How cities can transition to the circular economy

5th March 2019 Adam Pitt

UK-based charity, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, has released a suite of policy resources in a bid to encourage more cities to transition to a circular economy.

“When you apply the concept of a circular economy in the urban context, you’re looking to design out waste and pollution from cities, keep products and materials in use in cities and maintain their value, and regenerate natural systems in and around cities,” Miranda Schnitger, Cities Project Lead at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, told Cities Today.

The suite, called Circular Economy in Cities, was launched in partnership with professional services firm ARUP and the MAVA Foundation, and focuses on opportunities in three key urban systems—buildings, mobility, and products.

In aligning itself with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, the new resource includes a series of case studies and policy recommendations for strategy development, urban planning, legislation, asset management, and procurement, among other things.

According to Schnitger, the benefits of introducing circular economic policies in these areas include cleaner air as a result of reduced congestion and a switch to zero-emission engines, while roads and car parks can be replaced by green spaces, leaving more land available for commerce, offices, houses, and recreation.

She also explained that the “layout and design of cities can change the way materials and products move around them” and suggested that governments have a critical role in creating a demand for more sustainable products and services in particular.

“In San Francisco, the city government has changed its procurement criteria for carpets installed in municipal buildings and construction projects to be cradle-to-cradle silver certified, with no polyurethane used, and with 45 per cent recycled content,” said Schnitger.

The foundation estimates that cities are the biggest contributors to what it calls the ‘take-make-waste’ economy, with 75 percent of natural resource consumption, up to 80 percent of carbon emissions, and half of all global waste coming from urban areas.

Following its launch, the foundation said it plans to use the Circular Economy in Cities suite to help city governments reverse these trends.

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