The necessity for urban transformation towards a circular economy (CE) system is becoming more evident as urban population and waste generation are increasing. To face this challenge of decoupling the economy from natural resources extraction, the cities need to adhere to several programs and strategies established by national, regional and municipal levels such as CE Action Plans. Local policy makers can make public local commitment to tax and regulatory reforms, or promote legislation adaptation, prescribing green public procurement etc.
Regarding the reduction of raw materials and waste, currently in many countries, economic incentive regulations along with providing easily accessible recycling services have prompted improvements in recycling rates. Finding synergies and new valorisation routes among waste-streams, can promote not only sustainable benefits but also feasible circular business models and new markets for materials that were landfilled or incinerated so far.
Regarding the integration of Secondary raw materials (SRM), SRM are recycled materials that can be used in manufacturing processes instead of virgin raw materials. The use of SRMs faces a number of barriers, including the absence of EU-wide quality standards for certain materials, difficulties linked to the SRM trading across the EU or the acceptance from the consumers. New technologies enabling the tracking from waste to reusable SRM can make the value chain more transparent ensuring trust between all the stakeholders in the recycling process.
In general, the engagement of end-users and key stakeholders will increase the social acceptance of the decisions and will facilitate the inclusion of sustainable behaviour amongst citizens. Social innovation is a key driver, ensuring a participative and democratic policy-making process.
Product life cycle stages & Modules (EN15978): Full Value chain.
- Efficient valorisation of local resources in cities and regions, improves circularity and reduced GHG emissions.
- Creation of business opportunities in the circular economy at urban and/or regional scale.
- Social awareness and environmental consciousness from education and politics will be the way to speed up the change that the European Green Deal demands
- Many jobs and opportunities can be created directly and indirectly.
Direct connection to Instruments:
- Supporting municipalities to monitor resource flows in line with impact targets and measurement processes
- Capacity building and engagement with municipalities to identify and co-create circular solutions and roadmaps
- Capacity building for city officials to undestand urban metabolisms and circular solution opportunities
- Building material passport (BIM-based)
Local and regional governments should elaborate a clear circular economy agenda. Representatives from all relevant policy departments should be involved, but a clear lead should be appointed for the process. Stakeholders from all parts of society and economy should also be consulted and invited to contribute. This has the double purpose of raising awareness of the initiative and of getting the buy-in from the relevant actors. Mechanisms to encourage interaction between stakeholders along the triple- or quadruple-helix should be identified and promoted. Such stakeholder interactions exercises were identified in the UrbanWINS project and could be, e.g., world cafes, brainstorming exercises, idea rating sheets, etc.
Increasing prices of (primary) raw materials, as well as uncertain future commodity supply and price volatility. Greening of the tax system in the following ways (which are not mutually exclusive): by allowing tax benefits for green activities, by charging non-green, unsustainable and harmful activities, by shifting from taxing labour to taxing the use of (primary) raw materials, to incentivise the use of re-used/re-cycled materials. Measures to create market formation may be another very useful means to support the transition to circular approaches. The pioneering role of public procurement can be one out of several means to do so.
Circular economy aspects should be included in a systematic manner in the curricula of university degrees and other (vocational) qualifications. This should be the case not only in technical domains, but also in business and economics, public administration and policy-related areas.
The circular design of products should be actively promoted, if not made obligatory. Practices that limit, inhibit or completely block the possibility for reuse or remanufacturing should be forbidden. Spatial proximity can enable economies of scale of low value waste and facilitate effective waste separation systems and/or infrastructure supporting circular solutions. This is particularly true for construction waste. An area where technology can really drive the circular economy is digitalisation, e.g., through Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data or (knowledge/resource) sharing platforms. Standardisation for circular products and solutions should be promoted across all sectors and value chains.
As much as legislation can be a barrier, it can also act as driver for circular solutions, e.g., through bans on specific products or recycling targets.
A lack of a clear vision and will and, based on that, poor policy formulation; At local level, the lack of vision for a circular city creates an obstacle for change. In some cases, a holistic vision that unifies different smaller projects is missing (REFLOW) or the definition of sustainability in cities is weak and causes confusion between partners and stakeholders (Pop-Machina). Another barrier is missing or unclear collaboration across departments (on the public side) or along the value chain (on the private side). Limited knowledge exchange between stakeholders and companies, administrations and/or actors implementing circular economy approaches. In combination with the lack of relevant training among regulators and a lack of human resources, this limits to a great extent the implementation of circular economy solutions.
Many financial and economic factors currently still hamper the application of circular solutions oriented to raw material use and waste reduction. These range from difficulties in accessing capital (in form of loans, venture capital but also public subsidies) for relevant initiatives to the long and/or uncertain payback times of relevant projects. In addition, higher production and implementation costs of circular products, often linked to high upfront investment costs are also important economic barriers. This may also refer to the higher costs of related infrastructure. Yet another important barrier are often the missing or immature markets, both on the supply and the demand side, and in terms of distribution and logistics. Finally, taxation also often behave as limiting factor as it typically focusses on the amount of labour that is going into products, which is higher in the case of circular products.
Limited understanding and attitudes on the part of the general public towards circular economy solutions and their need.
The fact that products (in the widest sense of the term) are not designed to be reused, remanufactured or recycled is one of the key barriers to raw material use and waste reduction.
- For the field of construction, there is a lack of circular design guidance in the Member States (Cinderela project). Also, in the electronics (incl. e-mobility) sector, products are rarely designed to be circular. This concerns not only the design per se, but also the lack of transparency (i.e., documentation) on the design, which makes it challenging or impossible to disassemble products and access the various materials. Quite often, this is even done on purpose, to create barriers for other companies in the repair/reuse sector (Circ4Life).
- In the case of plastics packaging, different types of polymers are often combined, which makes recycling very difficult, if not impossible (CIRC-PACK). Existing waste separation systems or infrastructures do not support circular solutions. This applies to a range of different sectors, in particular construction: when old buildings are demolished, separation of materials is rather rare. This in turn decreases the potential and performance of secondary raw materials.
- Another challenge in the field of plastics packaging is a variety of different plastics materials cannot be separated by the collection and sorting systems. For this reason, plastic recycling systems are usually not able to deliver high-quality content, but only mixed-polymer plastics, for which the application areas are limited (PlastiCircle).
- Lack of space when ‘parking’ waste before bringing it back into the material loop. The recycling of materials is hampered by the fact that the exact composition of collected materials are generally not known. This issue is relevant e.g., in the case of household waste (REPAiR, CityLoops, UrbanWINS) and plastics packaging (CIRC-PACK).
- Lack of standardisation is one of the key barriers to reduction of raw materials, waste and, above all, integration of secondary materials. The lack of common standards, definitions and certifications poses a problem for the electronics sector, for example with respect to the labelling of recycled products (Circ4Life).
Lack of an (adequate) regulatory framework is one of the most important barriers to the successful implementation of circular solutions. This applies to legislation both on the collection and treatment of waste, but also on the reuse of materials (e.g., through missing end-of-waste criteria). In addition to legislation per se, it is also poor implementation as well as a lack of enforcement which constitutes problems. Difficulties with respect to monitoring due to data availability issues as well as different measurement systems may in some cases be linked to that issue. Bureaucratic hurdles as well as inadequate spatial and urban planning constitute further issues.
Proper data on available resources and their flows is a critical enabler. Some countries have data resources available and accessible in formats enabling an easy and correct quantification and classification of wastes from different streams, others have not. Accessible and accurate data on waste generation are crucial for the analysis and assessment of the waste streams as sources of SRM for the purpose of the business model (Cinderela project).
Decision makers and policy setters in regions and cities are key players in implementing circular economy business models. Without their support to make the proper data available, setting up business models based on regionally/locally available potentials may be difficult this new business models.
One of the key issues is the availability of regional data concerning the waste streams that could become sources of secondary raw materials to be used in urban projects. Getting the right information on the types, location and availability of waste streams, as well as the actors behind them, seems to be quite challenging. Sometimes this is not possible because there is not accessible and accurate data on waste generation (Cinderela project).
Pros and cons after implementation - Only close cooperation between public companies, citizens, industry, and local self-government can lead to a successful interconnected system that optimizes resources and results - economic, environmental, and social. After the implementation new opportunities for testing a new Second Raw Material (SRM) used to appear. It is the case of the city of Maribor (https://fibointercon.com/business-cases/circular-economy-examples/=)
- Identify and highlight existing good practices of waste collection and sorting: https://www.collectors2020.eu/
- Information on current and past circular city initiatives on policy (among others) can be found on The Circular City Centre (C3) web page: https://eiah.eib.org/_tools/resources/documents/the-c3-circular-cities-resources-inventory.pdf)
- Circular Cities & Regions Initiative (CCRI) will facilitate collaboration and knowledge on circular solutions at local level. Among others circular solutions bases on resource recovery will be the challenge: https://circular-cities-and-regions.eu/
- Municipal waste generation per capita: EU 2021 average is 530 kg
- Circularity rate (share of secondary material reintroduced in the economy): EU average is 11.7%
- Resource productivity (quantifies the relation between economic activity - expressed by gross domestic product (GDP) - and the consumption of material resources - measured as domestic material consumption (DMC): EU average 2021 is 135 EUR PPS/tonnes
- EC CE monitoring framework: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/circular-economy/indicators/monitoring-framework
- Bianchi et al. 2022: Regional monitoring frameworks for the circular economy: implications from a territorial perspective: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/09654313.2022.2057185
A key recommendation from Circular Economy perspective is to avoid setting recycling targets, as these may translate into planning technology lock-in infrastructures, which require very high amount of waste generation flows for very long time to be economically viable. Prioritise waste reduction.
Circular/green procurement can be an important tool for testing/implementing legal requirements in e.g., public buildings/project development.
- Supporting municipalities to monitor resource flows in line with impact targets and measurement processes https://netzerocities.app/resource-1528
- Capacity building and engagement with municipalities to identify and co-create circular solutions and roadmaps https://netzerocities.app/resource-1548
- Capacity building for city officials to understand urban metabolisms and circular solution opportunities https://netzerocities.app/resource-1568
- Capacity building and training https://netzerocities.app/resource-1578
- Educational/ Capacity building barriers identification https://netzerocities.app/resource-1588
- Integrated land use and urban planning with energy and climate https://netzerocities.app/resource-1678
- Integrated land use planning and urban space management with mobility planning https://netzerocities.app/resource-1688
- Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) https://netzerocities.app/resource-1708
- Decarbonisation Plans for Industry https://netzerocities.app/resource-1718
- Governance EU Climate Neutrality Framework https://netzerocities.app/resource-1728
- Building Renovation Passport (BRP) https://netzerocities.app/resource-1748
- Building Material Passport (BIM-based) https://netzerocities.app/resource-1833
- Analysis of City/ (Building) circularity https://netzerocities.app/resource-1873
- Circular economy design principles to increase the durability, reparability, upgradability or reusability of products https://netzerocities.app/resource-1883
- Urban metabolism mapping https://netzerocities.app/resource-1893
- Circular Life Cycle Assessment/Analysis for material and products https://netzerocities.app/resource-1903
- City of Maribor (https://fibointercon.com/business-cases/circular-economy-examples/=)
- CCRI - https://circular-cities-and-regions.ec.europa.eu/#:~:text=What%20is%20the%20Circular%20Cities,Circular%20Economy%20Action%20Plan%202020. Circular Cities and Regions Initiative
- CCD-Report https://circularcitiesdeclaration.eu/about/ccd-report Circular Cities Declaration
- UrbanWINS – 2016-2019 (www.urbanwins.eu) is a H2020 project that studied how cities consume resources and products, and how they eliminate the waste produced, in order to develop and test innovative plans and solutions aimed at improving waste prevention and management. The project analysed strategies for waste prevention and management in a total of 24 cities and assess how they contribute towards resilience and resource efficiency.
- Cinderela Project - https://www.cinderela.eu/ - new circular economy business model for more sustainable urban construction
- Circ4Life – https://www.circ4life.eu/ - A circular economy approach for lifecycles of products and services
- CIRC-PACK – https://www.circpack.eu/ - Towards circular economy in the plastic packaging value chain
- PlastiCircle - https://plasticircle.eu/home/ - Too valuable to waste
- REPAiR - https://h2020repair.eu/ - Resource Management in Peri-urban Areas: Going Beyond Urban Metabolism
- CityLoops - https://cityloops.eu/ - Closing the loop for urban material flows
- EC CE monitoring framework, https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/circular-economy/indicators/monitoring-framework
- Bianchi et al. 2022: Regional monitoring frameworks for the circular economy: implications from a territorial perspective, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/09654313.2022.2057185