28 March 2023

The state of circular economy in European cities

A growing number of cities see that shifting from a linear to a circular economy is essential to address challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, economic instability and global value chain disruptions. The current take-make-waste system accounts for almost 50% of global CO2 emissions and 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress. As demand for strategic resources and food is expected to further increase in the next few decades, the transition towards a circular economy becomes only more urgent.

Cities have a key role to play in this transition. They represent a huge portion of global resource demands, manage a number of key sectors with circular potential, are responsible for potentially impactful land use management, and have significant procurement and investment budgets. This is why it is so important for ICLEI Europe and its network of local governments to leverage cities’ vast potential to help Europe move from linear to circular.

To this end, ICLEI Europe, with support from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, recently published the Circular Cities Declaration (CCD) Report 2022, which identifies eight key trends for how circularity is being implemented in Europe’s urban areas, as well as four main barriers hindering the proliferation of a truly circular economy. The report is the most comprehensive assessment so far of circular economy practices across Europe, and provides a great snapshot of the state of the field. The report and city profiles share diverse, exemplary and replicable solutions, spanning from a circular economy strategy in ICLEI Member Maribor (Slovenia), to a community composting initiative in ICLEI Member Budapest (Hungary), to the world-leading target for 100% of local procurement to be circular by 2030 in ICLEI Member Haarlem (The Netherlands).

The report supports the broader aims of the Circular Cities Declaration, which was set up in 2020 to not only support cities in achieving circularity, but also to highlight the crucial role they play in this process. Signatories commit to use all the levers they have at their disposal to transition to a circular economy and create a resource-efficient, low-carbon and socially responsible society.

Throughout 2022, CCD signatories submitted reports sharing their key circular economy activities, and the challenges they faced along the way. Now, results from a comprehensive analysis of these submissions are available in the CCD report

The report demonstrates that, in the past few years and especially in 2022, many projects and initiatives have been set up at the European level to support cities in their circular transitions. These include the European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan, the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform, the Circular Cities and Regions Initiative (CCRI), CircularInvest, and the Circular City Centre. Many European cities are taking advantage of these opportunities to build their knowledge, and capacities to develop circular strategies and roadmaps. Increasingly cities are acting on the need to establish a common vision and direction for their circular transition.

The report further shows that circular infrastructure and procurement are the two most frequent types of actions cities take to become more circular. Furthermore, cities are engaging with local innovation ecosystems to unlock innovative solutions, and increasingly understand that citizens have a key role in the circular transition. Awareness-raising campaigns and citizen engagement activities empower and encourage citizens to create circular solutions themselves. Finally, cities are actively pushing for more circularity in construction (and demolition), and taking action to create more sustainable (local) food systems.

Despite this progress, the report does not turn a blind eye to circularity challenges. Progress is not as fast as it could be, due in part to a lack of expertise. Furthermore, while there are possibilities to create new economic opportunities by transitioning to a circular economy, at present a lack of finance options is holding back the pace of this transition. This is an area in which the private sector and national governments must step in.

Cities can use their buying power to lead by example and drive change among suppliers.And, citizens must become more aware of their own crucial role. They shape cultural norms and political expectations – these need to adapt alongside the changes brought in by urban authorities if cities are to become truly circular.

To dive further into the insights unearthed in the CCD report, click here.

ICLEI Europe will present the CCD report, as well other circular projects such as CityLoops, Definite-CCRI, CircularInvest, CIRCULAR BIOCARBON and Symsites at the Waste Management Europe Conference in Bergamo (Italy), taking place from 18-20 April. This conference will bring together industry leaders, innovators, buyers, regulators and policymakers to network, collaborate and debate the future of waste management and the circular economy value chain. You are invited to get in touch with us if you are interested in attending – we hope to see you there!