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Circular Cities: The Six Dimensions of Circular Waste Management
March 14, 2023

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.

To support cities in making smart investments to divert their waste into the circular economy, Delterra has defined six interdependent dimensions of a holistic integrated waste management system. This framework is intended to break down the ambiguity of the circular economy transition for the waste management and recycling space, as these are two of the circular economy domains over which a city has the greatest control.

In this framework, three dimensions are performance drivers, which ensure that the process of managing waste and maximizing recovery back into productive use is efficiently and effectively delivered. These include:

  • Generation & Source Separation – supporting residents and businesses to separate their waste into relevant streams for collection through education and engagement, enabling material value to be preserved during the collection process
  • Collection, Sorting & Treatment – ensuring dependable and economical operations of the collection, sorting and treatment systems to ensure that waste streams are effectively kept separate and efficiently put back into productive use
  • Offtake & Market Demand – securing offtake opportunities for recyclable or compostable materials with consistent demand and fair pricing to help stabilize the overall system

The three remaining dimensions are performance enablers, which form the foundation for ongoing success by ensuring the necessary coordination, resources, expertise and incentives consistently over time. These include:

  • Strategy & Budget – providing a long-term vision for implementation of circular economy, including detailed insights into waste management economics
  • Policies & Regulations – creating supportive policies that incentivize the circular economy and ensure that standards are in place for ongoing system management
  • Capabilities & Partnerships – ensuring development and coordination of necessary talent and partnerships to support waste management, as well as tracking and reporting of key system metrics.

The key for any city is to identify which specific elements are missing or need improvement to create cascading benefits for the rest of the system. Rather than isolated interventions that fail to drive impact, cities should look at the whole picture and solve for the gaps. Looking at case studies around the world, including Delterra’s programs in Indonesia and Argentina, we found that cities are at different stages of maturity in their development of a successful circular waste management system, therefore requiring different pathways to achieve success. Delterra’s framework can help cities to assess where their gaps are and support development of their individual journeys toward a zero-waste system.

Every city has a different starting point on the journey to excellence in waste management , but the Six Dimensions will be the same. In this publication, we explore the details of how various communities across the world have found effective ways to move forward on all Six Dimensions of Integrated Waste Management, as well as themes and best practices that emerge from their work. Their results are proof of what is possible for the role of waste management in the circular economy, even in difficult contexts with multiple constraints.



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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. Please sign up here to be notified when the tool is available.

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