Circular economy is a new global megatrend, and the private sector is taking a pro-active role, focusing on reduction in use of raw materials and development of new sustainable production systems. How to make this a reality was the topic at Danish Cleantech Hub’s successful high-level conference during Climate Week NYC, which also featured the launch of a new initiative, Circular City Week New York.
Today, four out of five products in the United States are only used once before being dumped, and in New York only 17 per cent of waste is reused. There is, however, significant potential for boosting these numbers comparing them to the world’s leading country in recycling, Germany, where 65 per cent of waste is recycled. Looking deeper into waste issues such as plastics, where circular economy creates new opportunities for waste management, Europe currently recycles 30 per cent of its plastics compared to 9 per cent in the United States. These dauting facts have contributed to making New Yorkers increasingly curious about the new term ‘Circular Economy’.
Business as usual cannot continue – which is why New York-based Danish Cleantech Hub has taken the initiative to create the first ever ‘Circular City Week New York’. A festival of dispersed events, which will share the best circular practices across a range of sectors. The festival will take place for the first time in March 2019.
The backdrop of circular economy is the resources scarcity of the world. Everything is of value – also waste. Reuse, recycling, and recirculation have become new types of business models. Cities, corporations, and citizens have a common interest in creating efficient urban systems which design out waste, create well-functioning markets for second-hand products, enables greater reuse, and promotes a sharing economy.
All the signs points in the direction of this being a new global mega-trend and a multibillion dollar business opportunity.
For decades Denmark has had a strong focus on sustainability, and circular economy is the next innovative paradigm. Especially after the adoption of the 17 global Sustainable Development Goals 2030 – where the ambitions related to responsible consumption and production are defined in goal 12.
At Tuesday’s event, Commissioner Kathryn Garcia from NYC Department of Sanitation, also confirmed that circular economy is a focus area in New York City, but implementation must be a lengthy process:
‘Circular economy requires long-term relationships, where the city and the companies are willing to make investments in order to make it work.’
Emphasizing the need to showcase how the Circular economy is a transformative force to a wide range of industries and urban life, Circular City Week will feature activities affiliated with sectors such as fashion, architecture, energy, e-commerce and food. Circular City Week is dedicated to engaging the business community, academia, public stakeholders, investors, and civil society in pursuit of meaningful impact and change – one step at the time. The transformation to a circular economy is a process, and with the Circular City Week, New York has secured a new vehicle to drive future progress.
Karsten Dybvad, CEO of Confederation of Danish Industry, who together with State of Green are founders of Danish Cleantech Hub, said, ‘Denmark is a world leader in development of solutions with a circular foot print. We hope to engage and inspire companies, decision makers and citizens. We want to visualize that circular economy is relevant also to the food sector, fashion and design, the build environment and e-trade.’
Circular economy receives support from the Danish Crown Princess and the Prime Minister
In her keynote speech at the high-level event on Tuesday, HRH Crown Princess Mary of Denmark brought forward the textile and fashion industry as an example of a sector that has started a massive transformation. It is a multi-trillion-dollar industry, employing more than 60 million people globally, but it is also one of the most polluting industries, with highly resource intensive production. The pressure from consumers who demand sustainable products and textile employees needing better working conditions, can be turn into a source of inspiration for companies to create new business models and innovative technologies:
‘In the past years we have seen a rise in the number of businesses that choose and strive to design more sustainable products. For more and more companies, sustainability is already an integral part of their business strategy. Not a separate CSR-strategy, but one, which is truly integrated in the core strategy of the business. Fashion and textile companies no matter how large or resourceful cannot overcome such challenges alone. It will take a joint effort by the industry as a whole. But when large companies commit themselves to a one hundred per cent circular business model through the use of sustainable resources, recycled fabrics and consumption solely on renewable energy, they serve as an example for the entire industry,’ HRH Crown Princess Mary said.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen underlined the profitable rational for engaging in a circular economy. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has concluded that Denmark by 2035 can increase the GDP by 0.8 – 1.4 per cent by facilitating a more circular economy. Against that background, the Danish Government published a National Strategy for A Circular Economy in September 2018:
‘We are basing our efforts on proven concepts. For instance, in the Danish city of Kalundborg, we have piloted an industrial public-private partnership where energy, water and waste-materials are exchanged in closed loops. One company’s waste becomes a resource in another company. This is the essence of the circular economy. And it is good business. But it is not enough that we make such solutions in one city. We need to promote this way of thinking to the rest of the world. And we need to show that it pays off.’
The event presented several concrete examples of high impact circular economy initiatives and partnerships around the world, which set examples for others to follow.
- The World Economy Forum addressed their research on a New Plastics Economy which was undertaken in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and a broad group of corporate frontrunners. The aim being to take concrete steps to design a plastics system founded on circular economy principles. By 2050, oceans are expected to contain more plastics by weight than fish, while the plastics industry will consume 20 per cent of the total oil production. There is an urgency for change – and a strong business opportunity as well.
- P4G (Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030) presented some project ideas that have applied to be part of the initiative. One of these The Green Logistics City Partnership by Chinese company Alibaba was highlighted, focusing on the booming e-commerce and reduction in packaging waste in China. Alibaba as the world’s largest e-commerce company, distributes 28 billion packages to locations in China every year. It creates a massive amount of waste. In Xiamen, a city of 3.5 million people, a pilot project was launched in 2017 and since then more than a million delivery boxes have been recycled for reuse. The partnership is planning to expand to other cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.
- LEGO’s shared their circular mindset. The signature brick has been in production since 1958 and has been designed to last just as long – each element can be used again and again, with no end-of-life in sight. More so, LEGO is the embodiment of the most basic circular principles, as it is designed for disassembly and reconfiguration. It is also LEGO’s ambition to refashion the product and build its toys from bio-based or recycled plastic in the future.
- New York City Department of Sanitation used the event to extent on its NYC Zero Waste Strategy launched in 2016. It is a 4 year strategy to keep garbage from landfills by limiting the use of materials hence to reuse and recycle the rest. The department has now reached 20 of the 46 original initiatives and has among others grown the largest curbside organics collection program in the United States, now serving 3,5 million residents.
The high-level conference that was hosted during Climate Week NYC proved that circular economy is rapidly taking off, where both the public and the private sector are increasingly implementing initiatives in the shape of policies, partnerships, and new business models forwarding the agenda. As Ian de Cruz, the Global Director of P4G stated: “There is a demand for circular economy from businesses, governments and civil society. The hard part is now to implement it and I am very optimistic that we will have Circular economy models in the future.”