. (2016). An Intro to ThiveAbility: The Next Stage of Development for Sustainability. Retrieved from:

Brunklaus B., Riise E. (2018) Bio-based Materials Within the Circular Economy: Opportunities and Challenges. In: Benetto E., Gericke K., Guiton M. (eds) Designing Sustainable Technologies, Products and Policies. Springer, Cham

CarbonTrust (2019). What are Scope 3 emissions?. Retrieved from:

Downie, J., & Stubbs, W. (2013). Evaluation of Australian companies’ scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions assessments. Journal of Cleaner Production56, 156-163.

GreenhouseGasProtocol (2020). Scope3 Calculation Guidance. Retrieved from:

InternationalBiocharInitiative (2020). Biochar is a Valuable Soil Amendment. Retrieved from:

Soezer, A. (2019). Circular Economy and a New Generation of NDCs. UNDP Webinar. Retrieved from:

Limits to growth for the bio-based economy, why circularity is the way to go in 2020

A few weeks ago I watched a Netflix documentary on healthy diets, which highlighted the versatile and healthy diets of hunter gathrers. Hunter-gatherer culture was the way of life for early humans until around 11 to 12,000 years ago. The lifestyle of hunter-gatherers was based on hunting animals and foraging for food.

What I liked most about the documentary was to see a balancing interaction between humans and their ecosystem. Whatever they used to hunt, to wear and to cook was bio-based and once an item fullfilled its purpose such as food, a used spear or old clothes, they could be thrown away and turned one with nature again. Life focused on necessities, instead of likeabilities; whatever had been thrown away, needed to be thrown away.

Our way of interacting with the “real word” drastically changed and we started to become adjusted to as well as to desire materials that are non-organic. These are materials that at the end of their life-cycle accumulate in the environment somewhere, rather then becoming part of it. These are also materials that can be produced very quick!

Some of these materials include synthetically produced textiles, or the processing and use of sand and metals for construction. Others include plastic to wrap goods, or fossil fuels to supply us with heat. Hunter gatherers instead would have hunted for food and would have used all parts of their pray such as the skin for leather. They would have collected wood from the sourroundings to serve as a source of heat and fire wood. Whatever waste they had created in their different tribes, turned one with nature again.

Nowadays we are driving on quick consumption, the rush it evokes in us, the happiness it brings and the quick accessibilty for it. One click on Amazon and we can buy the new shirt of our favorite Instagram feet or those that Tom and Jaz are wearing. Another click and we can buy new shoes and a few years later, we finally can buy that interior decor we always wanted. The industry knows that and they are more then dedicated to supply new products and innovations on a rapid basis.

The industry also knows that our resources are running short, environmenal regulations are turning stronger and therefore increasing research to develop and re-apply bio-based materials. Suddenly the way of living with our environment such as of the hunter-gatherers appeals.

!Biobased materials do not equal sustainability

As an individual, I believe that you can think of various bio materials i.e. grass to produce paper or sheep woll for textile. But my favorite industrial bio-based “sustainable” material is bamboo, because it matures within 3-5 years and it can be processed into almost everything. It is also my favorite ecological resource, because it stores water year round, regenerates degraded lands and can serve as an alternative to tropical timber.

While I truly support bamboo as an alternative to other materials, I also acknowledge that its growth rate of 3-5 years is limited. Let’s say if we had 16.000 hectars of bamboo and needed all that bamboo to supply sufficient fibre in one year, then it is likely not as “renewable at the end”. I also acknowledge that certain processing methods such as the chemical once for fibre production, make it less ecological and biodegradable. This is the opposite for mechanically produced fibres, but the processing is lenghty and labour intensive. This currently makes it less desirable by the industry.

To continue promoting or developing ecological, fair or lets say “slow” materials within the current consumption model, the only way to go forward is the Circular Economy. I would say that the Circular Economy aligns well with the principles of the hunter gatherers, as waste turns into value again.

Why is that important?

Because if we want to continue promoting sustainable materials (let’s say ecological, not causing deforestation, no pollutions entering the environment), then we have to acknowledge that there are limits to growth for “bio-based materials.” Yet, to maintain that current economic model, we simply capture the value of products at the end of their lifecycle. In doing so , businesses keep the value in the company and consumers can maintain similiar consumption models.

We can achieve this by promoting business models for the circular economy that capture the value, of products and materials at the end, but also throughout the production of a product.

Would you like to know more about business models for the circular (bio-based) economy and receive help with identifying integrated models that are most suitable for your business?

Please feel free to contact me any time.

How does bamboo compare to other construction materials? – A micro material comparison

Throuhgout the last years, bamboo has been engineered into various products. Due to its fast growth and its tensile strenght, I frame engineered bambo as a niche resource that directly competes with timber. With my Master thesis, I concluded that bamboo boards outweight timber products made from oak, maple, walnut, birch and cherry in terms of its strength properties and durability. Likewise, engineered bamboo outweights timber in terms of its properties and is perceived as an excellent building material, if it is less visible or more available with greater design variance.

How does bamboo compare to other construction materials?

Cement, concrete, aggregates, metals, bricks, clay are the most common types of non-renewable resources used in construction. Next to these natural materials, wood is also used frequently (Wang, 2018).

Cement, is a binder, a substance used for construction that sets, hardens, and adheres to other materials to bind them together. There is no present bamboo cement replacement.

Bamboo reinforced concrete

Concrete and cement are often used interchangeably, cement is actually an ingredient of concreteConcrete is a mixture of aggregates and paste. The aggregates are sand and gravel or crushed stone; the paste is water and  cement. While it is not possible to fully replace concrete with bamboo, it is possible to produce bamboo reinforced concrete (Karthik et al., 2008)

Currently  steel reinforcement is used frequently to provide additional tensile strength and energy absorption capacity to concrete members. But conventional M.S. (Mild steel) or HYSD (High Yielding Strength Deformed) bars are heavy in weight, costly, nonrenewable and un-ecofriendly material. To mitigate this concern a sustainable, renewable, ecofriendly material like bamboo can be used as steel substitute. Using bamboo reinforcement can improve the flexural performance of slab panels (Mali and Datta, 2018).

However Archila, Kaminski, Trujilo, Escamilla and Harries (2018) describe that “the poor durability and bond characteristics of bamboo require through-thickness treatment and additional surface treatment of bamboo reinforcement, respectively. Such treatments, as described in the literature, are labour intensive, costly, and often utilise materials of known toxicity .”

Metals are commonly used in the construction industry due to their durability and strength to form structural components, pipework, cladding materials and other components.

Bamboo is stronger than the metal steel, in regards to the tensile strength. Overall, the ratio of tensile strength between the weight of bamboo is six times greater than of steel. If treated and processed well, buildings can be fully engineered with bamboo. As highlighted above, bamboo can be used as concrete reinforcement and steel alternative.

Construction aggregate, or simply “aggregate”, is a broad category of coarse to medium grained particulate material used in construction, including sand, gravel, crushed stone, slag, recycled concrete and geosynthetic aggregates. Aggregates such as sand are the most mined materials in the world. According to the World Economic Forum (2019), between 32 and 50 billion tonnes of aggregate (sand and gravel) are extracted from the Earth each year. Excessive sand mining of river deltas, such as the Yangtze and Mekong, is increasing the risk of climate-related disasters, because there’s not enough sediment to protect against flooding.

Direct and indirect impacts of aggregates dredging on the marine environment (UNEP).

In Manlapas, Cardenas and Anacta (2018) study, they produced concrete samples with 1% and 3% bamboo fibers as additives. It was concluded that the addition of bamboo fiber increases the compressive strength of concrete. Substituting coarse aggregates with certain percentage of bamboo fiber produced a decreasing trend on its flexual strength, though it increased as the bamboo fiber composition/materials increased.

Another study incoroporated bamboo ash into fly ash geopolymer concrete. It concluded that bamboo ash can be one of the alternatives to geopolymer concrete when it faces exposure to high temperatures.

Bricks are still in common use today for the construction of walls and paving and for more complex features such as columnsarchesfireplaces and chimneys. They remain popular because they are relatively small and easy to handle, can be extremely strong in compression, are durable and low maintenance, they can be built up into complex shapes and can be visually attractive.

I found only one website that sells” bamboo bricks” , but it does not describe the content of the bricks. Another study applied bamboo waste material (charcoal) on ecobricks.

What does the future hold for bamboo bricks?

Different types of wood and wood materials are also used for the construction of buildings. The company SwissKrono, produces prefabricated timber construction and uses a mix of timber and non timber material on project base. Solid timber constructions involve prefabricated sturby but relatively lightweight walls, ceilings and roof modules that are assemblied on the construction site. Other materials include the construction frames which are stabilised with OSB panels. There are also penalised constructions, in which walls and ceilings are largely prefabricated.

These type of constructions can also be produced from bamboo and likely outweight timber due to its lightweight, strength and hardwood characteristics. In addition, bamboo already matures within three to five years and could therefore serve as an alternative resource next to controversial produced timber , particular from the tropics.

A barrier for a fully ecological bamboo utilzation is the type and the amount of chemicals used for the production of engineered bamboo products. If bamboo products are produced in closed loop systems or if bio-based resins are used, bamboo could serve as a sustainable and circular building opportunity. Another option would be to produce modular bamboo buildings or components, that can be re-used at the end of the buildings life cycle.


The future of the bamboo building industry looks promosing, particular as a result of bamboo being a strong and lightweight material. However, at the moment, it seems difficult to replace conventional building materials such as cement, concrete and aggregates with bamboo. The main potential of bamboo remains in being an alternative to steel as bamboo composite material and as major structural support for buildings. Bamboo also holds huge technical potential as “background matrial” (i.e. MDF/OSB plates/ foundation).

Questions? Please contact me.


Archila, H., Kaminski, S., Trujillo, D., Escamilla, E. Z., & Harries, K. A. (2018). Bamboo reinforced concrete: a critical review. Materials and Structures51(4), 102.

Global Status Report (2017). World Green Building Council. Retrieved from:

Jöst, A. (2019). Bamboo in German Manufacturing Practices. Master Thesis. Maastricht University

Hutt, R. (2020). This is the environmental catastrophy, you probably never heard of. World Economic Forum. Retrieved from:

Karthik, S., Rao, R. M., Awoyera, P., Akinwumi, I., Karthikeyan, T., Revathi, A., … & Saravanan, S. (2018). Beneficiated pozzolans as cement replacement in bamboo-reinforced concrete: the intrinsic characteristics. Innovative Infrastructure Solutions3(1), 50.

Mali, P. R., & Datta, D. (2018). Experimental evaluation of bamboo reinforced concrete slab panels. Construction and Building Materials188, 1092-1100.

Manlapas, G. O., Cardenas, L.E., Anacta, E.T. (2018). Utilization of Babmoo Fiber as a Component Material in Concrete. Indian Journal of Science and Technology. 11(47).

Wang, T. (2018). Construction Materials Industry. Retrieved from:

Bamboo a green building material and trade opportunity for Europe and Indonesia

Throughout my five months stay in Indonesia, I was able to receive in-depht insight into the present challanges and opportunities of bamboo for the Indonesian and international market. I looked at the potential of bamboo for the European Market as sustainable building opportunity , the current bamboo market in Indonesia, forestry and trade regulations and how it compares economically to other cash crops. To write it, I conducted qualitative interviews with experts in the field of bamboo and by filing through Indonesian law and further literature.

The report is very short. Please feel free to contact me for any questions!

How sustainable is bamboo textile?

How sustainable is bamboo textile?

To begin with, bamboo is a fast growing resource and because of that has turned it into a favorable renewable resource. However, being renewable does not imply that it is sustainable in the processed stage such as with (some) bamboo textile. Since there have been debates about bamboo being a sustainable opportunity for textiles, I decided to look into the textile production process and evaluate, whether bamboo textile is as sustainable as advertised or how it would need to be to be sustainable. To start, I decided to look into the different types of fibre groups used in the textile industry.

There are three basic types of fibre groups:

• Natural fibres

• Regenerated fibres

• Synthetic fibres

“Regenerated and synthetic fibres are collectively known as man-made or manufactured fibres. Natural fibres are, as the name suggests, those which occur in nature, such as wool from sheep or cotton from cotton plants (Kozlowski, 2012a, 2012b). Regenerated fibres are made from natural polymers that are not useable in their original form but can be regenerated (i.e. reformed) to create useful fibres (Woodings, 2001). One of first regenerated fibres was rayon, also referred to as viscose or viscose rayon, regenerated from wood pulp. In contrast, synthetic fibres are made by polymerising smaller molecules into larger ones in an industrial process (McIntyre, 2004), “(Sinclair, R, 2015).

In what category does bamboo textile fall into?

Bamboo in itself is a natural material, it is appreciated for its quick growth and versatile purposes. Bamboo is rich in cellulose, which forms the plant fibres. You can see them in the images below (the dark dotted parts in the culm crosscut). The lighter part is the lignin, the organic substance that is binding the plant fibres.

While bamboo fibres are indeed natural, the process of producing textile from bamboo turns into a man-made production process, which can be divided into two bamboo textile production processes; The mechanical and chemical process.

The mechanical process

In the mechanical process, known as “thermomechanical fibre processing“, fibers are being extracted by firstly splitting the culms or by crushing them. These parts are then being cooked with alkaline phosphatase (a salt, but also natural acting enzyme) to extract the fibres (this step is also known as degumming). Once degummed, the fibres are being washed, dried and spinned for the production of textile.

Because this process involves the use of enzymes for the extraction of the fibers, it is one of the most environmentally friendly methods.

On the left image below you can see the bamboo’s natural very thin fibers, that are difficult to extract by hand. Because they keep their natural “rough” characteristics in the mechanical process, they are less favored by consumers. On the right image you can see two types of fibers. Can you guess, which one is the natural man-made fibre bundle?

The chemical process

The chemical process (regenerated fiber processing) differs largely to the mechanical one. It is used moslty for industrial purposes. It is the process by, which the smooth and soft form of bamboo textile, known as bamboo viscose, is produced (see white bamboo bulk on the image above). In this process all noncellulose constituents of the culm are removed. It could described as any natural surface material that “protects or covers” the fiber (viscose). “Raw cottons, for instance, contain a number of noncellulosic materials that are generally considered to be surface related and may therefore affect fiber quality , ” (Brushwood, 2003).

Bamboo viscose regenerated fiber process (Van Dam, 2018)

For the chemical process, a pulping process is used in which the cellulose fibre is seperated from bamboo pulps through chemical applications (see image above). First of all, bamboo fibres are cooked to remove any polymers (kind of like the natural glues) and organic acids. This process helps to losen the fibre structure and to have chemicals penetrate into the fibers more easily. During that process chemicals are added. ” Most common are the Kraft and sulfite pulping processes. Alternatively, alkaline (sodium/anthraquinone) or organosolv (ethanol, or acetic or formic acid) are used and followed by multiple bleaching sequences, ” (Van Dam, 2018). Once the process is completed, bamboo fibres can be filtered and spinned.

The “biofriendly” chemical process

I happened to come across one more “biofriendly” processing method in which Lyocell is produced from bamboo.  Lyocell is “a cellulose fiber that is precipitated from an organic solution in which no substitution of the hydroxyl groups takes place and no chemical intermediates are formed, ” (Chen, J., 2015).

Lyocell fiber production process (Chen, J. 2015).

During the process of lyocell production (smooth and soft fiber), only one organic compound is used to dessolve the fibers known as N-Methylmorpholine N-oxide (NMMO). The production process then seems to be simliar to the one that produces viscose, with the only difference that waste such as waste water seems to remain in the production system (closed loop production) and therefore does not result into environmental contamination.

Lyocell production process

As I am reading more about it, I was suprised to see that Lyocell fiber appears to be one of the most sustainable and environmentally friendly once that exist. The only criticism I could find was that the transformation of lyocell fibers into fabric and garments can use many or the same harsh, and even toxic, chemicals and processes used in conventional garments . It can therefore be recommended to purchase it from certified fiber and textile suppliers.

A patent in 2011 regarding the bamboo textile process using pulse shock treatment, high temperature and high pressure cooking process, and microbial treatment as more environmentally friendly approach to process bamboo fiber has been registered;

Is bamboo textile sustainable?

Comming back to the initial question, I would argue that bamboo viscose, used most in the industry, is not sustainable, or in other terms ecologically produced. Many chemicals are being used for the production and it may be unclear, where these and particular waste waters are released to. In addition, these chemicals can also hugely negatively impact the health of manufacturers. Lyocell production, which appears to be less used by the industry, but receives a growing recognition, seems to be promoising in terms of fiber quality, and its closed-loop production process. The traditional, mechanical process, seems to be the most ecological, but less appealing in terms of product quality as the properties of the fibers remain rather natural at this moment. It seems that it is possible to create high quality fibres with the mechanical process, but I could not find sufficient Information.

While I have mixed feelings about the different production processes, I still rate bamboo highly sustainable for textile, due to its fast growth. In comparison to other viscose that is deprived from wood, be it certified or not, I would argue that bamboo fiber provides a sustainable resource in comparison to others such as conventional timber or eucalyptus, which is known for its high rates of water consumption.

Another example is cotton. Gobally cotton covers just 2.4% of the worlds’ cultivated land, but uses less then 6% of the worlds’ pesticides (and 16% of isecticides), more than any other single major crop. On the other hand, bamboo can grow with minimum to no fertilizer and pesticide inputs. Bamboo is a pioneer plant that can grow in margenalized and degraded land, where other crops couldn’t.

For people concerned about deforestation, but not “ecological production”, I would vow for bamboo textile. However, if we were to clear land for the establishment of bamboo plantations I would out-vow bamboo textile!

How does the future for bamboo textile look like?

First of all, I would argue that we should move away from fast-fashion clothing and choose clothing that is made to last. If we buy textile made from wood viscose and throw it away after a single season, we are neglecting the fact that wood takes more then one season to grow. Bamboo on the other hand, which takes around three years to mature, provides a more sustainable opportunity. However, as with bamboo, bamboo fibers have to be produced in such a way that they meet sustainability criterias; sustainable sourced bamboo (minimal pesticide and water control during cultivation) and bamboo sourced from sustainable managed forests, bamboo produced in environmentally/people friendly conditions.

Feedback and/or questions? Feel free to contact me.


Bajpai, P. (2018). Biermann’s Handbook of Pulp and Paper: Volume 2: Paper and Board Making. Elsevier.

Chen, J. (2015). Synthetic textile fibers: regenerated cellulose fibers. In Textiles and Fashion (pp. 79-95). Woodhead Publishing.

Brushwood, D. E. (2003). Noncellulosic constituents on raw cotton and their relationship to fiber physical properties. Textile research journal73(10), 912-916.

Nayak, L., & Mishra, S. P. (2016). Prospect of bamboo as a renewable textile fiber, historical overview, labeling, controversies and regulation. Fashion and Textiles, 3(1), 2.

van Dam, J. E., Elbersen, H. W., & Montaño, C. M. D. (2018). 1Wageningen Food and Biobased Research, Wageningen, The Netherlands. Perennial Grasses for Bioenergy and Bioproducts: Production, Uses, Sustainability and Markets for Giant Reed, Miscanthus, Switchgrass, Reed Canary Grass and Bamboo, 175.

Sinclair, R. (2015). Understanding Textile Fibres and Their Properties: What is a Textile Fibre?. In Textiles and fashion (pp. 3-27). Woodhead Publishing.

Enjoying bamboo in Mount Halimun – Java

Yes, I do absolutely love bamboo, but there is nothing more beautiful than the interaction of entire ecosystems, ranging from a mix of plant and animal species.

I think that trees are incredible beautiful and they are incredible versatile, but name me one tree that you can use as quickly and easily as bamboo.

First of all, let me just simply begin with…wow… . Tropical bamboo is just incredible beautiful. It is huge, thick, strong with incredible leaf fall. Its leafs quickly cover forest ground, which decompose rapidly and become nutrient to other fauna and flora species (the little decomposers, hardly visible to the human eye).

Now comes my first question from the forest. Why are we transforming raw materials (lets say steel), by using tonnes of energy and resources to create a round artificial structure that fullfills the same purpose as a bamboo pole (see bank left picture). Why are we cutting and slicing trees that take likely many more years to regrow instead of using bamboo that also fullfills the same purpose (see right image). Of course, either way bamboo for longevility purposes needs treatment, but that is another story.

Bascially on these pictures here above, all you have to do is to walk in the forest with a a saw or machete, cut a bamboo pole, cut it a little more short, bind it together and here we go; a swing, buildings, stairs,… .

Here you can see a little bit better how the poles are sticked together. Okay, for the bridge you have to slice the bamboo culms into smaller stripes and parts. But even then, can you recognize how bendable bamboo is? It can even be wrapped around a finger for multiple times without breaking.

Bamboo and bendability… I think it can be difficult to imagine what it actually means, when we are used to pictures that illustrate the bamboo pole by itself. Isn’t it beautiful though? I have to commit that until this weekend I was mostly writing and reading about its bendability potential.. So I decided to sit in a river and understand it myself. I hope it will help you too 🙂

And then.. it is also fiberous. Fiberous.. Fiber.. What is actually fiber ? It is also difficult to imagine because we usually buy finished products such as textile.

Here you can see the fibers. These are those very thin “lines” that can be processed and used for textile. The process is a little bit complicated and I do not want to touch upon it. If you are interested, please read here.

Besides that, I think bamboo is simply incredible. You can use it to build houses, particular earth quake resistant once, I am yet to promote them more in regions like those in the Ring of Fire – prone to earth quakes. You can simply work with bamboos hollow structure (see picture in the rice field) but also use it to support building structures (picture in the middle).

Most of all, I think it is also incredible fun to play around with it, look at it, use it and understand how we can promote it more for its versatile purposes. Bamboo is not just a grass, to me it is a power plant; you take it from nature, cut it, treat it and use it. In an age in which time is scare! bamboo is a trully sustainable solution.