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Check out the conclusions from our Circular economy workshop in Maribor!

On the 16th and 17th of May 2019, the 4th Circular Change Conference was held in Maribor (Slovenia), bringing together stakeholders from enterprises, research institutions, civic organisations and public administrations to share experiences, challenges and successes. Under the motto “Less talk, more action”, participants discussed intensively on how to realise the transition from a linear to a circular economic model, focusing on concrete actions, radical collaboration and scalable success stories. Discussions were embedded within a strong political commitment at different levels, given the inspiring presence of Violeta Bulc (EU Commissioner for Transport), Janez Potočnik (UNEP International Resource Panel and former EU Commissioner for Environment), Marian Šarec (Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia), Aleksander Saša Arsenovič (Mayor of the Municipality of Maribor) and Ladeja Godina Košir (Chair of the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform).

Within this context, on the 16th of May the Urban Innovative Actions coordinated a session where the cities supported from the grant under the Circular Economy topic could share their ongoing work at local level with a variety of stakeholders. The invited urban authorities were the city of Antwerp, the municipality of Heraklion, the city of Ljubljana and finally the host municipality of Maribor.

The session was opened by an intervention of the Keynote speaker Ms Oriana Romano, Coordinator of the Cities and Circular Economy Programme of the OECD. What emerged clearly is that with the increasing world urban population there is an increasing production of waste and demand for energy, and we need our cities to be prepared.
In fact, there will be 9.7 billion people by 2050, 70% of which will be living in cities. For this reason, we should have by 2030 and investment of 6.7 $ trillion per year in infrastructure, because the availability and quality of natural resources is at risk.
For this reason, the OECD sees that there is a momentum for circular economy, with a number of efforts being carried out – at global level the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and at European level the Global, regional urban frameworks, as well as the Circular Economy strategies. OECD is monitoring and supporting a number of cities in this transition, through a series of actions:

  • Measuring: through a dashboard and a self-assessment tool
  • Learning: with city to city learning and the cooperation with the central / sub-national governments
  • Sharing: through policy dialogues, peer-to-peer reviews, recommendations and action plans.

Ms Romano invited all cities to take the OECD Survey on the Circular Economy in Cities and Regions and join the 1st OECD Roundtable on the Circular Economy for Cities and Regions.

Ms Oreana Romano presenting

After the Keynote speaker, students from the University of Ljubljana (Urh Wiegele and Mihaela Šugić) presented a number of projects carried out in order to bridge the knowledge gap between sectors. They put an important focus on the role of communication and education in the promotion of circular economy. Their underlining point was that “not only every action has an equal and opposite reaction but also every step has a footprint”.

Ms Mihaela Sugic presenting

Building upon all these inputs, the four cities presented their projects. It became clear right away why these urban authorities came together in one workshop: all of them face the challenges of waste management and inclusive citizen participation. Antwerp looks into solutions for its waste/materials, water and energy streams; Heraklion develops a scheme to manage food waste; Ljubljana focuses on a new business model where Invasive alien plant species (IAPS) are considered a resource; Maribor aims at using the city’s waste to produce urban soil and thus make new products and food. The four cities’ highlighted that their main focus was on bringing local stakeholders to work together and enabling broad citizens’ participation to ensure a real societal change towards circular economy. Having this in mind, they shared their progress up to date:

  • Circular South in Antwerp, Belgium: in relation to the circularity of materials, there is the Circularity centre “Circuit”, which for the moment has a temporary location with 100m² and there is a cooperation agreement for the purchase of a permanent location of a community centre, approved in March 2019 and should be put in practice by November 2020 for 1.277m². There is an active contribution by local stakeholders through repair buddies, school classes and a number of activities. In relation to the energy stream, there is a community driven approach with a strong community engagement. Concerning the circular South App, it is developed in co-creation with the citizens’ needs through the dashboard (consumption, production, storage) and identifying next step notifications, challenges, context aware tips, wallet shared energy systems. The short-term goal is to collectively reduce resource-consumption. Yet the city also wants to create a platform, which can be applied in other districts.
  • A2UFOOD in Heraklion, Greece: currently, the project was dedicated to preparatory activities regarding the design, tendering, purchasing and construction of the main technical actions – food waste prevention, optimal use of avoidable and unavoidable food waste and composting, as well as the establishment of basic communication channels. The Information Campaign Plan for food waste prevention has been enhanced with educational activities. Educational and communication materials have been prepared or are in the process of being drafted. The project team designed a Digital Food Waste Prevention Tool as a mobile app. For the Second Opportunity Restaurant, designs of the building were completed and an application for a permit is waiting for approval. Laboratory experiments regarding the transformation of food waste into bio-plastic are progressing well. A list of households, neighbourhood parks and institutions that will install the home composters has been drafted and the mobile app with a sensor has been developed.
  • APPLAUSE in Ljubljana, Slovenia: partners have been working intensively in assessing the potential for converting the different Invasive alien plant species into new products. They have carried out laboratory tests to fully understand the physical and chemical characteristics of each species and determine what the most appropriate uses are for the 25 IAPS being collected in Ljubljana. Even if the results are still ongoing, APPLAUSE already has an initial list of species that can be used to produce different paper products, wood products, dyes, food sources and organic pesticides. This is a key milestone for APPLAUSE, which clears the way for the next phase in the circular model, the development of secondary products. In this regard, prototyping has started for a variety of products aimed at locals, families, schools and tourists. In parallel to all this, APPLAUSE has been implementing a series of citizens’ engagement activities to ensure that citizens play a key part in the development of the circular model. One of the most interesting aspects of the project is that the different activities have been designed in a way that citizens can choose between different levels of engagement (more independent DIY activities, guided workshops, campaigns, events).
  • URBAN SOIL 4 FOOD (US4F) in Maribor, Slovenia: Citizens are about to access the new blooming community gardens. The community gardens have been prepared during the winter and urban farmers will soon be able to take over the plots. The local team has been involved in preparing the plans for the gardens, thanks to valuable input from other local projects, and creating the local partnerships to run the activities on site. To improve the local food distribution chain, partners are developing an online platform and App that can support farmers and consumers to get into contact. One of the largest investments within the project is the creation of a soil production facility, with innovative technology, that can turn urban waste into fertile soil. With citizens often not wanting waste treatment facilities close to their homes, despite this one being not polluting, and with innovative solutions requiring extra efforts in the setup of the procurement, it has been a demanding but successful challenge for partners to get things rolling!

The testimonies were followed by a roundtable discussion, focusing on how to ensure successful citizen engagement plus active involvement and what are the ways to influence and change the behavioural patterns of citizens. Through the public debate, it was evident how the discussion focused on the statement that citizen engagement is a cornerstone for successful implementation. In fact, the four projects stated that they try to include as many citizens as possible in their circular economy actions in order to raise awareness and provide proper education. To achieve this, cities and local stakeholders have carried out a number of workshops and tailored communication activities. In order to ensure adequate citizen engagement, the four projects agreed that there must be a special focus on young children and their parents, as the future of behavioural change lies in their hands. Only this way, the next generation will be properly educated and will embrace the circular economy attitude. In this sense, the access to space in relevant areas of the city is key to ensure the participation and interaction of people, raising awareness and involvement.

A question from the audience was related to who should start such an innovative project and cities had different approaches. In Antwerp, the city initiated the project on its own. In Heraklion, it was a result of co-creation and cooperation among the different partners. In Ljubljana, an NGO came to the municipality with the rough idea and then the municipality took up the idea and applied for UIA. However, the application was written by all partners, thus ensuring that everyone would be as much involved as possible since the very beginning. Finally, in Maribor a few individuals came up with the idea and they presented it to the municipality. However, the project manager of US4F was clear that ideas should come from everyone and it is the municipality’s job to hear them.

Common cross-cutting challenges

In order to conclude the discussion, the Keynote speaker Ms Romano, confirmed that innovation is always a combination of different approaches (bottom-up, top-down, etc.) and everyone should contribute. She further elaborated that we increasingly see how the role of the municipality is heading towards a strong enabler role for citizens’ and stakeholders’ involvement in co-creation processes. Her final remarks and advice to participants were:

  • To be bold but not alone – engage as much as possible.
  • To start-up but scale-up. UIA projects are only the beginning. In order to change the economy, transferability and scaling up must be ensured.
  • To learn by doing and change by learning. There is a big need for education and awareness raising of the current and future generations.

Author: Daniela Patti, UIA Expert for “URBAN SOIL 4 FOOD” project (Maribor) and moderator of the event