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Ten Cities leading their way in Circular Economy - European Hub

Updated: Aug 19, 2021

In cities and regions, the circular economy implies a systemic shift, whereby: services are provided, making efficient use of natural resources as primary materials and optimising their reuse; economic activities are planned and carried out in a way to close, slow and narrow loops across value chains; and infrastructure is designed and built to avoid linear lock-in to avoid material waste. Thus, generating a positive impact on the environment through reducing atmospheric emissions, increasing the share of renewable energy and recyclable resources, as well as reducing the use of raw materials, water, land and energy (OECD 2020a).

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.

Finland is committed to linking circular economy efforts to its carbon neutrality ambitions and building on learnings from the local government. The city of Turku aims to go with zero emissions, zero waste and a low ecological footprint with the sustainable use of natural resources by the year 2040.

In 2009, Turku and neighbouring municipalities built a wastewater treatment plant with the aim to curb pollution in the Archipelago Sea off the coast of Southwest Finland. Although the stated goal was environmental protection, today, that same plant powers 10 per cent of district heating in Turku and provides nutrients for regional agricultural needs. To be able to tackle such massive challenges of circularity, Circular Turku was established as a joint effort of local, regional, national and international partners to accelerate the circular transition. Circular Turku has been engaged in supporting the identification of circular economy across 5 priority sectors (food, water, buildings and construction, energy, transport and logistics); Informing the design of residents and businesses engagement campaigns to facilitate the uptake of Circular Turku by local communities; Developing a framework and advocacy strategy for Turku and peer cities to integrate circular economy interventions; Designing a tool to embed social equity into the Circular Turku roadmap inclusivity and; Identifying best practices and learnings from Turku for international dissemination.

As part of the Roadmap Next Economy, Rotterdam has developed a Roadmap Circular Economy. Rotterdam's ambition for 2030 is for the circular economy to be a common practice and by then, to have the primary use of raw materials reduced by 50% compared to today. The four key sectors on which the circular programme will focus are construction, green energy, consumer goods and care. More than 60% of Rotterdam's waste comes from the construction sector. Not surprising considering the fact that Rotterdam is famous for its modern architecture and that it is growing rapidly with 50,000 new-build houses planned until 2040. This is why the municipality, together with construction companies, is encouraging the use of circular concrete.

BlueCity is an international icon of circular economy, a national platform for circular entrepreneurs, and a very visible local accelerator that empowers circular entrepreneurs and inspires citizens. The aim of BlueCity is to provide start-ups and scale-ups with access to circular resources, knowledge and talent, to turn ideas into action and ultimately to help sustainable entrepreneurs to grow from intention to impact.

The city of Ghent aims to support sustainable innovation and sustainable entrepreneurship by implementing a strategy, via Cleantech Cluster Regio Ghent, to achieve its climate objectives by reducing the use of materials, land, energy, water and food by 2030.

The Old Dockyards housing project is a circular economy intervention focusing on constructing new low-energy and passive houses. Merely a housing project the city developed new business models such as car and bike sharing has developed, and the city has launched activities that challenge residents’ linear lifestyles. People can already experience a circular economy through the presence of temporary buildings constructed with recycled materials, guided walks, a ‘circular dialogue café’ as well as short-term exhibitions that demonstrate the different possible uses of city infrastructure. The project highlighted the importance of participative Private-Public Partnerships (PPPs) to achieve such a sustainable business model.

The Municipality of Florence is moving towards a circular city system, focusing on one of the main challenging sectors: waste management. The "Firenze Plastic Free" plan, approved in 2019 as part of the "Firenze City Circular" general plan, aims to reduce single-use plastics through more information and awareness of more virtuous practices and lifestyles. The Municipality, through a project started in October 2020 for two years organised the introduction of a door-to-door garbage collection in low urbanized areas and in the rest of the city the placement of smart bins that can be opened only with an identification key. The smart bins are equipped with a recognition system (recognizing the user), a detection system of container filling level to rationalize the emptying of the bins, motion and GPS antennas. The virtuous citizens’ compliance will be rewarded with tariff reductions and sustainable vehicles such as free bicycles.

The action plan has also created the role of Green Manager, who could be even someone within the administration itself, who supports and facilitates the best actions and behaviours of the individuals for a system in which cities and citizens face together the path to an increasingly circular city.

Umeå is the fastest-growing urban centre in Northern Sweden with a young, progressive and environmentally-friendly population predicted to grow to 200,000 inhabitants by 2050, thus increasing the demand of infrastructure including the housing stock, schools, roads and green areas, as well the demand for natural resources, energy and food. This was seen as an opportunity to transit from “business as usual” to a more circular approach whereby construction materials can be used and reused, energy and water efficiency can increase in buildings, food minimised and innovation promoted for closing loops across value chains.

The Strategic Plan 2016-28 set the objective for Umeå to become a leader in the circular economy. A number of actions are in place from the Circular Economy Business Accelerator North Sweden, a collaboration platform for business advisors to build knowledge and business model innovation, to the network “Green Umeå” supporting the implementation of local sustainable projects for the green transition, sustainable mobility and sharing economy (OECD 2020b).

Circular economy is one of the key strands of Porto's medium and long-term municipal strategy for the environment. The Roadmap for a Circular Porto by 2030, drawn up in 2017 highlights the main practices and projects in place in Porto, offers a long-term vision, identifies opportunities and sets out a program of specific actions that will transform Porto into a circular city by 2030.

With a diverse range of food production in the Porto Metropolitan Area (PMA), an innovative profile, and an already active approach to improving the food system, the City of Porto is in a unique position to begin the transition towards a circular economy for food under the project CityLoops. As part of this project, Porto aims to develop several tools that will improve the circularity of its organic waste sector. Its main objective is to implement actions focusing on procurement, prevention and local treatment to decrease biowaste generation and introduce dedicated systems to increase separated biowaste collection.

Copenhagen, a frontrunner in sustainable urban development, aims to become the world's first carbon-neutral capital by 2025. To achieve this, it puts people at the centre of everything it does and focuses on using urban development as a tool for creating a greener, more sustainable city. This not only makes Copenhagen a responsible city but also one that is livable, vibrant and bold.

Circular Copenhagen, an innovation platform run by the City of Copenhagen is taking large steps towards more sustainability in a circular economy by using resources over and over again. Circular Copenhagen contains three concrete targets: 70% of household waste and light industrial and commercial waste to be collected for recycling; 59,000 tonnes CO2 reduction and; Tripling of reuse. They are constantly at the cutting edge of technological developments to ensure the best possible treatment of resources, making it simple for Copenhageners to adopt sustainable habits in their daily lives.

The Tampere region, known for its manufacturing industry and know-how in the ICT sector, has naturally made it to the top of environmentally friendly and intelligent clean technology, or cleantech. The companies in circular economy and cleantech in the Tampere region offer a wide range of innovative solutions, life cycle services and automation to various industries.

Some of the circular economy interventions by the companies are discussed. The focus of the Tarastenjärvi area in the region is on the recycling of material flows and the bioeconomy. The Hiedanranta development programme especially collaborates with companies whose development work is focused on digitality, sustainability, circular economy, energy or food production. Therefore, also creating activities and solutions that are of international interest. An energy community in the cluster uses solar and gaseous energy resources. A centralised energy reserve will be placed next to the solar panels to ensure the region’s power balance. The local production and distribution of energy to be achieved will improve the security of supply in the Marjamäki area. The operating environment will use combined heat and power production.

Valladolid was one of the first cities to sign the Declaration of Seville in March 2017 as a follow-up to the “Call to Cities for the Circular Economy” launched in Paris in 2015 during COP 21. It committed to strengthening the role of local governments in the circular transition by developing local strategies on zero-landfill, recycling (especially bio-waste), waste prevention (particularly food waste), eco-design, and public procurement of green products.

Those declarations of intentions have translated into tangible actions. In 2017 and 2018, projects with circular economy initiatives started to receive finance that helped stimulate local businesses and entrepreneurial activities and raise awareness. This resulted in more applications for circular economy project interventions in the coming year of 2019. In follow-up, the Agency of Innovation and Economic Development developed a “Circular Economy Roadmap” for the city, co-organised “Circular Weekends” for networking, and set up a “Circular Lab” to promote an entrepreneurial culture on the circular economy. All these activities helped create a dynamic community of entrepreneurs, micro and small businesses, and civil society acting as ambassadors for the circular economy in Valladolid. Through concrete initiatives related to new business models, eco-design, certifications for circular economy-related industrial processes, platforms connecting supply and demand of secondary material, this community is showing that the transition from a linear to a circular economy is possible and real (OECD 2020c).

The capital of Hungary, Budapest is the largest city in Hungary and plays a leading role in traffic, industry, infrastructure and culture. Budapest is home to great circular economy initiatives, such as Climate-KIC, Europe’s largest public-private innovation partnership focused on climate change and Biopolus, a water purification company that produces living factories that uses ecosystems to convert wastewater and almost any kind of organic material into products for sale.

By combining the intelligence of humans and nature, Biopolus is engineering urban ecosystems to close water, energy, food, and waste loops through a network of decentralized urban metabolic hubs. A new class of buildings will house these hubs for urban circularity. Through smart, functional engineering and design, Biopolus has created BioMakery, a biofactory for the future city. BioMakery uses biological engineering to harness clean water, energy, nutrients, and minerals from wastewater and organic waste.

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.


1. OECD (2020a), The Circular Economy in Cities and Regions: Synthesis Report, OECD Urban Studies, OECD Publishing, Paris,









10. OECD (2020b), The Circular Economy in Umeå, Sweden, OECD Urban Studies, OECD Publishing, Paris,

11. OECD (2020c), The Circular Economy in Valladolid, Spain, OECD Urban Studies, OECD Publishing, Paris,

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