Transcript: Circular Material Marketplaces with Christian van Maaren
SEE THE SHOW NOTES AND LISTEN AT: Circular Material Marketplaces with Christian van Maaren
Katie Whalen [00:00:05] Hi, I'm Katie Whalen and join me each week as I talk with experts around the globe about Circular Economy. You'll find out what's being done to make it a reality and if it can really solve the problems it promises. It's time for Getting in the Loop.
[00:00:27] Welcome back to the Getting in the Loop Podcast. I'm your host, Katie. And today we have Christian van Maaren of the Excess Materials Exchange getting in the loop with us. The Excess Materials Exchange is a company that Christian co-founded to help connect stakeholders and create value for their customers by finding new uses for materials that were once thought of as waste and previously unused. They work with various industries and sectors, including plastics, textiles and construction materials. In this episode, Christian tells about the economic and environmental benefits that they've created for their users so far, which includes helping to reduce over 70000 tons of materials. We dove into how they're creating value for their customers by finding new uses for these materials that were once thought of as waste. And we've learned about Christian's personal mission to redefine what we deem as wasted material.
[00:01:22] But first, if you're giving presentations related to Circular economy or if you just want to learn a little bit more about Circular economy basics, head over to slidedeck.gettinginthelooppodcast.com to grab a free presentation that I've created based off of presentations that I've given over the course of the last couple of years. And what it is is you can use it as a starting point for your own presentation. So it's PowerPoint presentation. You can add or adapt your own slides into it, or you can just go through the presentation and learn a little bit more about the basics behind Circular economy. So it's 20 slides. It starts off with why we need a circular economy, what is the concept and how can we implement this in practice. And then at the end it finishes with some links to different reports and other resources so you can learn a little bit more on your own. Okay, so now onto today's podcast.
[00:02:17] Well, thank you so much, Christian, for coming on the podcast. To start us off, where are you calling from?
Christian van Maaren [00:02:24] I'm calling it from Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Katie Whalen [00:02:27] Excellent. And you're based out of Amsterdam?
Christian van Maaren [00:02:30] Yes, we are. We're based in the heart of Amsterdam.
Katie Whalen [00:02:34] Wonderful. I love that area. Although I think it's a bit crowded now with the tourists.
Christian van Maaren [00:02:40] You know, especially with the summer coming up, it is getting fairly crowded. But we did find ourselves this little oasis in the old French, this beautiful old French courtyard that sort of shields us from all these tourists.
Katie Whalen [00:02:57] That's good. That's good that you can escape a little bit from from that from them. So you are the founder of Access Materials Exchange, can you tell us what is this company and organization?
Christian van Maaren [00:03:12] Yeah, absolutely. I'm one of the founders, and how we like to describe ourselves is that we are a dating site for secondary materials where we actively match supply and demand and we match materials with technologies that can ensure high value next destinations or next uses for these materials.
Katie Whalen [00:03:34] Okay, so sort of like the Tnder for materials then.
Christian van Maaren [00:03:40] We have often been compared to the Tinder for materials, although I think at the same time Tinder is still quite passive like we are, we really like a dating site in that sense that we really are actively looking for ideal matches.
Katie Whalen [00:03:55] Okay, so mainly from companies to other companies or individuals to companies?
Christian van Maaren [00:04:01] At this stage it's really a business to business and most actually big corporates. So we we handle large volumes of waste streams or other types of access materials.
Katie Whalen [00:04:13] Okay. Okay. And I'm curious, how did you come up with this idea? I think it's clear sort of how it fits in the circular economy in terms of extending the use time of materials and valuable resources. But how did you get started with this?
Christian van Maaren [00:04:29] That's a good question. The Genesis story of the excess material exchange is that it started with the with me actually working for Shell, which of course, is a totally different world living in the US, by the way, in Texas and for Shell. I was working on a sort of an innovative environmental program where I was looking at natural capital and green infrastructure. And in my work for Shell, I worked together with a lot of geos and with those end users through working with them. Also got to got acquainted with the Circular economy and I realized that's the Circular economy is sort of quote unquote, one of the fastest and perhaps cheapest ways to reach the Paris agreement targets. And when I left Shell about three years ago, I moved back to Europe and met my business partner, Mike Adelman, and she is the inventor of the resources passports. We started the Accident Heroes Exchange. And I have to say that the work that we've done so far. Also, our hypothesis is, is confirmed. We see that's the impact we can have by high value matching by bye. Great finding, high value. Next destination for materials. The impact that we can have, especially on CO2 emissions, is quite significant.
Katie Whalen [00:05:55] Okay. Interesting. So you started this with Maayke, and I'm curious now you say about the impact. Have you done some studies to quantify this or do you know of existing studies?
Christian van Maaren [00:06:08] Well, we did. We have a collaborative agreement with Ernst and Young or Eli and with them, we have developed a methodology to quantify using their total volume of the methodology and eco cost to sort of give a financial value or a total value to the matches that we that we identify for our clients. And like I said, we we now processed about 70 tons of materials or weighing about seven Ifo towers. And if you look at the carbon emissions that we can avoid by these matches, it is about equal to the CO2 emissions associated with 850000 car writes from Amsterdam to Copenhagen, in which actually basically means that the whole city of Amsterdam would drive to Copenhagen and that's just CO2 emissions. We also looked at water and we find that the water that we can save is about equal to the water use of 11 million Dutch people. And the and the energy use to we can save you could power over the public lights in Amsterdam for about 11 years with. So you can see that with these with a relatively small amount of material cost. Seventy thousand tons. Sounds like a lot. Really? Isn't that much? The savings that you can create for the for the environment are a really significant.
Katie Whalen [00:07:40] Wow, that's really, really impressive. Thinking about 11 million saving the energy usage of 11 million people, that's pretty much the population of the Netherlands. I mean, I guess it's almost 20, 20 million or maybe a little bit over, but that's about half of it. Am I correct?
Christian van Maaren [00:08:00] Yeah. Well, this is the water use, right? So it's about two thirds of the water use. The Dutch population.
Katie Whalen [00:08:06] Oh, yeah. Exactly. Thanks for correcting me. So the water usage. Making- Hearing this talk of materials, is there a specific type of material that you have been focusing on and that your customers are exchanging or do you do all sorts of materials?
Christian van Maaren [00:08:22] So we do all sorts of materials because actually what we do, we find out since most of the higher value matches actually come from matching different industries and sectors to each other. Having said that, we do find that most of materials that we look at are either plastics, textiles, building and construction or organic waste streams. We've looked at things like ceiling elements, railroad tracks, railroad sleepers, dynamic traffic signs, sludge, orange peels, coffee bean coffee waists, electric wiring, plastic waste rope, aluminum laminated packaging, all sorts of materials. We've looked at already.
Katie Whalen [00:09:08] Wow. Okay, so that is quite a diversity of types of materials. And are you mainly focused on companies? Do you have a specific geographic location that you're that you're focused on? Has it been primarily in Amsterdam and the Netherlands or have you been looking at other areas?
Christian van Maaren [00:09:28] We have been looking at other areas. I mean, just because of our presence, we just see that most of our activities is in sort of the northwest Europe. So being at the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Denmark and a little bit in UK, we do help companies in the US as well and in China. But that's most mostly still on, let's say the phases before using a platform, so doing these material flow analysis and stuff like that. But I think most of the actual matchmaking is happening still in Europe. Now, one interesting thing, though, is that one of our one of the people our network is moving back to New Zealand at the end of this year. And he is now working on sort of starting our platform there as well. It's kind of exciting kind of at the side of the world. But yeah, pretty cool.
Katie Whalen [00:10:24] Yeah, definitely. So I'm thinking, okay, so if I'm a company that has some how does this work? If I'm a company that has some, you know, excess material or waste, do I get in touch? Do I go onto your platform? Maybe you could explain how it works a little bit.
Christian van Maaren [00:10:44] Yeah. Well, let me run you through some of our value proposition. So it's at the core of our value proposition is basically for tools. It's the resources passports, which is basically a structured way of storing information on products and components, material flows.
[00:11:01] And we actually also add a lot of LCA related information to that. We have a tracking and tracing module which basically connects the resources passports to a real life asset. So the sort of resources passport is basically a digital twin and we connect that through various identifiers like RFID chips, NFC chips, barcodes or or QR codes. And in that sense, that's tracking and tracing modulus like we call it technology agnostic. So we can also process any future technology in our out. So that's that module. Then we have a valuation module that gives the material flows that we process a financial value and the non-financial value. And of course, the financial value is quite straightforward, but the non-financial one is what I just explained is the work that we've done with Ernst Young, where we quantify the embedded energy in the material flows, but we also quantify the basically the the impact that we can avoid through the matches that we identify. And the matchmaking module is the is the last model that we have. It's basically a combination of our knowledge and experience and the database that we have and a sort of a toolkit of A.I. or machine learning tools that help us in finding these matches. But what we also see is that these four four tools are not enough to, let's say, make the transition happen. We see that it's really important to build awareness around the circular economy a topic, but also to help in helping our clients realize that these tools are essential in making the transition happen. And at the same time, we also see that it's important to. Provide a sort of value chain and integrative solutions where we work together with key suppliers, but also with key customers of our clients. So we are creating these sort of value chain solutions. And that's one part of it.
[00:13:10] But also what we see is that the organization that we work with do have to go to some sort of organizational change, even if it's only sort of creating a task force that looks at becoming sort of resource directors that are which contains people either from the waste department, Sherman's legal process, a production processing, etc. And that all combined has to be based on a foundation, a strong foundation of knowledge on the legal framework, accounting framework, potential financial models that can help you in making the transition happen. Fostering you have to think about sort of advanced product as a service models here and of course also a strong foundation of knowledge on material science. Like what can you really do? These materials. And that is what we call our circular house million, a holistic approach to making these things happen. Now, that's sort of our value proposition. And how we work is that usually when companies come to us, they either have zero waste strategy or they want to do something with the waste use that they have or they have some circular economy ambition is what we do is we select a number of material flows or product so that they either want something with because they have them in very large volumes or it is has to do something with branding or they feel like it has a has a big environmental impact. We then make a passport of all those material flows and then based on the passport, we find matches and then based on the combination of the material, find a match, we make a environmental impact analysis that we usually report back and say, well, you know, this is what's happening in your company. These are the resource that you control. And then based on that, we make a selection on which which matches that we have identified. We will continue on and we make sort of a business case analysis of those flows that again, we report back to our clients. Then if that's something that they like and that they appreciate, we'll do sort of an integration study where we look at which processes in the organization and which people in the organization will be affected by this potential transaction. And we make sure that. Then it works that it fits. Then we do oftentimes small pilots where we test our hypotheses. And if the pilot is working, if everybody satisfied, we will help with embedding this new solution in the organization.
[00:15:48] So we're in that sense more of that and a marketplace and maybe also even more than a Tinder. We really tried to do risk the whole process for our clients. Because one of the things that we found out is that because waste or accident cures are often something that companies do on the side, it's not really part of their core business. We really try to make it as easy as possible and really seduce our clients, start acting in the right way and also provide them with the tools and knowledge to do so.
Katie Whalen [00:16:21] Yeah. And I was because one of my questions that I had for you that I was going to ask was about, you know, I know of some sort of other materials exchanges like waste mattresses, belief, I believe is based in New York City.
[00:16:35] And then there was also some other tools that I saw maybe coming out of the Netherlands like Circulator. I don't know if that was still existing from Circular economy, but I think what you highlighted this aspect, that it's really a service that you provide and it's more than just a place to just post your access materials. But really, this journey that you take with your with your customers.
Christian van Maaren [00:17:02] Yeah, exactly. Yeah. We found out that, you know, just having a platform is not enough. You really have to make this trade together involves a lot of a lot of handholding at this stage in the transition.
Katie Whalen [00:17:16] So I'm I'm just curious, could you tell me a little bit how it works with the matches? So are these sort of a database that you have or do you go specifically and find people that. Let me rephrase this question with the matches. Is it do you have people who are coming to you looking for materials or is it you really scouting for the appropriate match that works both ways?
[00:17:41] I mean, what we see overall is that the transition itself is mostly a supply driven transition, meaning that most of the clients come to have have a waste material that they want to do something different with, let's say about 80 percent. And that 20 percent is companies that are asking for something like they want to use secondary materials, but they can't really find it.
[00:18:08] And what we do is that we look out into the world where we can find technologies or companies that can do something with these with these materials. And that is based on our knowledge and expertise and the databases that we have. And then we have some now some rudimentary tools or machine learning tools that we are feeding that information based on the database that we have. And that sort of helps us in in speeding up the whole matchmaking process. But I think actually what we find out is that.
[00:18:46] And that we can already quite quickly sort of rely on on a. Pretty big database of matches that we've identified that we can use for. For, let's say, a large part of our clients, because Indians like it's all about plastics and construction material. It's all about textiles and organic waste. And for those flows, we already know exactly where to go to find the right matches. And that holds true for about 80 percent of the material flows that we encounter.
[00:19:20] And that speeds up the matchmaking process significantly. Our expectation is as well as we get more data and also actually as our machine learning tools becomes become smarter and smarter and better and better at providing us with relevant matches that we can really provide our clients with a fairly fast process and already perhaps give good indications of which tutorials can go where, but also really provide as a platform a scalable solution, which is something that, of course, we want to work towards.
Katie Whalen [00:19:53] Exactly. Yeah. And I think that's quite, it's quite interesting, too. And to hear about this and I'm wondering, I can imagine that there's a lot of challenges in terms of the implementation. And in fact, we had on a previous episode, I think it was Episode 9 that I was talking about building a building waste and material waste from deconstructed homes with Joe Connell, who's based in the US. And we have been talking about marketplaces for materials and different challenges associated with that. So maybe for the listeners, could you reflect a little bit on the process of how you made this a reality and maybe one or two, a barrier, an opportunity that you encountered in actually setting this up?
Christian van Maaren [00:20:44] Yes. Well, I think in the work that we've done so far, we have identified about eight challenges. And those are challenges that are either on the supply or demand side of things or sort of hovering in the middle. And so on the supply side, we see that there is challenges around quantity, quality and timing being that's especially in construction, by the way, sometimes a lot of materials are released all of a sudden.
[00:21:15] And in a lot of case, it's quite difficult to guarantee the quality of those materials. It's very difficult to know for sure that they'll be able to carry a certain load or be able to perform a certain function. And so that's on one side of the equation. Then on the other side. On the demand side, we see that a lot of clients don't really or a lot of companies don't really have a sense of urgency yet. Like they don't really feel the pain of resource scarcity or they don't really feel any urgency coming from governments pushing for this. And then we also see that the companies that are actually taking steps are often trying to close loops locally, which in some cases leads to suboptimal solutions.
[00:22:05] I think the interesting example in the Netherlands, where there's a big coffee company where they say we don't have any ways we drive the coffee waste that we have and then we burn it and we use that heat for our processes, which I think is great. Right. Is very commendable that they do this and it's great to sort of sort waste. But at the same time, you know, I think we all know as insiders, that's what we spent coffee. You can do a great deal and you can make ink out of it. You can make cosmetic products out of it so you can use it as a water filter and then you can still grow mushrooms on it. So buy by trying to solve things locally, even though it's quite nice. You often create sort of suboptimal solutions. And then what we also see is that a lot of companies are trying to sort of jam she will circular solutions within current linear business models and that often times leads to friction where they say, oh, you know, we do want to find high value matches for our waste teams, but we don't want to want it to affect our other business. Right.
[00:23:08] They see sort of us as a threat by that. And it usually doesn't work that well, like it doesn't work optimal. And then so those those are the two sides as it is supply and the demand side of these challenges that we've identified. And then in the middle, we see that's the thing that's compounding everything is a lack of transparency. Like a lot of companies don't know that their neighbors have access to. So they can actually use within their within their processes or that's that's a building is being demolished where they're pretty close to maybe in a radius of 100 kilometers, a new buildings being constructed that companies don't know of each other's materials that are being released. And then all these things together make it quite difficult for solutions to scale. You know, oftentimes you see you hear a lot about niche applications of circular economy solutions, which are great, great for PR, but don't really make it make a route real sustained impact. And I think with with the solutions that we provide, it's like using a block chain to store the resources passport and really creating a balance on the one and between transparency, which circular economy needs transparency and any other, and also using as your knowledge protocol to protect the information that's are our clients want to protects. So they can have full control over which information they share with whom and for how long.
[00:24:41] And then I think, you know, the timing aspects when it comes to construction, we try to be involved as early as possible. So, you know, when a building is being demolished. We have already identified next destinations for those materials. So someone only has to pick it up. And maybe there's there are some storage where we can really minimize the time that materials have to be stored stored. Because every time you handle it and every time you have to put it down somewhere, that's costly. And and, you know, very quickly, those costs can become prohibitive.
Katie Whalen [00:25:13] Yeah. I think you bring up a great point there about just yet. These are highlighting these issues of supply and then the demand and also demand, not knowing about the supply. You know, as you said, the building being demolished just. Quite nearby, in fact. And I was thinking yet having this technology that you provide that allows people to also know like what is in my from what I understand, like it cannot enable people to know sort of what the concrete, the makeup of the concrete is or what types of materials are in this building. This can actually help enable it, because one of the things that I have been seeing is about the fact that still, even if you're using like concrete ways, there still has to be a lot of processes and testing to reuse this type of waste in like a new building, so to speak. And I don't know, maybe you've encountered some like put up policy issues as well in terms of legislation and legislation.
[00:26:23] Yeah. I mean, there's a lot of legislative issues. I think what I think is great about Europe is that's you know, politics is our politicians are really enthusiastic about the Circular economy and it's being taken up on an EU level and on a country level as well. We do see, though, that in the EU there isn't any harmonized interpretation of waste definitions yet, which makes it actually quite difficult to transport waste flows over you.
[00:26:57] So it's sort of internal EU boundaries. That's very difficult. For example, if I wanted to transport a waste flow from the Netherlands to Spain, it would actually also have to adhere to Belgium and French waste legislation, which is actually makes it quite difficult to do that. And I think it's also difficult to expect from the markets to create to build up capacity in each of the EU countries, because as you can imagine, they're not that big, especially looking at the Netherlands. So it's often quite necessary to go across borders.
[00:27:35] And this is where we see that the regulatory framework isn't as conducive yet as it can be. We are speaking with various. Policymakers on that and we see, for example, the Benelux, which is an organization that sort of connects the right stakeholders on a political level within the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg to see if we can use it as sort of a as a testing ground or to experiment and show the EU that these things can be possible without necessarily introducing more risk for humans and the environment. But we do see that that's a that's a real challenge to tackle.
Katie Whalen [00:28:19] And our other other sort of next steps. Big challenges for access materials exchange that is on the horizon in the next coming months or years.
Christian van Maaren [00:28:31] Not I mean, there's definitely no shortage of challenges. I think we. We want a big subsidy. Fairly recently we won a call called a circular and digital that was being issued by the metropolitan region of Amsterdam, where they were looking for digital tools to make the whole region more circular. And that's competition that we wanted together with a company called Copper 8. And all the concepts and combined with that competition is that it was a fairly sizable subsidy that we are now going to use to further develop the tools that we have. And you can definitely improve the UI in the weeks, but also use it to improve the machine learning tools that we have and also develop new ones.
[00:29:20] And I think we we will use Das to sort of speed up and focus on development that we have, but also really sort of create this circular momentum. We see that we're working with a lot of wonderful companies, but there's still the numbers are still small, if you will, that we really want to create scale. And I think like I said before, all the barriers that we've identified make it very difficult to scale. I think we really want to see if we can use our digital tools to enable that to really create a massive exchange of secondary materials like what we support. We see now in the research which came out by Circular economy, only 9 percent of the materials that are a circuit that circulate in the world are being are being reused. I mean, we really need to. At least double or triple or quadruple debt over the next 10 years. Especially because we see that the overlap with CO2 emissions is so huge and as we all know, we only have 10 years to avoid catastrophic climate change. I don't see the Circular economy ism as one of the best ways and the best chance to perhaps that we have to make that happen.
Katie Whalen [00:30:41] Well, congratulations, first of all, on this. This winning, this this call. That's really exciting. And I think that is a really nice way for you to be able to continue the great work that you're doing. So congratulations. And I'm thinking at, as you said, that you really bring up this important point about having this scalable and taking these types of activities to scale, because having these one off projects are really great. They they highlight that it can be done and it is possible. But being able to cross borders and exchange materials with people in other countries, especially if you're in a country that's not so large. And there is a need in a different country that can be a good way to pave the way forward with circular economy. Before we before we go, I wanted to ask you the question that I ask all of my guests, which is about that in the loop game that I created about Circular economy and trying to get people to think differently with how we use resources. So in the game, you're a company, you're producing a product and you have to obtain the materials first. But then once you obtain materials, you can decide if you want to buy materials or if you want to exchange materials with other companies or from the urban mine and even avoid making material waste and reusing materials again. So kind of exchange exchanging them. And there's different events that happen in the game. So they see these change the market conditions and they can be positive then they can be negative. They often are inspired by real world events.
[00:32:34] And I had the question for you, Christian, if you could create an event for the game, what would you like it to focus on? That's a very good question.
Christian van Maaren [00:32:45] Well, you know, actually, one of the things that we're working on together with the Dutch government is actually really redefining what waste is. And I think maybe that's a good event for your game. And I'm sure it hasn't been mentioned before.
[00:33:01] But one of the things that we're looking into and we're we're talking about is what if we look at a certain waste stream and if it does not pose any risk to humans or the environment and it fits certain products and specifications, then also it just should be considered a product or a material flow and not a waste at all. Only when there is a significant risk, environmental or human risk, then it should fall within the within the waste bracket. Then actually it will be interesting to see outcomes that like what would happen if waste no longer is a waste and can just be readily used as a feedstock for any new process or for any new construction. I think this is my hypothesis or perhaps maybe is my dream that this would really propel the transition toward a circular economy.
Katie Whalen [00:33:57] That's brilliant. I love it. Redefining waste and having this not be what we think about, but just having it be another material source. I think that's a brilliant event for the game and also a brilliant vision for our actual future. So thank you for that, Kristen. Thank you. And it's been such a pleasure talking to you today. And I'm sure that listeners will want to go and learn more about Access Materials Exchange, as well as the different reports and things that we discussed. So I'll have links to that in the show notes. But where can listeners go to learn more about you and the topics that we discussed?
[00:34:39] Well, they can go to our website at excessmaterialsexchange.com. They can get in touch with me or with the rest of my team through LinkedIn. We also have a Facebook page. We're not that active on our Facebook. So I think LinkedIn would be the best or just go to our website. There is also a form on there which you can get in touch with us.
[00:35:00] Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode, horse show notes and links go to our website at gettingintheleadpodcast.com. And while you're there, subscribe to our mailing list to have new episodes delivered to your inbox every Monday. See you next week.
About the Show
Getting In the Loop is a weekly podcast dedicated to exploring how to transform to a more circular society. Join host Katie Whalen as she examines the challenges facing our current resource use and discovers alternatives to the ‘take, make, dispose’ way of doing things. Each week she interviews circular economy experts about what they’re doing and learning. Together we'll uncover what circular economy means in practice and find out what's being done to keep our resources in a loop rather than sent to waste.