Policy Paper §6: Matching EU‘s Circular Economy Missions with Circular City Networks
The global neoliberal take (resources) – make (products) – dispose (waste) paradigm has brought unprecedented levels of overconsumption and damage to the ecological stability of the earth that includes negative repercussions on the overall liveability of the planet. Waste enters our bodies through marine litter or the usage of plastics in drinking water, through contaminated soil into our food, as well as through the air we breathe in, as we oftentimes have to incinerate it to create energy.
The European Union has projected itself as a multi-faceted, multi-level, interdisciplinary policy-making machinery that engages in hybrid multilateral actions, one of the most peculiar ones is the Circular Economy Missions that already took place in Chile, China, Colombia, South Africa. In September 2017, a further one will be taking place in New Delhi, India.
Besides adjusting global trade in agricultural goods imported from one place to be used elsewhere for feedstock or upscaling without considering the negative effects on the environment, these missions are aiming to promote and facilitate trade in sustainable goods, foster circular and sustainable enterprises and provide a forum for sharing and upscaling solutions. Thus, albeit academically, the circular economy has been premised within the de-growth paradigm, in reality the missions aim to foster economic growth based on green goods and sustainable energy. Thus, with US and China positioning themselves as the world’s largest producers of electrified cars and storage batteries and possibly engaging in trade wards, the EU is trying to capitalize on the proliferation of its trade regime through a network of sustainable enterprises and initiatives.
From a governance perspective, besides this form of a region-to-country cooperation, one of the best ways to foster further networks would be the expansion of the already existing city networks, which could function as a stepping stone towards practice and expertise sharing, as well as inclusive planning for circularity. What would a circular city entail though?
Cities are a juncture of human activity, material exchanges, capital accumulation and produce a number of outputs. Their most essential parts are road and railway infrastructure, housing, small to medium sized service spots, manufacturing and industry.
Information and guidance on existing rules are an integral part of communicating the functioning of a circular city. These can take up the form of conceptual graphics explaining the flows of resources, commodity costs, as well as opportunities for re-usage of resources.
The usage of land in a city is essential to creating a functional, liveable and stimulating environment that improves living conditions, material efficiency and creativity for establishing new ventures. Land could take the form of ecologically sustainable green spaces that serve as an example of urban gardening that improves food security, electrification landmarks, such as photovoltaic installations that store power for mobile phones and electric bikes, large scale depots for end-of-life interior, clothing and other material belongings that are transformed into repair and upscale facilities, where people create furniture, electronic equipment or engage in crafts and arts, etc.
Due to the overt production of plastics with limited use in most world cities and their relative small size, large scale usage of plastics, such as their compression for the creation of flat and durable pavement, which can be used for paving tertiary and rural routes at a limited price, the separation of different land usage or the protection of coastal waters against earthly force majeure induced by climate change.
Excessive food waste could be dumped in sites at critical junctions of the city, where there are plentiful of restaurants and working spaces, and be collected daily to create nutritious compost for the gradual reforestation that lead to the creation of green belts around the city limits, which also serve as natural bio-habitats, as well as open space sports and leisure centres. On the other side of the problematic, the increasing pressures on food insecurity mean that peri-urban and urban farming of food in cities could foster the return to traditional livelihoods, while reducing carbon pressure.
Farming in the developing world could benefit from regenerative agriculture practices, such as crop rotation, usage of the shared economy to foster the wider use of technical capital, such as plough machinery, as well as ICT tools that enable knowledge sharing and facilitate supply chains via mobile phone apps, as well as optimization of the care for agriculture through sensors that sense change in the soil, the weather and guide robotized solutions based on e.g. drones. Naturally, all these should be part of the leasing society, which fosters continuous repairs for the provision of monthly instalments, while the product ownership remains in the hands of the producer.
Circular cities would be a place where you commute to share the results of your research through a carbon-emissions free public transport system, whereby the transportation would consist mainly of circular train networks driven by carbon engines that exhaust drinkable water and electric bike system, charged by decentralized home-based prosumption of renewable energy from photovoltaic systems. Mechanization of transport, logistics and manufacture would result in two tendencies – the necessity for more hardware maintenance positions and the redistribution of welfare through the adoption of an universal basic income (upon the condition that part of it will be reinvested in one’s own readjustment to the labour market).
A modern workplace would not be office based, as urban gardening would make the city a much more creative space, where collaborative networks would engage in solving social and sustainability challenges. Separate employees would participate in meetings, which define the tasks and then seek alliances through his/her network. Stability would be the norm only for administrative and managerial positions, whereas everybody else would aim at flexibility of the work loci. The advent of MOOCs and distance learning would decompose class structures and would allow the inclusion of economically disadvantaged social strata.
Global expertise would be pooled in sectoral e-platforms that are targeted directly by recruiters, thus making HRs one of the most powerful positions. The push action of finding a job that is already redundant would gradually be substituted with publicly available registers of performance. Capital gains will not be measured solely with financial assets, but also with human and environmental capital. Corporate social responsibility and philanthropy will define the strong market players of the day due to their increased visibility. In comparison with today working hours and unemployment would shrink and larger shares of capital gains will be used for research and development. Continuous health insurance will substitute pensions.
The capitalist consumerist culture will be substituted by malls, where creative laboratories would make the best use of secondary materials. Old toys and electronics would be transformed into household appliances and furniture would be used to recreate social spaces. Heating of malls and public spaces such as railway stations would be warmed by people’s naturally emitted heat. Additionally to food vouchers, people would receive greening vouchers that can be used to improve one’s sustainability lifestyle through buying biofood, biofuels, planting trees or donating to specific causes.
While the missions could serve as tools to identify existing production capacities and potential needs for sustainable goods, the city networks could further enhance these by regionalizing the approach and making it easier for certain areas to specialize, while taking note of the existing knowledge base and human capital. One of the vital questions remaining, however, would be how to make sure that the untapped resources of the developing world are equitably shared or exchanged for technology. From a governance perspective, circular economy missions could abridge bottom up aspirations from the ground with a networked planning of incentives.