NS aspires to be a fully circular company by 2030. Circular purchasing is the key to circular business operations and circular trains and stations. In tendering procedures, NS includes circularity as a key consideration in plenary supplier meetings, in the selection phase and in the award criteria. For example, during the business uniforms market consultation in preparation for the tender, we sat down with some 80 suppliers to explore possibilities of further increasing the sustainability of our business uniforms. NS is also a member of Green Deal Circular Procurement, which aims to share knowledge and expertise and accelerate the circular economy.
The circularity of our trains
We deploy our trains as efficiently as possible. Our VIRM1 double-decker trains have been in service for 20 years. We are now engaged in a project to modernise them, upgrading 86% of the old components and reinstalling them in the trains as good as new. Of the other material, 13% is put to new uses elsewhere. This means that in total, 99% of each old train is given a new lease of life (2018: 97%). For example, old train floors are turned into table-tennis tables, table-football units, acoustic phone booths and meeting cubicles. Train ceiling boards find a new use as desktops in NS offices. This allows us to keep 25 million kilogrammes of valuable materials in the cycle, enabling each new train to transport passengers for another 20 years. See the Train Modernisation Social Impact Analysis for more details about this project.
When a train has reached the end of its economic life, which is around 40 years, we explore options of renovating or selling it. If both are infeasible, we remove all the valuable components for reuse in our other trains. We also remove collector's items and sell them via the kaNScentraal foundation, an initiative launched by a group of NS colleagues to support people who need assistance. We then dismantle the train in a circular fashion.
Sale of train materials
NS aims to retain valuable materials for higher-value reuse in the cycle. In other words, we want to move from disassembly and waste separation to recycling and upcycling. This concerns the 13% of all train components that are given a second lease of life. One of the ways we achieve that is by offering train interior parts to companies that provide sheltered employment, which turn those parts into new products. In September 2019, NS organised viewing days for the first time, allowing interested parties to view components of Sprinter (SGM) trains, which NS has been phasing out since late 2019. The viewing days revealed considerable enthusiasm for giving train components a second lease of life. The first results are already visible. For example, the interior decoration of the entrance area to the NS head office features some forty ‘new’ train seats from SGM Sprinter trains, and 40-year-old public announcement speakers from SGM trains are being used in bluetooth living-room speakers.
Designers and manufacturers specialised in sustainable production turn our recycled materials into new products, giving them a wholly new function that makes it possible to considerably extend their useful lives. This year we continued our successful NS Upcycle Store at Utrecht CS, enabling visitors to become the proud owners of notebooks, trays and birdboxes made from old journey information displays. New items this year included felt bags (shoppers, backpacks and belt pouches) made from the upholstery of ICM train seats, and collectors' items from old trains such as brake blocks, rubbish bins and emergency brakes.
Joining forces in the search for new applications
We have joined forces with the business community and educational institutions in the search for new recycling and upcycling opportunities. For example, we posted three circular challenges on www.spoorlab.nl in 2019 to find new applications for old train materials (seats, overhead luggage racks and upholstery). We are collaborating with Windesheim University of Applied Sciences in Zwolle in a search for new applications for our thermosetting composite materials that have reached the end of their service lives. We are also involving students at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in exploring solutions for the reuse of train seats and overhead luggage racks.