Ship leaving Port of Newcastle

Circularising the Port of Newcastle - Can we learn from the Port of Amsterdam?

7 November 2022
From our ‘Thinking outside the box’ series
The Port of Newcastle is the world's largest coal port, yet Australia has not managed to future-proof its operations and move away from fossil fuels. Veronica Schulz compares it with the Port of Amsterdam and the steps they have taken to work towards a more sustainable circular economy.

Most know the Port of Amsterdam as the world’s largest petrol port. As fossil fuels expectedly decline, the longevity of the Port of Amsterdam becomes threatened. Parallel to the Port of Amsterdam is the Port of Newcastle, the world’s largest coal port, which is facing a similar threat. Nowadays, the Port of Amsterdam is future-proofing their operations by redefining themselves to become, what they call, a bio-based and circular port. Alongside the Port of Amsterdam, the Netherlands are driving Europe towards the circular economy. Just as the Port of Amsterdam serves as a gateway to Europe, the Port of Newcastle serves as a major gateway to Australia. Yet, while the Netherlands welcomes the transition towards the circular economy, Australia runs from it. What can the Port of Newcastle learn from the Port of Amsterdam to lead Australia towards a sustainable future?

A circular economy is a paradigm shift away from the linear ‘take-make-waste’ model, towards reusing, recycling, and recovering waste flows into new value streams. For the Port of Amsterdam, the shift towards the circular economy did not come without its challenges; it is almost certain that the Port of Newcastle will face similar challenges.  

In their 2016 Annual Report, the Port of Amsterdam announced their goal to allocate 25 hectares of port land to the circular economy by 2020 (Port of Amsterdam, 2016). While they made extensive strides to increase the number of circular activities in the precinct, the major challenge with achieving this is the scarcity of port space (Port of Amsterdam, 2020). The Port of Amsterdam is maximising the available space by building up and carefully considering where to place new activities around existing activities (Port of Amsterdam, 2020). In its current state, the Port of Newcastle has ample space but minimal circular activities in the precinct giving it what the Port of Amsterdam does not have: A clean slate. To maximise productive use of port space, the Port of Newcastle should carefully plan industrial synergies, logistics, and transport as it builds a circular port ecosystem.  

Infrastructure and transport that facilitate circular activities and material flows assists in accelerating the transition to a circular port. However, building the necessary infrastructure to upscale existing circular activities and introduce new circular activities has been challenging for the Port of Amsterdam (Port of Amsterdam, 2020). The Port of Amsterdam has found success in collaborating with partners in the construction industry to build the infrastructure. For the Port of Newcastle, ensuring that partnerships with the construction industry are forged in early sages will accelerate their circular transition.

The Port of Amsterdam has a strong preference to collaborate with start-ups to test new and innovative processes and technologies (Port of Amsterdam, 2016). This, however, means that many of the circular activities were introduced to the Port of Amsterdam on a smaller scale and thus, meeting the increased energy demands from companies in the port has proven difficult (Port of Amsterdam, 2020). To combat this, the Port of Amsterdam launched their Shared Energy Platform to facilitate the exchange of energy between different circular companies, and Online Circular Network to connect companies in the port area to share knowledge (Port of Amsterdam, 2019). The Port of Newcastle can learn from this by establishing themselves as a circular port ecosystem, where the inputs of certain circular activities can feed off the outputs from other circular activities to maximise energy efficiency and profitability. They must facilitate the collaboration between different companies, as sharing of knowledge, waste and energy is essential.

The Port of Amsterdam understands the benefits in engaging with the community, knowledge institutions and research partners. With the coal industry’s prominence in Newcastle, it is vital that the local community are given a voice during the transition. The Port of Newcastle has the advantage of being within easy reach of a number of universities and research partners interested in the port and the Hunter region. As is the case for Port of Amsterdam, leveraging these connections will enable the advancement of the circular economy.

Scaling up and reducing costs of circular activities are necessary to maintain and grow the Port of Amsterdam’s circular economy. However, their current business model is not profitable on its own and is therefore dependent on subsidies. The Port of Amsterdam highlights three conditions to reduce the need for subsidies: Setting clear objectives, fair policy instruments and targeted investments (Port of Amsterdam, 2021). These conditions would also apply to the Port of Newcastle. The move to circularity should be driven by the strategy, stakeholders, and a clear vision for the port. The current environmental sustainability objectives of the Port of Newcastle do not encompass a strategy or vision for a circular port ecosystem and therefore risk the port missing a major (the only feasible?) diversification opportunity.

Shifting port operations away from fossil fuels towards circular activities is complex and comes with numerous challenges. Fortunately, there is much that can be learnt from the Port of Amsterdam and other ports, principally in Europe, to assist with this transition.


Port of Amsterdam. (2016). Port of Amsterdam Annual Report 2016.

Port of Amsterdam. (2019). Port of Amsterdam 2019 Annual Report.

Port of Amsterdam. (2020). Port of Amsterdam 2020 Annual Report.