To address the challenges of climate change issues and environmental impacts of human activities, alongside the Sustainable Development Goals, European cities need to reconsider their resources management and consuming model, hence rethink the urban economy framework. Most of the consumption, waste production, and emission of greenhouse gasses occurs in cities. EU cities are heavily dependent on external resources to meet the demands of their citizens for food and energy for instance, while they have a high density of knowledge, data, and capital. This enables cities to drive the circular economy agenda forward and unlock related economic, environmental, and social benefits.
Circular economy (CE) is about shifting from a linear use of primary resources in a “Take – Make – Waste” fashion to a circular “Take – Make – Remake” economy. It should allow for products, materials and resources to be maintained as long as possible in the economy. The main question is then how linear economy, whose growth is coupled with consumption of primary resources, can be transformed into circular economy.
Circular Economy's challenges have been presented to European cities twice in the 2nd call for proposals (2016) and the 5th one (2019), acknowledging the complexity and relevance of the issue for at least three reasons.
- First, the implementation of circular economy solutions needs a strong framework of cooperation between a wide range and great number of the consumption loop stakeholders as well as a participation process.
- Second, the final aim of circular economy is therefore to be able to scale up and reach a greater part of the consumption loop and implies to develop new and sustainable business models.
- Finally, the circular economy challenges are linked to social, technical and economic issues. Therefore, they need new frameworks to be tested in order to address crosscutting challenges regarding exploratory research as well as cooperation and training.
Cities are in first line to implement concrete measures to address these challenges. Hence, UIA invited European urban authorities to put forward innovative circular economy actions addressing the whole loop of consumption - from design to recycling and reusing issues regarding both resources and goods.
The second UIA call for proposals emphasized the crucial issue of plastic waste together with electronic equipment. Indeed, these types of waste have a strong negative impact on the urban metabolism, contaminating water and undermining biodiversity. The 5th UIA Call for proposals in 2019 focused more specifically on water management. Indeed, water scarcity and droughts have worsened in some parts of the EU in recent decades, with damaging effects on our environment and economy. One of the main challenges is therefore to alleviate pressure on over-exploited water resources tackling management, prevention and recycling issues by providing water-efficiency measures, solutions to reuse treated wastewater, innovation to make water collection and treatment plants climate-neutral or climate-positive. The access to safe drinking water especially for vulnerable social groups is underlined in the 5th call for proposals, as it is a major challenge regarding both health issues and energy loss.