The circular economy turns linear supply chains into loops so that nothing is wasted. Ideally, there is no more end of the line like a landfill. Practitioners look at all the options across supply chains to use as few resources as possible in the first place, keep resources in circulation for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them while in use, and recover and regenerate products at the end of service life.
Put simply: It means understanding that everything is a resource to be kept in circulation. There is no garbage or waste.
But what does a circular city look like, and how can local governments and citizens come together to create one?
ICLEI outlines a vision for a circular city as “a city that promotes the transition from a linear to a circular economy in an integrated way across all its functions in collaboration with citizens, businesses and the research community.” This means, in practice, fostering business models and economic behavior which decouple resource use from economic activity by maintaining the value and utility of products, components, materials and nutrients for as long as possible in order to close material loops and minimize harmful resource use and waste generation. Through this transition, cities seek to improve human wellbeing, reduce emissions, protect and enhance biodiversity, and promote social justice, in line with the sustainable development goals.
“It is important to understand priorities for circular economy interventions,” said Burcu Tuncer, Head of Circular Development & Global Coordination for ICLEI. As such, ICLEI partnered with Circle Economy to provide an online prototype tool, Circle City Scan Tool, which helps identify potential areas to focus efforts. The tool has been implemented in several European cities already.
For example, in Glasgow the scan identified three key sectors of economic importance: education, manufacturing and health.
“We would suggest engaging in regional initiatives and clustering around a common vision that can provide peer-to-peer exchange,” Tuncer said.
The European Secretariat has led the visioning for a Circular City in Europe and acquired more than 40 signatories for the European Circular Cities Declaration. At the global level, the recently launched platform ICLEI Circulars presents challenges, priorities and best practice interventions of cities in world regions under regional hubs. These are opportunities for cities to start exploring circular economy opportunities and see how peers are doing.
As a starting point for achieving circular development, local governments can utilize five complementary strategies to transition from a linear to a circular economy in an integrated way across all urban systems in collaboration with citizens, businesses and the research community.
Here are five strategies to achieve circular development on a local level:
Leading circular cities redesign value chains that foster community links and phase out linear incentives. This way urban systems become adaptive and residents get reconnected to local production chains. For example, Ghent, Belgium, actively supported the setup of a renewable energy cooperative, REScoop. Through collective ownership of homeowners’ solar panels, members can share energy efficiency, so that even homes with less sunlight can benefit from the cooperative.
Leading circular cities ensure all infrastructure and production-consumption systems positively contribute to local resource and nutrient cycles and respect ecosystems’ regeneration rates. For example, Shenzhen, China, turned a 105-acre abandoned agricultural experiment station into a park that incorporates sponge city principles, including small swales to catch runoff, ponds with native rushes, and permeable pavement.
Leading circular cities extend the use of existing resources, products and infrastructure. For example, Brisbane, Australia, runs regular reuse and upcycle workshops and demonstrations to help citizens learn repair and remanufacturing skills.
Leading circular cities design infrastructure, processes and products to minimize material and energy consumption and waste generation during production, use and end of life. For example, Jaipur, India, hosts the Jaipur Integrated Texcraft Park, an eco-friendly textile production park with facilities for water recycling, rainwater harvesting and energy conservation.
Leading circular cities enable the recovery of materials at their end of life and facilitate their reintroduction in production processes. For example, Quelimane, Mozambique, collects organic waste from 11 markets as part of the “Quelimane Limpa” project. The waste is then taken to a local composting facility and turned into compost for distribution in neighboring gardens.
As more cities test and build up circular economy interventions, these five strategies can help them work toward full circular development in an integrated, collaborative approach that brings a holistic set of benefits for urban environments, economies and residents.
Elizabeth Carr is a journalist and non-profit expert for Shareable.