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Circularity Success Stories: How 3 European Cities Have Made Circular Governance a Reality
In 2015, the EU adopted its first ever Circular Economy Action Plan. Renewed in 2020, it is a
cornerstone of the European Green Deal, and a key building block of the 2050 climate neutrality
goal. However, while a circular Europe is a target we need to strive for, it is still far from being a
reality: for instance, the recycling rate of waste is an aggregate of 55% in the EU, and only around
12% of material use in the EU is material recycled and fed back into the economy. However, cities
and regions are working with the goal of circularity in mind and finding success in the process.
Cities are at the ideal level to foster the implementation of circular economies. As the level of
government closest to the citizens, they can impact their habits and consumption patterns, and in
their relationship with other municipal actors, they have the capacity of acting as promoters,
facilitators, or enablers of CE. But not only that: about 75% of the EU’s population lives in urban
areas. With a great majority of its population living in cities, the consumption of natural resources
and the production of waste in the EU is predominantly urban. This undeniably places cities at the
heart of circularity efforts.
Three cities across three European countries are leading the way by making the changes that we
need to strive for throughout the EU. The Hague (Netherlands), Oslo (Norway), and Prato (Italy) have
managed to pinpoint their own particular issues and opportunities and thus create governance
models that allow them to exploit potential synergies between different actors and to promote
circularity. Each of these cities’ approaches to circular economy differ, as do the areas they are
working on, but they are all focused in changing their systems of governance to change – and
enhance – the way collaboration between city departments, citizens, and companies happens.
The case of Prato is somewhat special, as its relationship with circularity is a long one. An important
European textile district, it has since the 19th Century been known for reusing second hand fabrics in
its manufacturing activities, thus also avoiding the very harmful effects of the dyeing process. Today,
a strong model of circular governance ensures that circularity in the city of Prato goes far beyond the
textile sector. It has been a front-runner for the development of a closed water cycle, meaning that
wastewater is reused and then cleaned before going back to the environment, it limits construction
and demolition material waste, ensuring that reusable and recyclable materials are not discarded,
and it is making efforts for urban regeneration and to give new life to old and abandoned buildings,
all while boosting bottom-up initiatives and raising awareness among its citizenry.
The Hague, Netherlands
The city of The Hague, on the other hand, has decided to concentrate its efforts in the redesign,
reuse, repair, remanufacture, and repurpose aspects of circularity in the neighbourhood of
Moerwijk, where a circular hub – Made in Moerwijk – is now fully functioning. Made in Moerwijk,
created through a collaboration between different departments in the city, gives new life to old
things and, in the process, contributes to social cohesion and job creation, enables collaboration and
growth of start-ups and small businesses, and opens the door for the direct involvement of citizens
of the area, who are encouraged to bring their own waste to the project’s facilities for repurposing.
With this, the city is effectively tackling waste management, water and energy consumption,
wellbeing, community building, and working conditions through an initiative that can serve as a
great example of circularity in practice.
Last but not least, Oslo has put an integral strategy into place, where the efforts to promote
sustainability and circularity are clear across the board and extend to the municipal agencies,
businesses, and citizens. The city is leading with good example, aiming to be cleaner, more
intentional about its purchases and resource use, and emission-free. From waste management to
circular public procurement, the creation of waste centres where citizens can not only drop off but
also learn to repair or repurpose materials, or the focus on housing and mobility, the city of Oslo has
successfully set the bases for circular economy to become implanted in its society. One example of
this is the company in charge of Oslo’s trams and subways, which has set the goal of 100%
recyclability of its material purchases, showing that with the cooperation and knowledge facilitated
by the city’s initiatives, circular economy can also be profitable.
The initiatives that these cities have implemented are not necessarily unique. The city of Prague,
which is now starting to develop a strong circular governance, has Re-Use Points very similar in
nature to the idea behind Made in Moerwijk or Oslo’s waste centres. And interesting projects such
as Cycle Terre or Wunne mat der Wooltz are focused on implementing circularity in the construction
sector, like the city of Prato has done. However, it is the focus on governance, on involving all actors
and tackling circularity through cooperation and collaboration that leads us to consider these as
examples of success that we should be following.
The most important thing we can learn from these three cities’ takes on circular governance is the
need to assess one’s own reality, characteristics, issues, and opportunities in order to establish
ambitious yet attainable goals, and the projects and systems that, through collaboration, will help us
reach them. They are not necessarily successful because circularity has had huge impacts in them –
those things usually take time and circularity is rather a long-term goal – but because they have bet
on circularity and taken the actions to make it possible for it to become a reality.
- Circular Flanders. “Case: A Strategy that Facilitates 100% Recyclable Material Management”, Circular City Governance. Available from https://vlaanderen-circulair.be/circulargovernance/files/Oslo.pdf.
- Circular Flanders. “Case: Made in Moerwijk”, Circular City Governance. Available from https://vlaanderen-circulair.be/circulargovernance/files/DenHaag.pdf.
- Circular Flanders. “Case: Municipality of Prato”, Circular City Governance. Available from https://vlaanderen-circulair.be/circulargovernance/files/Prato.pdf.
- City of Prato (2016). “Green City”, New Prato. Available from https://www.cittadiprato.it/EN/Sezioni/225/Textile-sector-and-sustainability/.
- City of Sevran (2019). “Cycle Terre: excavated soil from urban areas becomes construction raw material”, European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform. Available from https://circulareconomy.europa.eu/platform/en/good-practices/cycle-terre-excavated-soil-urban-areas-becomes-construction-raw-material.
- Crowley, E. (2021). “Is your city ready to step up and empower the circular transition?”, UrbAct. Available from https://urbact.eu/your-city-ready-step-and-empower-circular-transition.
- European Commission (2021). “Circular Economy Action Plan”, Environment. Available from https://ec.europa.eu/environment/strategy/circular-economy-action-plan_en.
- Eurostat (2021). “Circular material use rate”. Available from https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/databrowser/view/env_ac_cur/default/table?lang=en.
- Eurostat (2021). “Recycling rate of waste excluding major mineral wastes”. Available from https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/databrowser/view/sdg_12_60/default/table?lang=en.
- Haigh, L. A. (2021). “Prague: The Circular European Capital You Haven’t Heard About Yet”, World Economic Forum. Available from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/07/prague-the-circular-european-capital-you-havent-heard-about-yet/.
- Made in Moerwijk (2019). “Over ons en met wie wij samenwerken”, Made in Moerwijk. Available from https://www.madeinmoerwijk.nl/over-ons/.
- OECD (2020). The Circular Economy in Cities and Regions: Synthesis Report, OECD Urban Studies, OECD Publishing, Paris.
- Rasque, P. (2019). “Wiltz – A Circular Economy Hotspot in the Heart of the Ardennes”, European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform. Available from https://circulareconomy.europa.eu/platform/en/good-practices/wiltz-circular-economy-hotspot-heart-ardennes.
- World Bank (2020). “Urban population (% of total population) – European Union”. Available from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.URB.TOTL.IN.ZS?locations=EU.