A step-by-step guide to circular greenhouse horticulture

Published on
January 31, 2023

The Greenhouse Horticulture & Flower Bulbs Business Unit at Wageningen University & Research has completed its research into circular greenhouse horticulture, carried out in partnership with the Club of 100. The research looked into possibilities and opportunities for improving circular processes in the greenhouse horticulture sector. The findings have been set out in an interactive PDF. WUR will now be considering the design of its follow-up research.

There’s been a lot of discussion around the circular economy in recent years. But so far it hasn’t really been clear what the circular economy looks like, the role that greenhouse horticulture can play in it, and what’s actually already going on right now. WUR launched the circular greenhouse horticulture research project as a way of answering those questions. The research was funded by WUR’s Club of 100. Ten member businesses in the Club of 100 – each with their own specific expertise – also sat on the project’s guidance committee.

Research into six material flows

The outcome of the research is a document setting out information that the greenhouse horticulture sector can immediately use, says project leader Alexander Boedijn. For example, it clearly explains what circular greenhouse horticulture actually means. “Our objective is to ensure that we’re all speaking the same language as part of efforts to achieve circular greenhouse horticulture.”

The researchers focused on six distinct material flows (water, fertilisers, plastics, biomass, CO2 and substrate) to identify any circular solutions that are already available as well as any innovations that show potential. The research drew on definitions from the R ladder (such as Refuse, Reuse and Recycle) and the transition pathways (as defined by the PBL) to indicate how and why an existing practice or innovation contributes to circularity.

Starting point for innovation

The overview therefore reveals how many or how few solutions currently exist for specific material flows and purposes. As such, it can serve as a starting point for new innovations, says Boedijn. The overview will also be regularly updated, and any businesses that come up with innovations for greenhouse horticulture can pass these on to the researchers. The research also helps the greenhouse horticulture sector show other stakeholders – such as the government and the general public – what’s going on, and what’s being planned for the next few years.

“Speaking the same language when we’re talking about circular greenhouse horticulture”

The greenhouse horticulture sector aims to be a circular industry. But what does that mean exactly? What is it doing already? And which solutions are ready to be scaled up? That’s what the Greenhouse Horticulture & Flower Bulbs Business Unit at WUR looked into. “We now know what the main challenges are,” says project leader Alexander Boedijn.

Alexander, why did WUR launch this research?

“There’s been a lot of discussion about the circular economy in recent years. But it wasn’t really clear how the circular economy was having an impact on greenhouse horticulture. That’s why we launched this research, funded by the Club of 100. Ten businesses from the Club of 100 – each with their own specific expertise – also sat on the project’s guidance committee. That was a way of trying to ensure the project was really aligned with the practical realities of greenhouse horticulture.”

What was the outcome of the research?

“Rather than producing a long, dense report, we came up with an interactive PDF. It’s a document that everyone can immediately get to grips with, and within 10 minutes have an understanding of what circular greenhouse horticulture means. It includes definitions and objectives. We’ve also identified what circularity means for six specific material flows: water, fertilisers, plastics, biomass, CO2 and substrate. In other words: what’s the aim, and what solutions are available to us?”

How will the research help the greenhouse horticulture sector?

“First of all, it gives an overview of the issues people are working on, as well as the areas where there’s still room for innovation. So it can be a starting point for new innovations and new partnerships. That’s why we’re working on a proposal for a follow-up to the research. It’s also an opportunity to show the government and society as a whole how far greenhouse horticulture has come. That’s why we chose to make it a public document: anyone can use it. It means we’re all on the same page when we talk about circular greenhouse horticulture.”

More information on the project