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Collaborating to accelerate the circular economy in cities and regions

The Circular Cities Declaration 

The European Circular Cities Declaration is a commitment document which local and regional governments across Europe can sign to help accelerate the transition from a linear to a circular economy in Europe. It aims to allow local and regional governments across Europe to communicate their commitment to supporting the circular transition, provide a shared vision of what a “circular city” is, underline the critical role which local and regional governments need to play in making this transition happen and, establish a community of committed organisations to share their experiences, challenges and successes. 

The Circular Cities Declaration provides a common, shared vision of a circular city that helps ensure cities act as a joined force on the road to circularity. The vision was co-created by the founding cities and the support partners aimed at making an unified front to national and European policy makers about the role of local and regional actors in a transition towards circular economy and it is described as follows: 

“A circular city is one that promotes the transition from a linear to a circular economy in an integrated way across all its functions in collaboration with citizens, businesses and the research community. This means in practice fostering business models and economic behaviour which decouple resource use from economic activity by maintaining the value and utility of products, components, materials and nutrients for as long as possible in order to close material loops and minimise harmful resource use and waste generation. Through this transition, cities seek to improve human well-being, reduce emissions, protect and enhance biodiversity, and promote social justice, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Among all the benefits of being part of the initiative, the signatory cities and regions have access to international profiling and a platform to showcase activities globally through print, online media and key events; opportunities to share and and develop capabilities with like-minded cities to implement a circular economy; advice and support to develop city-to-city cooperation to push rapid and effective implementation on the ground; demonstrate leadership and commitment at the sub-national level to a productive, liveable and resilient Europe. 

Circular Cities signatories and support partners 

The European Circular Cities Declaration started in January 2020 by a broad partnership of European stakeholders, committed to enabling the transition to a circular economy at the local level, including cities, international organisations, think tanks, financial institutions, technical experts, and regional collaboration partnerships. The group of support partners are composed by ICLEI Europe, Circle Economy, Circular Flanders, CSCP, ECERA, European Committee of the Regions, European Investment Bank, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Eurocities, London Waste and Recycling, Metabolic, Metabolism of Cities, UN Environment Programme, and the WCYCLE Institute. 

During the official launch of the initiative on 1 October 2020, many European cities joined forces and signed the declaration including Tirana (AL), Ghent, Leuven and Mechelen (BE), Prague (CZ), Freiburg im Breisgau (DE), Copenhagen, Høje-Taastrup and Roskilde (DK), Helsinki, Lappeenranta, Oulu, Tampere and Turku (FI), Grenoble (FR), Budapest (HU), Florence and Prato (IT), Wiltz (LU), Bergen and Oslo (NO), Guimarães (PT), Ljubljana and Maribor (SI), Seville (ES) and Eskilstuna, Malmö and Umeå (SE). Since then, many other cities have joined the initiative which adds up to a total of 51 cities so far 

How the initiative lands in the local territory 

The cities and regions signing the declaration commit to act as ambassadors for the circular economy and make the necessary efforts to develop local strategies and take action towards a resource-efficient, low-carbon and socially responsible society. At local and regional level there are five main action areas suggested by the initiative that can be undertaken by the signatory cities to generate value in the transition towards circular economy and to ensure that the set vision and commitments reflect the needs of all: 

  • to set a vision, to give leadership and set priorities to co-create a clear strategy by all the actors involved in the action;
  • to engage, facilitate and connect stakeholders in creating a rich ecosystem of actors willing to collaborate for an inclusive transition and helping to nurture circular business models;
  • to compile and use the cities’ urban management levers, such as urban planning, procurement and provision and maintenance of public assets and services;
  • creating economic incentives that can support local initiatives with subsidies, grants, taxes and innovation competitions;
  • to develop an enabling regulatory framework that favours circular economy through  multi-level governance (including all levels of government and stakeholders from civil society, the private sector and the research community). 

In alignment with the five above-mentioned levers that serve as inspiration for cities to integrate targeted actions into their local agendas, the Circular Cities Declaration has also developed ten commitments to be adopted by the signatory cities wherever they are in their transition towards circular economy. 

In order to provide knowledge and engage the signatory cities to advance in their transition towards circularity, the initiative organizes, collaboratively with the support partners, a quarterly signatories webinar series, which have the topics selected and voted by the cities, a triannual newsletter with the latest from Signatories and the wider European CE ecosystem, an annual reporting on signatories’ progress towards the commitments, and facilitates bilateral exchanges for collaboration opportunities. 

The case of Maribor, Slovenia – a founding signatory to the European Circular Cities Declaration 

Maribor is located in north-east Slovenia, the country’s second-largest city, and it is a regional leader on the topic of circular economy. In 2018, it became the first Slovenian city with a Circular Economy Strategy and, through different EU programmes, it has been testing solutions for the implementation of circular economy in the city and in public utility companies. 

The city is currently the only municipality in Slovenia that redirects its activities, the operation of its companies and inhabitants into the model of circular management.  This approach does not only  include  the concept of a circular economy in the field of municipal waste, but also the implementation of the concept in construction and industry,  energy,  water  management, land-use and  mobility in the city. In parallel, Maribor has been implementing the network of cooperative economy by promoting collaboration with NGOs, younger population, the elderly and minorities. These activities point to an extremely innovative approach of the city to policy-making, which creates synergistic effects for all groups of the population, the environment and the economy. 

In April 2017, in order to implement the Wcycle project in Maribor, five companies, owned or partly owned by the Municipality of Maribor (MOM), founded the Wcycle Institute Maribor (IWM). IWM is the umbrella organization responsible for the implementation of circular economy projects derived from founding enterprises, townspeople themselves or private entities. The purpose of both Circular Economy Strategy and Wcycle project is cross-sectoral cooperation in handling, processing, re-use and development of resources, which deals with the circular economy in Maribor in seven selected sectors: waste, construction, energy, mobility, water, spatial planning and collaborative economy. The positive consequences of these practices are the emergence of new business opportunities for the MOM, the citizens and the economy, the creation of high-quality, predominantly green jobs, new added value and a new economic boost. 

The Wcycle project received the first Future of Cities Award in 2017, and MOM, in cooperation with IWM as part of Urban Innovative Actions, acquired the Urban Soil 4 Food project, which will bring not only the European Union’s 3 million Euros, but also a number of positive effects for residents. In 2017 and 2018, IWM also participated as a partner in the preparation of the Roadmap towards the circular economy in Slovenia, which was presented to the public in May 2018. 

IWM continues to manage Maribor’s engagement in a variety of European circular economy projects, including the construction, waste management, water,  food and bioeconomy sectors, as well as cross-cutting topics like digitalisation and citizen engagement. Through the Circular Cities Declaration, Maribor continues to demonstrate commitment to this transition locally and to build capacity and share its experiences through exchange with other ambitious cities and regions across Europe.  

  • Cities and local communities play a crucial role in the transition – they are increasingly recognized as the central generators of circular change. 
  • Close cooperation between public companies, citizens, industry and local self-government is key to develop a successful interconnected system that optimizes resources and results – economic, environmental and social. 
  • The network of cooperative economy points to an extremely innovative approach of the city to policy-making, which creates synergistic effects for all groups of the population, the environment and the economy.
  • Affecting the behaviour of the citizens and changing their behavioural patterns and habits leads to the formation of circular culture, which is one of the key factors in enacting change.