The kitchen as a component in housing is predominantly produced, distributed, used and discarded in a way that contributes to resource depletion, environmental pollution and avoidable greenhouse gas emissions. Kitchens are neither designed nor marketed to join circular economy ‘loops’ - a path where materials are reused and recycled. Kitchens also often do not meet changing needs of users. As a consequence, kitchens are disposed before their technical lifespan exceeds. To translate this missed opportunity to numbers: domestic energy consumption contributes to 21% of CO2 emissions where kitchen appliances are one of the main contributors.
The built environment such as in housing, presents itself as a challenge to society where the ultimate goal is to create a circular economy by 2050 in the Netherlands. The emphasis is still on waste management, which lies in the outer loop of the circular economy model. A more central loop or approach is possible. The circular economy model focuses exactly on this inner loop that targets maintenance, reuse and remanufacturing of goods to prevent waste from being created in the first place. First concepts are worth noting such as IKEA’s kitchen KUNGSBACKA made of recycled materials and Valcucine’s kitchen MECCANICA made to adapt to changing needs of uses. However, IKEA’s solution does not facilitate reuse and recycling and Valcucine’s kitchen is financially out of reach for many customers.
Still, the hope remains to allow for buildings that each consist of installations, kitchens, bathrooms and window-sills where each component is replaced by circular solutions during maintenance and renovation. This would lead to a bottom-up implementation of the desired economy in the built environment.
The Circular Kitchen as a Proof Concept
The proof for the circular economy principle is evident with the circular kitchen and heating boiler as developed and tested for feasibility in the “Circular Components in the Built Environment” project. The project is part of the stimulus projects with the explicit goal of proving two circular components: the Circular Kitchen and the Circular Plug-and-play Central Heating Boiler. The research focuses on buildings managed by housing associations, i.e. social landlords. They are a strategic primary target group, because these associations own 30% of the Dutch housing stock and have a substantial interest in implementing principles of the circular economy. Additionally the adaptability of the circular kitchen is of great value to the residents of social housing, due to the low investment costs and the reversibility of the adjustment. A systemic and integrated approach is key in developing the circular economy principles. For this, four interrelated models are developed in parallel: the technical model (design), the industrial model (supply chain), the financial model and the economic model where both short- and long-term scenarios are taken into account. Also, the Circular Kitchen project aims to develop the proof of concept to bring forth a large-scale example with further scaling potential to match deep retrofit projects in the Netherlands and Sweden.
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