How to Transition Chicago to a Circular Economy

Article by Jaycie Weathers and Dr. Nancy E. Landrum, at Loyola University Chicago, summarizing circular economy research, conducted in partnership with Plant Chicago.

4 approaches diagram_sqThe Plant is an example of a closed loop circular economy in action; tenants work cooperatively toward zero waste by finding new uses for materials that would have previously been considered waste.  As demand intensifies for a more sustainable economic system, the question on our mind was how to transition an entire city toward a circular economy model. Other cities and countries are already experimenting with explicit measures to create circularity, tapping into both the environmental benefits and economic potential.

This research project reviewed the current state of nations, states, municipalities, and organizations in their transition toward a circular economy.   Through this review, we identified the top four approaches used around the world to transition toward a circular economy model: (1) stricter regulations on waste, (2) improved energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reductions, (3) educational campaigns, and (4) intra- and inter-sector collaboration.

  1. More stringent waste regulations. Strategies and tactics widely adopted by nations, states, municipalities, and businesses adopting circular economy principles include extensive extended producer responsibility mandates, restrictions on items in waste bins, increased opportunities for recycling and composting, improved labeling for recyclable items, increased targets for recycling, landfill diversion, and reuse, incentives and training to repair items, higher standards for C&D waste, and a larger network of resale shops.
  2. Increased energy efficiency and GHG reductions. Strategies and tactics widely adopted by others include increased energy efficiency measures: rebates, tax breaks, incentives, loans, standards for new construction and existing structures, standards for HVAC systems, retrofitting or replacing inefficient appliances, and investment in green/clean energy job development. These efforts are used in conjunction with practices to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions: ban on new incineration plants, reduction targets for waste-to-incineration, increased fuel efficiency standards, carbon sequestration, research, renewable/clean energy, and regional cap and trade.
  3. Educational campaigns. Strategies and tactics widely adopted by others include school-based education: the inclusion of circular economy in school-based curriculum, environmental literacy requirements, and environmental education requirements. This is used in conjunction with public education: informative websites that identify actions individuals and businesses can take, information about sustainable food systems, incentives to encourage reuse and second-hand shopping, town hall meetings, municipal committees, and pilot or demonstration projects.
  4. Collaboration among stakeholders. Strategies and tactics widely adopted by others include collaboration between higher education, government, business and industry, non-governmental/nonprofit institutions, and the public. These collaborations result in research, training and education, collaborative problem-solving and solution generation, waste re-utilization partnerships, innovation in business models, value chains, and product/service design, consumer education and participation, and the creation and adoption of certification schemes.

These four approaches (waste reduction, energy efficiency and GHG reduction, educational campaigns, and collaboration) will serve as the point of transition for Chicago to begin adopting practices supporting a circular economy.  While Chicago has begun work in these areas, there is no particular mandate, plan or initiative at the city level to move the region toward circularity. The next step is to precisely define Chicago’s progress in each of the four target areas and identify specific opportunities to move toward a closed loop circular economic model.

Check out the full white paper: How to Transition Chicago to a Circular Economy

Citation:

Weathers, Jaycie, and Nancy E. Landrum. 2017. “How to Transition Chicago to a Circular Economy.” Chicago, IL: Loyola University Chicago.

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