Düsseldorf's city administration consumes about 40 million sheets of office paper annually. On the other hand, the city collects about 36,000 tonnes of used paper and cardboard per year, which is then sold off to recycling companies.
With the primary aim of stimulating demand and ensuring a price reduction for recycled paper, Dusseldorf developed an internal regulation for sustainable procurement, which led to an increase of the use of recycled office paper accounting for 85% of all the city’s paper use in 2016.
The active cooperation between the different city departments, in particular between the sustainable procurement and waste management administrations, as well as strong political commitment, has been key to successfully ‘closing the loop’ and ensuring a new circular procurement model.
Dusseldorf had made earlier attempts to increase the use of recycled paper. However, they had always resulted in a limited impact. Having the choice between recycled and non-recycled paper made the process of changing the paper in printers too complicated for employees.
The city found a solution thanks to a German factory that develops recycled office papers with a guaranteed high technical quality and a good brightness. Their paper is very similar to ‘fresh fibre’ paper, allowing the city to roll out only recycled paper in its offices. The solution is certified by the standards defined by the independent ‘RAL Deutsches Institut für Gütesicherung und Kennzeichnung e.V.’ (German Institute for Quality Assurance and Labeling) and its German ‘blue environmental angel’ label.
Another challenge the city encountered was making sustainable, or circular, procurement manageable in the complicated procedures of public procurement. A tender process that simply leaves the decision between recycled or fresh fibre paper to the market will usually result in the lowest bid for low-quality fresh fibre. For this reason, it is pivotal to define neutral and precise
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Within one year, the new internal regulations saw the procurement of recycled paper in Dusseldorfs municipal administration jump from just under 27% in 2014 to more than 81% in 2015 and 85% in 2016. In industrial production, the use of recycled paper corresponded a savings of up to 60% in energy and 70% in water; while for the city the use of recycled paper meant a reduction in its environmental footprint by about 6.3 million litres of water and 1.3 million kWh of energy annually.
In 2016, Dusseldorf participated in the ‘Pro recycling paper initiative’ competition, which is organised annually in cooperation with the German ministry of the environment, the German federal environmental protection agency and the German association of cities and towns. More than 90 municipalities participated in the competition, and thanks to its achievements Dusseldorf was awarded the ‘best climber of the year’ award.
The city now also recommends that companies and private individuals rely more on recycled paper when purchasing paper products through in its environmental public relation activities or in its ‘Ecoprofit’ project for SMEs. Furthermore, the city uses the German blue angel standards for dyes and other construction materials in its own construction projects.
It is always difficult for cities to identify an adequate procurement strategy that can ensure a certain quality of the products. Other cities should request that competitors comply with industry quality standards to keep municipal procurement procedures simple and effective.
It is crucial for a circular and sustainable economy that such labels are further developed for as many different products as possible.
Furthermore, promoting sustainable and circular procurement for private households, schools and SMEs can broaden the demand for circular products and develop these products as a market standard for a reasonable price.