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Circular Cities: A Framework for Circular Waste Management

We are in the midst of a chronic waste crisis. Despite renewed commitments by businesses and policymakers to support the transition to a circular economy, we are polluting our world at a rate higher than ever before. The circular economy demands recycled material, yet many cities struggle with overflowing landfills, informal dumping and burning of waste, and are unable to recover the valuable resources from their waste streams.

Why is it that some cities’ efforts to increase recycling rates barely make a dent in waste flows, while others make steady, ultimately transformative progress towards their zero-waste vision? What makes the difference? Delterra’s experience has shown that to be successful at scale, cities need to take an integrated, holistic approach to designing their waste management systems.


Cities across the globe are facing public health & environmental challenges due to waste. Yet, this picture could look very different.

6 Dimensions of Waste Management

  • Provision of information to encourage recycling, educate and drive behavior change and communicate impact
  • Effectiveness of citizen participation campaigns
  • Targeted efforts to promote large generator source separation
  • Waste collection coverage of citizens & large generators
  • Efficiency of collection routing
  • Sorting infrastructure capacity and productivity
  • Facilities that allow for safe and environmentally sound disposal of waste (including landfilling)
  • Tracking and monitoring of waste flows


  • Offtake of compostable and recyclable materials and/or partnerships to benefit from them
  • Public-private partnerships to strengthen and stabilize the demand for materials
  • Adoption of emission standards
  • Vision & strategy to boost circular economy
  • Granular insight in waste management cost and revenue drivers and opportunities
  • Financial means to achieve targets
  • Adoption of technological solutions
  • Regular waste characterization studies
  • Adoption of emission standards
  • Orchestration of policies & regulations to incentivize the circular economy
  • Formalized collaboration between municipality and waste workers
  • Dedicated circular economy KPIs embedded in departments
  • Capabilities and development of stakeholder talent
  • Waste workers incentivized and empowered to improve recycling
  • Effective partnerships with waste management company and (informal) waste workers
  • Impact tracking and communication of results
  • Digital capabilities to measure waste management performance and inform decision making

What’s Next

We are developing an interactive self-assessment tool that can be leveraged by cities to assess a city’s current status, identify priority areas of improvement and unlock benefits for the full system. This open-source tool can help cities around the globe who are working to create circular waste management and recycling systems. We invite you to join our mailing list to be notified when the tool is available.

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