NASCENT TRENDS
ACTIVATING
CIRCULAR ECONOMY

Cities are ground zero for the activation of circular economy. That’s why Danish Cleantech Hub is proud to host its fourth annual Circular City Week New York, which will take place from May 2-8, 2022. During Circular City Week, an array of circular economy global leaders from across sectors will discuss and exhibit viable pathways for accelerating circular systems.

 

Some of the work that our visionary partners engage in has come to comprise larger trends in circularity that have undergone new developments for the year 2022 and beyond. Taking stock of current major trends highlights nascent spaces for growth and opportunity while assessing the direction in which circular economy is now headed. Here are the top developments to keep track of this year:

Transforming Cities and Transportation

Now that the electric vehicle (EV) revolution is underway, with expected growth from 10 million EVs in 2020 to 100 million EVs by 2030, it is important to evaluate how this burgeoning technology can embrace circularity. In particular, experts have identified EV batteries as critical products to be recycled and incorporated more adequately into the circular economy.

Enel - the energy giant driven by the principles of circular economy from design to end-of-life recovery phases - has activated an array of projects and partnerships that aim to extend the useful life of materials used in batteries currently in operation. For example, Enel’s Second Life project in collaboration with Nissan and Loccioni, aims to repurpose EV battery packs that have reached the end of their life cycle for use in other applications. For this cross-sectoral project, EV battery packs would be assembled into a stationary energy storage system at the Melilla power plant in Spain, reducing the need to extract new raw materials for storage systems. This exemplifies the significant role of circularity in bridging sectors to create sustainable solutions.

Extensive research conducted by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation further illustrates how the transport sector can proceed to activate the circular economy:  

 

  • Car sharing programs are to be promoted more robustly

  • City planning must shift to accommodate mass transit and walkability rather than car dependence and urban sprawl 

  • Electric vehicles that are lighter and more durable must be created

  • Cars must be designed for reuse and remanufacturing 

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As illustrated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, diligent city planning is important to allow for circularity in transportation, which also includes the transformation of urban systems. Circular City Week partner Arup has taken it upon themselves to focus on the future of the built environment and develop new concepts and tools to help organizations within the built environment understand trends, explore new ideas, and radically rethink the future of their businesses. For instance, lifecycles of built environment assets tend to be long where complexity is a defining feature of the sector. Arup is at the forefront of following circular economy principles across the value chain to create circular cities.

 

Recent US policy supporting the right to repair electronics, equipment and appliances marks a significant legislative leap towards the circular economy. According to GreenBiz, the first right to repair bill for electronics was passed in New York and a national repair bill was filed in congress. Now, US President Joe Biden has included support for the right-to-repair movement in a new Executive Order. With new legislation on the table, 2022 will be a promising year for Circular City Week partners that provide or collaborate with providers of product repair services that lengthen the life-span of existing goods.

Right to Repair Movement

A long-time advocate and change-maker in the right-to-repair electronics movement is iFixit. This free repair guide provider is a disbeliever in the throwaway economy and is committed to ending the toxic legacy of e-waste. iFixit works to keep electronics, vehicles and appliances out of landfills by allowing people from across the globe to submit and access repair manuals for 35,622 different devices to date.

                 

But the right to repair movement ventures beyond electronics. Sustainable furniture group Mebl, is dedicated to creating a zero-waste, regenerative system by connecting consumers to the creators of unique furniture pieces made of reclaimed materials such as wood, glass and metal. Mebl also views collaboration as a key opportunity to activate the circular economy. This is why they work closely with the Sustainable Furnishings Council, which promotes and facilitates the right to repair furniture, and advocates for the creation of long-lasting pieces. This way, furniture can be kept out of the landfill and remain in use for generations.

 

Barnard College professor Sandra Goldmark shares this ethos and expands it to the right to repair everything an individual might own. Her book, “Fixation”, urges companies to produce long-lasting products, individuals to repair their broken items instead of discarding them, and consumers to embrace reclaimed goods.

Repair is a crucial part of circularity making it important for companies to understand how they can provide this service. This is particularly relevant for retail organizations trying to extend the life of furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E). A great example of this is Rheaply, whose resource exchange platform is being used by a number of Fortune 100 enterprise retail companies and organizations in the built environment that have little to no visibility into what furniture and other materials exist within buildings around the country, are reopening stores, and need access to fixtures that they already own.
 

Policy Change for Plastics

The lead-up to 2022 has already shown signs of promising shifts in regulation for how plastic is used and disposed. In the United States, the Biden Administration is implementing a new national recycling strategy that explicitly links unsustainable material-disposal practices to climate change. This new policy shift creates an environment for plastic recycling and repurposing companies to flourish. SIMS Municipal Recycling processes and markets approximately 500,000 tons of disposed materials in New York, including plastics, which can then be used by manufacturers instead of them using virgin materials. The new US recycling strategy could allow for more Circular City Week partners to expand their businesses.

Similarly, more European nations are scaling back their use of plastics in accordance with the 2021 EU ban on single-use plastics. France, recently joined the likes of Germany, Austria and Greece to reduce single-use plastics by banning plastic packaging for fruits and vegetables in grocery stores. This highlights a new awareness for the harmful environmental impact single-use plastic packaging produces. There will consequently be a growing demand for experts to help stores transition to alternative packaging materials. One company helping businesses and organizations understand their single-use plastic footprint is SUPER. This plastic-reduction certification company presents businesses with actionable pathways towards switching to alternative packaging materials. By measure of global policy change patterns, companies involved in plastic reduction, reuse and recycling will prove vital in 2022 and beyond.

The Biomaterial Boom

Biomaterial is an area receiving considerable attention at present. In the textile industry, the use of chitosan – a material that can be derived from crustacean shells in seafood processing waste – is becoming more common with growth projected to reach $24 billion in 2027 compared to $4 billion in 2020. Then in the transportation industry, organic materials such as natural latex are being used to make tires. This emerging pattern provides an impetus for low-carbon, biodegradable and recyclable biomaterials to further activate the circular economy this year. 

 

Sustainable interior design firm and circular economy advocate, Laurence Carr Inc., is no stranger to incorporating pieces made of eco-friendly biomaterials into their stagings. Their collaboration with Parsons Healthy Materials Lab has brought exposure to design methods that utilize biomaterials capable of re-entering ecosystems after their decomposition. The Healthy Materials Lab works with companies pioneering the biomaterials space in unique ways, and has curated collections of healthy, high performing building materials and textile alternatives. Bio-based products include natural insulations such as seaweed insolation free of flame retardants and antimicrobials, structural materials like BioMineralized Concrete and hemp, and fibers like biobased Xorel which is a textile derived from sugarcane.

But for biomaterials to be considered circular, Dezeen states that their production must also prevent an excess of biological waste by supporting a system for reusing and recycling those materials into products of similar value. Otherwise, as the Ellen Macarthur Foundation notes, biomaterials may not always be an exemplar of sustainability or circularity as their lifetime and emissions remain important considerations. However, companies that ensure that the biomaterials they use are regenerative stand to differentiate themselves from others in their field and become leaders in this rapidly growing area.

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Published February 15th 2022

Contributors

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Semira Rose

Partnership Manager

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Imke Myrick

CCW Director

If you are interested in sharing or discovering how circularity is being achieved across industries ranging from textiles, to food, architecture, manufacturing and packaging, take part in Circular City Week New York 2022 for an exciting week packed with circular economy events. Submit an event below or head over to our event calendar to start planning your Circular City Week experience today!