NS aspires to full circularity in 2030 in terms of procurement, maximum reuse of materials and zero waste in offices, workshops and trains. To achieve that, we apply the following guiding principles: limit the primary use of raw materials, optimise material efficiency and ‘there is no such thing as waste’.
Limit the primary use of raw materials
Applying circularity principles in design and procurement will enable us to become even smarter in the use of materials and in reducing the use of primary raw materials. In tendering procedures for materials, we include circularity as a criterion in the selection and award phase. This enables us to quantify and manage the degree of circularity in tenders for new trains or business uniforms, by issuing material passports that clearly identify the raw materials used and enable their reuse.
The renovation of the NS office buildings in Utrecht involved the reuse of as many existing items and train materials as possible. Examples include furniture made from old train floors, partition walls made from glass train doors and desks made from train ceiling panels. NS is encouraging its employees and its tenants, suppliers and passengers to reduce material waste. It does so, for example, by offering discounts for passengers who bring their own cups for hot drinks and by installing drinking water fountains at the stations.
In early 2020 ProRail, Bureau Spoorbouwmeester, the Dutch Design Foundation and NS Stations launched a design competition for converting small stations into circular businesses. The three winning designs, which were presented during an online Dutch Design Week exhibition, share a focus on the use of natural materials and effective integration in the landscape.
Optimum use of materials
We take good care of our materials by focusing on effective maintenance and timely repairs so as to extend their service life. After twenty years of service, our double-decker trains are upgraded so that they can serve another twenty years. 2020 saw the completion of the modernisation project for the VIRM1 series and the start of serial production for modernisation of the VIRM2/3 series. Once again, the focus in these projects is on the optimum use and reuse of materials. We have succeeded in upgrading 86% of old VIRM1 train components, reintegrating them in the trains as good as new. Of all materials, 13% is put to new uses elsewhere. In total, 99% of each VIRM2/3 train is given a new lease of life (2019: VIRM1 99%). This allows us to keep 40 million kilogrammes of materials in the cycle.
Starting this year, the 45-year-old SGM trains will gradually be decommissioned. Mechanics will remove all valuable parts and materials, some of which will be reused in SGM trains which are still running. Other parts will be adapted for reuse in other train series. For example, following a minor modification the wheel sets can be fitted under our ICM trains.
There is no such thing as waste
If we have no further use for products and cannot reuse them, we still want to keep them in the cycle as high-value materials. We first try to find a new destination for the product as a whole. If that proves impossible, we find a new destination for separate components. Take our trains, for example, which have a service life of over forty years. After that period, we offer them for sale. In this way, in 2020 we were able to give eleven locomotives (type 1700) and two carriages (type DDM) a second lease of life. We also offer train components to parties that process them into entirely new products. For example, 45-year-old public announcement speakers from our trains are turned into bluetooth living-room speakers. Old floorboards, seats and ceiling panels from our trains are converted into items of furniture.
In 2020, we opened our fourth Upcycle Pop Up store at Utrecht CS, which sells new products made from old NS materials. The range includes notebooks and trays made from yellow departure displays, and bags, shoes and meditation pillows made from fabrics from old trains. Not all types of material are currently suitable for reuse or recycling. In collaboration with Windesheim Zwolle, we are exploring alternative uses for old composite side panels from our trains. This year, the first sleeper made from such composite panels was presented. Our next challenge is to roll out such applications systematically and on a large scale.
Reducing residual waste
If materials cannot be reused, we separate them for recycling purposes. In late 2020, we joined forces with waste processing company Renewi on a project to reduce residual waste. We analyse the composition of residual waste flows at NS locations, decide which are suitable for recycling and how this could be implemented in practice by our staff. In 2020, NS disposed of a total of approximately 14 million kg of waste from its offices, workshops and stations (2019: approximately 21 million kg). We separated 55% of our waste and offered it for recycling. Ultimately, 46% was actually recycled and 47% was incinerated for energy recovery. This year we introduced the requirement that reporting on scrap trains should focus on reuse as well as on recycling. We managed to reduce this waste by 7%. A mere 0.2% of all NS waste ended up on a rubbish tip. Of our waste, 4% is removed as hazardous waste annually (2019: 4%).
In 2020, staff at our workshops were able to separate 83% of the waste (2019: 81%). Of all our office waste, 29% was separated (2019: 26%). And of all consumer waste produced at our stations, in shops and in trains we recycled 31% (2019: 18%). This increase can be attributed to the larger quantities of organic waste collected at our stations and the greater volume of post-separation waste from which valuable raw materials have been recovered. The Green Deal on waste reduction and recycling signed by NS, ProRail and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management expires at the end of 2020. Early in 2021 we plan to gather and share the lessons learned.