Disposing of waste in cities should be everyone’s business.
It’s time for cities to adopt circular economies
We’ve all heard of the circular economy. Its potential is magnificent and it’s gaining ever more credence. But there’s one place where its opportunities have been less considered: cities. A new guide titled “Recycling Reimagined” tries to remedy that shortcoming.
Waste is one of the major issues cities face globally and until recently the best way to deal with it was recycling. Yet scientists and officials are starting to realize that waste is a complex matter. The major challenge is of course that most of waste still goes into dumps and incinerators.
Worse solutions are hard to imagine, but with the recent ban on international plastic waste imports by China, there is a clue where it’s heading: recycling doesn’t work either, or not as well as we thought it does.
An increasing number of global actors from states to corporations are out to explore novel ways of waste prevention, redesign, value retention, and circular business models. For example, in the US, increasing the waste diversion rate from 34% to 75% may create 1.1. million new jobs and prevent carbon emissions “equal to shutting down 72 coal power plants or removing 50 million cars from the road,” the guide says.
Now, it’s time for cities to join the race, it suggests. To move towards a circular economy, cities need to get smarter about measuring and analyzing their material flows, and not simply waste streams. This is something to which frontrunners like Amsterdam, Glasgow, London and a number of other pioneering cities have switched in recent years.
Another key front is stakeholders. Waste disposal is no longer an issue for a small community of haulers. Everyone who produces, transports, sells or consumes something is now part of it, or should be. Cases of cities like Austin and Phoenix, who are among zero waste pioneers in the US, show the power and importance of effective education, communication, and collaboration.
Only participatory approaches can give birth to liveable circular economy models, it is argued. Among other leverages cities need to act on are clear overall goals beyond just recycling rates, access to standard waste diversion options in public spaces (i.e. zero-waste shopping), fair and transparent standards for different actors, equal access for all housing sectors to composting, as well as overall strong focus on waste prevention (for example through sustainable purchasing).