The so-called “circular cities” take steps towards an urban development that does not deplete natural resources.
The term “circular economy” has become widely used in recent years, often associated with the recycling of materials and products. While both concepts are closely related, the circular economy goes beyond the re-use of waste. Its goal is far more ambitious. It seeks to redefine the growth model; paying more attention to the benefits it can bring to the whole society.
This effort to prevent the depletion of natural resources goes hand in hand with the commitment to renewable sources and the fight against climate change. According to the Ellen McArthur Foundation, a British charity with the stated aim of promoting the transition towards a circular economy, this model is based on three principles: design out waste and pollution, keep materials and products in use, and regenerate natural systems. Cities will have a significant say on those three key points.
Cities seeking a sustainable model
According to UN-Habitat, cities consume 78% of the world’s energy and produce over 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, they represent less than 2% of the earth’s surface. This small portion of the planet is, at the same time, its leading economic and cultural generator and home to more than 50% of the world’s population. Therefore, urban environments are an adequate framework for implementing more sustainable development models.
Big cities such as London, New York or San Francisco have already implemented relevant initiatives aimed at reducing waste. Meanwhile, Milan has been developing an ambitious plan to limit food waste within its metropolitan area since 2015. These are just a few examples in the international arena. Initiatives in this regard range from large-scale municipal policies to specific projects that address particular problems. Austin, Texas, a city firmly committed to the circular economy, is a case in point.
One of the initiatives put in place by the Texan capital is the “Austin Materials Marketplace”, an online platform that connects businesses, factories and organisations to facilitate the upcycling of surplus resources from other companies. One company’s production waste is a valuable raw material for another. This translates into not only material saving but also the creation of jobs and new business opportunities.
Aside from giving new life to recycled materials, the sharing of products and services to use fewer resources is another fundamental principle of the circular economy, thus saving costs, while minimising its impact and optimising its useful life. Many cities have put into place transport sharing schemes, as in the case of Madrid’s BiciMad public bicycle-sharing system. However, the list is as endless as the possibilities.