Ten Cities leading their way in Circular Economy - Asian Hub

Several interventions to increase urban resource efficiency and adopt circular economic approaches are being promoted by the governments of Asian cities, with the intention of creating economic and social opportunities whilst reducing adverse environmental impacts. Such a major economic transition requires a coordinated and integrated approach.

The “Doughnut”: The green ring represents a sweet-spot where our socio-economic systems should be placed, such that they respect (external) planetary boundaries, and fulfil (internal) societal needs.

Kamikatsu, Japan

Kamikatsu was the first municipality in the country of Japan to make a ’Zero Waste Declaration’ way back in 2003. However, the journey towards becoming waste-free started much before the declaration. The city encouraged residents to recycle and reuse their waste, not to purchase or use products that might end up as waste, and requested manufacturers to produce products that could easily and safely be disposed of to stop waste generation at its origin.


Over time, as the municipal officers found additional recycling channels, new categories of waste that could be sorted were established. Today, Kamikatsu has 45 sorting categories of waste which led to great success in 2016 as the recycling rate was 81%. This led to the development of a ‘Zero Waste Accreditation System’ to further control waste generation. This system certifies stores, particularly food and beverage establishments, to heighten zero waste consciousness and encourages customers to reward certified businesses with their patronage.


Changchun, China

The city of Changchun has designated 10 square kilometres of the industry to work on the principles of the circular economy. Given that automotive manufacturing is the dominant industry, Changchun’s ambition includes unlocking the potential of end-of-life vehicles, therefore, keeping the materials in use. The Park will have the following facilities: incineration plant, food waste treatment facilities, medical waste treatment facilities and car dismantling facilities. To utilize material streams and resources at their maximum capacity a thermal power station will also be present at this location. Further, this industrial park will attract investments in the field of the circular economy.


Xiangyang, China

Circular bioeconomy is being seen as a promising approach to resolving the global environmental and sustainability issues. The energy-environment nexus can be sustained by the production of bioenergy and biomaterials. This strategy has been implemented by the city of Xiangyang in China.


A public-private partnership of business leaders and the government in China came together to implement a sludge-to-energy program. The city built a biorefinery on the site of an existing wastewater treatment facility. The refinery takes sludge from the wastewater treatment process and combines it with local food waste to produce biochar and compressed natural gas. The project helps reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 95 to 98 per cent and financially breaking even by including sales of biochar and natural gas.


Tel Aviv, Israel

A dense city with a high level of development, Tel Aviv needs to manage its scarce resources wisely and efficiently. With this aim to reduce material use which will further minimise pollution, the circular economy model was considered as a viable mechanism that could create several local benefits.


Tel Aviv established five focus areas where the circular economy model will be implemented: Textile Flow Analysis to understand textile waste and consumption in the city; Circularity in Construction and Demolition to create an online material bank; Innovation and Acceleration in focus to developing circular economy solutions to solve various municipal problems; Circularity in Water for rainwater management; and Circularity in food to minimize the amounts of food waste in the city. This circular economy strategy is viewed as a potential income drive by the municipality of Tel Aviv and hopes to articulate the benefits as the strategy is implemented.


Songdo, South Korea

Songdo city is recognised as an entire smart city that is being driven by smart technologies as a part of its DNA that manage pneumatic waste disposal – through pipes that deliver organic and non-organic waste, separately, to incinerators. There are no garbage picking trucks roaming about in the streets or vast bins located around block flats. Instead, all household waste is sucked directly from individual kitchens through a vast underground network of pneumatics tubes to the underground waste processing facility, where it's automatically sorted, and treated for better energy generation. All the functionalities such as Lighting, temperature, and appliances are controlled via a central panel or remotely from a device. Such a waste management system maximizes the efficiency of waste management and contributes to the reduction of Songdo’s environmental footprint.

Izmir, Turkey

The historic city of İzmir, Turkey is using the urban metabolic approach to harness the output of one urban system, like solid waste management, to fuel another, like electricity generation. The city is working to combine city cycling infrastructure with tourism, waste management and logistics services. The most important goal of the project is to produce maps showing pedestrian and resource flows throughout the city, which will feed into the city’s master plan.


This approach will help the city to reduce the cost of various types of infrastructure and services through integrated, long-term planning. With more bikes on the road on the road and fewer cars, these initiatives can also decrease traffic, reduce air pollution and lower commute times. Such a project and the methods of re-using, recycling or otherwise harnessing resource outputs and feeding them back into the urban system can be adopted by other cities as well for a sustainable future.


Datong, China

Being a coal-centric city, the Datong government has been promoting the reuse of industrial waste by introducing projects such as “Bulk Solid Waste Base” that encourage cooperation between the coal industry and the chemical, power, and steel industries through industrial symbiosis.


Datong Coal Mine Group Co Ltd is one of the hard-coal production leaders and a resource-based state-owned enterprise in China. After realizing its extensive growth pattern of high input, high consumption, high pollution, and low benefit to the enterprise later led to resource depletion and environmental degradation, the leaders of the coal mine decided to develop a circular economy park. The park changed the traditional mode of production and formed a more environment-friendly development path by adopting a more scientific mode and method of production. This led to the construction of Tashan Circular Economy Park in 2003 and put to use in 2009 with the ‘reduce–recycle–reuse’ principle. Thus, the green practice in the Tashan Circular Economy Park has been recognised as leading the development of the nation's coal industry and can be applied nationwide


Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, located in Central Thailand has a population of 8 million producing waste over 9,000 tons of municipal waste per day. Out of the waste generated, 50% is organic, 10.3% is recyclable and 39.7% falls under the category of ‘others’. Most of this waste ends up in landfills, affecting the environment to its maximum. It is observed that 50% of the organic waste is food waste generated in homes, cafes and hotels that are present throughout the city. The city has been suggested to implement the strategy of converting organic waste to produce the larvae of black soldier fly that is then used as a quality protein source for feeding poultry and intensive aquaculture production systems.


Therefore, to close the elusive nutrient loop, there are several opportunities to connect cities to farms. By producing zero waste, this integrated approach, based on the conversion of waste to value chains, conforms to the circular economy approach.


Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur is the largest and the capital city of Malaysia with its key economic activities of tourism, finance, electronic manufacturing and construction. It is located in the Klang Valley Basin in Peninsular Malaysia where most of the plastic pollution enters the river. This city was selected as one of the pilot project sites for ESCAP’s ‘Closing the Loop’ program partnered with the Government of Japan. Kuala Lumpur’s urban policy priorities the development of public projects in a sustainable way however, the city needs to curb its plastic pollution to a great extent.


Closing the Loop will be working with district and state-level government alongside private and NGO actors to manage plastic pollution and leakage in the Klang River. Due to the limited availability of data on plastic pollution, there is considerable scope to further understanding plastic waste in Kuala Lumpur.


Surabaya, Indonesia

Surabaya is the second-largest city in Indonesia and also a regional centre for development, trade and culture. Tackling water pollution along with flooding and climate change remains the biggest environmental challenge for the city. The City Government is responsible for implementing various development and waste management initiatives through a structure of community and neighbourhood associations. Surabaya was selected as another project city for ESCAP’s ‘Closing the Loop’ program.


Surabaya has a strong system of community waste management, with individual districts and neighbourhoods collecting, segregating and processing household waste. Such a strong focus on sustainability has led to international recognition and high environmental standards compared to many ASEAN cities. Government incentives and investment has allowed the establishment of over 200 community-scale waste disposal and 21 composting sites. Closing the Loop will engage this network alongside local government agencies to improve plastic waste tracking and management in the city.


About the Author

Nehmat Singh (LinkedIn) is a geographer and urbanist with interest areas in an urban environment, ecosystem services and sustainability. She pursued her master's in urban management and development from IHS, Erasmus University Rotterdam. Along with being an urban enthusiast, she is constantly trying to improve her baking skills.


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