Igor Kos, advisor at WCYCLE Institute Maribor, project manager of project Urban Soil 4 Food, answered our questions.
1) Why did your city decide to apply under Urban Innovative Actions?
After the Main Urban Authority - Municipality of Maribor got acquainted with the Urban Innovative Actions initiative, there was a joint consensus that it is the perfect programme to apply its Urban Soil 4 Food - US4F project to. The possibility of forming a local partnership and a generous financing scheme were definitely key decision factors in choosing this Initiative, since it is very difficult for municipalities in general to ensure pre-financing themselves, particularly for projects of this scale. Our representatives attended the UIA seminars in Porto and Budapest, where the application process was thoroughly presented and a chance to introduce our project idea to the Permanent Secretariat was given. After this there was no doubt in our mind that UIA was the right way to go.
2) What do you consider to be the most innovative element of your project towards a more Circular Economy?
US4F's main strength is the introduction of a horizontal systemic approach to circular economy, while using its own (city) waste to produce its own products (soil, food). The project uses urban waste to produce urban soil, which is used in urban agriculture. Complementary, it introduces urban food chains and uses open innovation processes to establish business support for innovative circular economy startups in the urban area. Knowledge circle provides project with internationally standardized soil and with training, seminars and study visits for quadruple helix participants. The pivotal distinction between US4F and existing projects is in the proposed technological pilot system, aimed to optimize production quality and to include wastes from different sectors. No similar approaches or even theoretical ideas can presently be found, since all the current concepts exist within the circular bio-economy (intra-sectorial recovery), and are not fully taking into account the basic principle of cross sector resource recovery as provided by the broader circular economy concept, which is both the innovation and added value of US4F.
3) What are the main changes that you expect to achieve in your municipality with this project?
The project is focusing on environmental, economic and social dimensions, and is promoting education and social inclusion of various stakeholders: public administration, citizens, business and public. Environmentally, the project aims to achieve recycled certified urban soil, with which production of urban food will be established contributing to lowering greenhouse emissions (short-runs transport, use of waste energy in greenhouse, lowering amount of land filled materials etc.). Socially, urban gardens will be used as a pilot case for social working rehabilitation of people with special needs. Project will focus on high number of citizens from low income groups and provide them with urban gardens. Economically, the project will support local SMEs and startups at establishing their business opportunities connected to circular economy, urban agriculture and food processing. Furthermore, there is an entire work package of the project dedicated to training and education of 3 stakeholder groups: citizens, private sector and decision makers. We believe that circular economy can be successful only through an integrated approach. Stakeholder groups have to "internalize" circular economy as part of their everyday life. US4F therefore strongly focuses on cross-sectoral dimension and uses Living Lab approach to include all stakeholder groups.
US4F is part of umbrella project WCYCLE that is changing business model for City of Maribor. The project Wcycle is the strategic developmental model of the City of Maribor as an urban center in the field of integrated management of all generated waste, surplus energy and wastewater based on the policy of circular economy as material, energy and water strategy of using processed waste, energy and treated water as new sources.