Sparks Circular economy

A city with circular features

 By Paola Arpino
Circular economy

Data from the World Economic Forum (WEF) is bringing more of the world’s attention to the need of upheaving its linear economic system and replace it with a circular model…

The WEF report places the burden of responsibility on cities, which will have to play the lead role in the proposed shift. The data speaks for itself: in a linear production system, 75% of natural resources are destroyed and global waste rises to 50%, producing around 60% of greenhouse gases. Another alarming fact brought to us by the WEF is that by 2050, at least 70% of the world’s population will have migrated to large urban centres. Cities, then, must be the pioneers of a radical transformation in production and waste disposal systems if we want to win the fight against climate change and continuing environmental pollution, which are going to affect the quality of life of their inhabitants, the protagonists in all this. The steps to be taken are fairly obvious: reducing resource use, waste, emissions and energy loss.

Vietnamese volunteers collect waste on the streets to enhance public awareness (

Among the many initiatives aimed at raising public awareness of this topic is Circular Cities Week, a global event organised by the Circular Economy Club (CEC).

Circular Economy Club

CEC is an international network of more than 4,000 professionals and organisations working on the circular economy, from over 130 countries. CEC is free and open to anyone who wants to help this economy expand, in cities and throughout the world, by building local networks that can generate and spread their ideas, proposing both public and private solutions that fit the new model. Their vision is a long-term one, working towards a circular rebirth in all sectors, where the word ‘waste’ will become a thing of the past. Some key goals already set by CEC include devising strategies to engage stakeholders in 200 cities, getting the circular economy onto university curricula, and supporting start-ups and established companies follow circular practices through mentoring, funding and communication. With Circular Cities Week, CEC is looking to stimulate progress towards the new energy transition. The jam-packed annual event calendar sees citizens, stakeholders, companies, and national and international bodies meet in every corner of the world to see how to work together in order to make their cities more sustainable.
“We hope CEC ‘Circular Cities Week’ empowers circularity supporters with tools to lead circularity efforts in their region”, says Anna Tari, founder of CEC.

Countries from all over the world gather together to discuss about circular economy (Circular Economy Club)

The circular city model

To form an outline of the “circular city”, we have to imagine a system that involves industry, the services sector, and producers, collectors and recyclers of all kinds of materials, working together to tackle the 20th-century problems of degradation, pollution and waste. Western Europe, above all, is doing its utmost to work towards this model, tying together independent initiatives and collective decisions which, especially in large cities, mean involving local government authorities.

Circular initiatives in Europe

In 2015, Paris launched a genuine transformation of its economic system, incorporating circular economic models into its own urban ecosystem. More than 2,000 people came together in an initiative devised by the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, to discuss the topic in a series of round tables and drew up guidelines for sustainable development in the French capital – the so-called “White Paper”. The document describes 65 circular economy projects involving urban agriculture, organic waste, fighting food waste, energy recovery, and industrial and local ecology, with proposals from 240 people and bodies who attended the event, including NGOs, businesses, academics and so on. In London, they recently set up the Waste and Recycling Board as part of a circular strategic plan for the British capital, urging sectors including textiles, building and catering to implement solutions that add value to the desired circular model. Another of the big cities that stands out is Amsterdam, which has long been an active leader in the transition from a linear to a circular economy. It is now developing circular urban solutions that can take the form of pilot projects like Buiksloterham, which went from being the home of some of the most polluting industries in the city to an experimental area where sustainable projects are being studied and developed. The aim is that in 10 years it will become a district where people can live and work by circular economy principles.
But the country leading the charge for the circular economy in Europe is Italy, according to the 2019 “National Report on the Circular Economy in Italy”, written by the Circular Economy Network. The country is ahead of the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Spain in efficient use of resources, raw and secondary materials, innovation in production, consumption and waste management. Still, if it wants to stay in first place, Italy will have to maintain the changes it has made, because working towards these new goals is looking increasingly attractive for many European countries, especially after the “circular economy package” in the new legislation on waste issued by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU on 4 July 2018.

Urban agriculture in Paris (Sarah Wattouat)

The most circular cities in Italy

Remaining in Italy a while longer on the circular economy front, credit is due to the various cities in the country that have signed up to initiatives, like the “Cities for Circularity” memorandum of understanding between the Ministry of the Environment and the councils of Bari, Milan and Prato. The aim is to create joint experimental initiatives that are intrinsically innovative and are built on the basic principles of the circular economy, such as designing products and services using new models of sustainable consumption and launching schemes to recycle resources from rubbish. According to a recent Forbes ranking, Milan wins first prize. The capital of the Lombardy region is the most circular of them all thanks to its wide range of green public services, among them public transport, shared bicycles, car-sharing services, energy efficiency, the many green areas throughout the city, and photovoltaic electricity. For vintage lovers, Milan also holds the record for second-hand sales. Close behind is Florence, which stands out for its council’s determination to build a sustainable future in their city. Locals are sensitive to questions of environmental sustainability and form groups that play a particularly active role in politics, encouraging decarbonization hand in hand with developing the circular economy. Turin comes in third place, although it is top in energy efficiency and water purification systems.

Local markets under scrutiny

When it comes to the circular reconfiguration of cities, one cannot fail to mention local markets. These are at the centre of the debate due to the enormous quantities of rubbish of all kinds that they produce and that have to be collected after every day, significantly adding to waste levels. There are various ways to transform a linear regional market into a circular one, from teaching everyone involved in running the market how they can change their ways, to using biodegradable bags. The aim is to raise awareness about protecting the environment. Technology can be of great help here. There are many “webinars” – online interactive courses – organised by municipalities and free to download. Instant messaging services like WhatsApp, Facebook and chatbots are also used to provide a range of information and answer questions on how to organise your space in the market sustainably, separating organic waste at source and avoiding waste. Separating materials would also reduce consumption of water, widely used to clean the streets of the mass of rubbish left behind when the market closes.

Local markets ought to face a revolutionary transformation (

Case study: a modern city in the heart of ancient Greece

The circular city model has also been implemented in historic cities, whose artistic heritage can be enhanced through innovative urban planning. That is what has happened at the ancient port town of Nafplio, in Greece, where they have seamlessly combined modern urban planning and art and architecture, based on international principles set out by ICOMOS and UNESCO. Nafplio has undergone sustainable development for tourism, which in turn has resolved socio-economic problems and landscape issues, improving living conditions for locals through a philosophy of sustainable conservation of world heritage. The scheme involved engagement, dialogue and education, to incorporate art into the urban landscape as a whole, to create a new city shape, that of a “creative” (besides circular) city of the future.

READ MORE: Energy Superfacts: the circular city by Eniday Staff

about the author
Paola Arpino
Traveling with myself, through Rome, London and Milan, dreaming that one day I could be writing....