Beyond recycling – how citizens help create a circular city

Editors note:
At cirka cph, we believe that innovating towards sustainability is best done through a democratic process. Insisting that everyone can be a winner of the green transition not only paves the way for just solutions, but also better solutions. That’s because the people most capable of solving collective challenges are those affecting and affected by the challenges.
Our portfolio program, Copenhagen Circularity Lab has a track record of applying such processes to big challenges in the circular economy. On the occasion of World Earth Day 2021, a former participant, Mattia, shares his reflections of participating in the program. 

Written by Mattia Battagion for Renewable Matter #31 / Soil Issue

“A platform for participatory innovation that aims to create initiatives driving a more circular economy”. The Copenhagen Circularity Lab has delivered a unique program that invites citizens to create value out of disposed of materials from a local recycling station. The program helped make innovating towards a circular economy more approachable and democratic, by openly inviting citizens to experiment with innovation resources. Because a circular city is built, above all, by and for citizens.

Copenhagen Circularity Lab at Sydhavn Genbrguscenter
Copenhagen Circularity Lab was hosted on site at local recycling center, Sydhavn Genbrugscenter, a flagship for circularity known for its partly recycled concrete construction.

From waste to business

In Sydhavn, the south-western part of Copenhagen, Sydhavn Recycling Center receives a wide range of products and materials from citizens and small businesses every day. While many are perfectly fit in their current form, they will go through the heavy recycling process to become part of new products. What if they could instead be directly reused – just as they are? Enter the Copenhagen Circularity Lab.

“Our aim” says Emil Kragh, one of the organizers “was to offer interested citizens to engage with the circular agenda, meet diverse collaborators and to create new initiatives and business ideas”. By inspiring the city government with input and ideas from citizens and entrepreneurs, the program encouraged collective responsibility by leveraging the local expertise of citizens.

Emil and the team at Copenhagen Circularity Lab, invited participants with diverse backgrounds and experience to gather around a shared challenge: “How do we turn as much waste as possible into value?”.   

The only requirement to participate was the commitment to work on collaborative ideas in response to that question. In return, participants were offered easy access to materials and machinery, along with a structured process and a supportive community. 

Citizens direct reuse
Sydhavn Genbrugscenter has capacity to sort specific fractions of incoming material. This enabled participants to consider the local availability of waste when designing new solutions based on reuse materials.

The circular economy academy

In response to the challenge question, program participants gathered for five workshops at the Recycling Center. First, to understand the systems influencing direct reuse locally. Then, to begin developing ideas and test out prototypes. Business ideas were encouraged, for the sake of financial self-sustaining, but all ideas capable of contributing to the goal were welcomed.

Ideas, that creates benefits for all: for the city administration, who could better deliver on their direct reuse targets. Citizens, who get the opportunity to partake in developing solutions and be inspired. And, the local social systems that gain transparency and trust from the collaborations.

Drawing on process design expertise from the KaosPilot academy, the CCL team integrated innovative collaboration methods in the program. One such, peer-to-peer development technique Liberating Structures, helped enhance information sharing, while cutting-edge TheoryU, allowed each participant to contribute with their own particular knowledge and experience. This made the solutions developed by participants relevant to the different needs of the end users.

The sense that materials hold intrinsic value that just needs a fresh look, started to replace the notion of ”waste”.  At the end of the program, several direct reuse prototype products were created – from modular chairs and pet toys, over circular storytelling methods, to pens made from newspaper. They were presented during an exhibition, “Waste to Value”, open to peers, the public and possible investors.

Together towards circularity

In summary, Copenhagen Circularity Lab is a social laboratory that shows in its own way how collaboration and participation are fundamental pillars for the transition to a circular society

A successful experiment that has exemplified how citizens, when given the right conditions, become key players in the development of cities and therefore fundamental allies of urban circular policies. By helping to increase collaboration for shared goals across organizations, programs like this can reduce the distance between politics, industry and citizens. 

An innovative program for its community-based methodology, that can help make diverse stakeholders better able to understand the effects of various decisions on surrounding systems. Because a circular city is built, above all, by and for citizens. One way to make citizens ambassadors for the circular agenda, is by asking them to take part in creating it. 

Learn more 

The direct reuse program was co-funded and supported by The City of Copenhagen, co-funded by EIT Climate-KIC, and put into practice by the Copenhagen Circularity Lab Team. 

Mattia Battagion was one of 35 participants in the direct reuse program in late 2019. This article was originally published in Renewable Matter #31 / Soil Issue.

Copenhagen Circularity Lab helps ambitious clients convene diverse stakeholders to drive innovation towards circularity. We are currently concluding on a collaborative project convened with 17 organizations in construction to mature the recycling practice in the industry. If your organization would like to know more, please get in touch.

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