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Urban areas now consume three-quarters of all natural resources, but that can change. By the year 2050 more than two-thirds of the global population is expected to be living in cities, compared with less than one-third as recently as 1950, according to the United Nations. Urban centres are suffering from the effects of the current, “take-make-dispose” economy - which has them consuming more than 75% of the world’s natural resources while producing more than half of all global waste, and generating between 60% and 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions. A circular economy could provide a way to rethink and reshape how cities make and use the things they need, and enable new ways of ensuring long-term prosperity. The implementation of a circular economy could bring economic and environmental benefits, while making cities thriving places where productivity is boosted by reducing congestion, eliminating waste, and reducing unnecessary costs - and by tapping new economic opportunities, supporting the acquisition and development of more contemporary skills, and increasing meaningful employment. In this way, cities can become more liveable thanks to improved air quality and health, reduced emissions and pollution, and healthier social interaction. A circular economy can also bolster urban resilience by keeping more durable materials in use, reducing the exploitation of virgin materials, fostering partnerships with more local producers, and harnessing digital technology. However, this will rely on changing the ways urban systems are planned, designed, and financed - and the ways that they are built and repurposed. For example, buildings could be designed to be more adaptable, modular, easier to maintain, and built with materials that last longer. These materials can be healthier for both people and the environment by being easily and safely compostable, and reusable. Buildings can theoretically be constructed without producing waste, though this will require methods like on-demand and on-site construction using burgeoning 3D printing techniques. The sharing economy, enabled by emerging digital technologies, could thrive within circular-economy cities, and enable greater access to public spaces, products, and mobility - while helping reconnect people with their neighbours and communities. Under this model, many people may increasingly shift from owning things to sharing them via product-as-a-service contracts, which could in turn incentivize businesses to keep products in use for longer periods.

A Circular Economy in Cities

KEY TRENDS

Circular Economy