In this section we review the ability of our levers to deliver environmental benefits for New York and help the city achieve its OneNYC ambitions related to carbon and waste reduction.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a circular economy offers a systemic and cost-effective approach to tackling the challenge of reducing emissions. A focus on four key industrial materials (cement, steel, plastic and aluminum) and the food system could bring outputs of greenhouse gases in these areas 45 percent closer to net-zero targets.
Materials marketplaces, in addition to driving economic benefits, can also drive wider environmental benefits. Excess materials valued at more than $120bn are stored in warehouses across the globe.93 If unused, these materials will be burned or sent to landfill rather than generating profit for sellers and reducing waste. Marketplaces, either physical or online, are growing in popularity around the world as a perfect conduit to match oversupply of materials with demand.
Some are commercial in nature, where second-life products and raw materials are bought and sold. Others are free exchanges where individuals give goods to anyone willing to take them. DSNY’s DonateNYC (“Give Goods. Find Goods. Do Good”) is an example of the latter, as is the NYPL Grow Up Work Fashion Library, which enables the lending of professional clothes for interviews.
Marketplaces, either physical or online, are growing in popularity around the world as a perfect conduit to match oversupply of materials with demand.
During the COVID-19 crisis the city set up the GetFoodNYC program to provide food delivery for people who cannot afford existing food delivery programs, who are at high risk to go out shopping and who do not have friends or family members who can deliver groceries.
Circular marketplaces can only function if there is a sufficient supply to match potential demand. This can be facilitated by communications campaigns to increase awareness of a marketplace and by having the right infrastructure to support the creation of a stream of second-life materials. For instance, Brooklyn’s Cooper Recycling has developed a plant that can separate out construction waste, thus ensuring materials such as metals, wood, glass and concrete can reenter the resource stream.
EPR policy aims to incentivize producers to internalize environmental costs throughout the product life cycle. It does so by shifting accountability for waste from governments or municipalities to producers, and encourages the latter to take environmental considerations into account during the design and manufacture phases of product development.97 This encourages producers to (re)design products and packaging to facilitate their end-of-life management, and to avoid using materials that may pose risks to human health or the environment. Without this, some products can require significant resources before they can be recycled.98
One of the areas where this has been most successful is in the automotive industry. Following the introduction of the “End of Life Vehicles Directive” by the European Commission in 2000, most EU member states have achieved the target to reuse and recover 95 percent of vehicles.99
New York State law already has a number of successful EPR acts in place.
The New York State Rechargeable Battery Recycling Act of 2010 in which manufacturers have the responsibility to arrange for and finance the recycling of all used rechargeable batteries collected by retailers.
The New York State Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act 2010, which requires manufacturers to manage and fund programs for the collection and recycling of electronic waste in New York State. The act has reduced New York City’s electronic waste stream by 60 percent.
While an EPR act may at first appear to be a burden on business, opportunities to extract value from end-of-life products can generate new revenue streams for manufacturers. For example, as a result of the ELV directive, Renault created in 2008 a specialized subsidiary to take control of automotive waste materials and parts, recycling copper, steel, aluminum and plastics from end-of-life vehicles. A plant outside Paris refurbishes tens of thousands of engines and transmissions each year, delivering energy, water and chemical savings of 80 percent and generating more than $500m in revenues for the company annually.100
Circular procurement can not only deliver jobs and business growth, but can also play a significant role in helping reduce waste and extend product value. The procurement industry is gradually moving beyond a “capital cost only” approach to one that takes full life cycle costs into account, predominantly by focusing on operational costs (such as energy and water use) during the useful life of a product. A circular approach also requires purchasers to consider the longevity of products, their repairability and their potential use for others once the purpose for which they were bought has been served.
One way to drive greater integration of circular thinking within procurement is to seek out “product- as-service” opportunities (see the Innovation section here). Achieving this may require a change in the way procurement budgets are allocated, from single large purchases to a subscription model or management fee.
The growth of circular procurement also requires the development of clear guidelines. While there is not yet an accepted standard, a good starting point is the EU’s guidance document “Public Procurement for a Circular Economy,” which identifies several circular procurement models.
The UN Enviroment Programme has highlighted four sectors that are likely to drive a circular and just recovery from COVID-19: construction, which can create jobs rapidly and reduce costs through reuse of materials; public transport, through creating a high-quality and affordable infrastructure and investing in cycling and walking routes; high-impact electrical products, by mandating energy-efficiency criteria for the procurement of items such as lighting, refrigeration, air conditioning and electric motors that together represent more than one third of global energy consumption; and health products, to ensure that the need for PPE integrates reuse rather the single-use solutions.
Incorporating circular economy principles into city planning can deliver economic benefits as the previous sections have shown, but they can also deliver significant environmental benefits.
The rationale for incorporating circular economy principles into zoning and land development policy is as follows.
Waste and pollution can be ‘‘designed out’’ of products and urban systems.
be kept in use, thereby maintaining their value.
zones can be developed for circular economy businesses.
Asset utilization is improved.
Natural systems in and around cities are regenerated.
Two areas where this is likely to deliver such benefits are industrial symbiosis and commercial developments.
Industrial symbiosis, whereby surplus resources generated by an industrial process are captured then redirected for use as a “new” input into another process by one or more other companies, can deliver several benefits.
Businesses reduce their costs and generate new revenue streams, for example through shared services, reduced regulatory burden and increased competitiveness.
Communities enjoy a cleaner, healthier environment; businesses generate growth and new jobs, and become more attractive to talent.
Governments receive increased tax revenues, and cut the cost of dealing with environmental damage and health impacts, as well as reducing demand on municipal infrastructure.
While industrial symbiosis is often associated with individual sites, its principles can also be applied at a city-wide level, as the vision of a circular construction chain in Amsterdam shows.101
Applying circular principles to commercial sites can also deliver wider gains. Creating new developments that combine homes, business premises, mobility links and a decentralized energy supply can result in significant increases in resource productivity.
Finally, circular thinking can be incorporated into the planning phase for construction projects. New York City is currently redeveloping the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a $1bn project that will create over 11,000 new jobs.102 Applying circular principles to the development could result in greater resource sharing and the creation of local value chains.
OECD, Extended Producer Responsibility: Updated guidance for efficient waste management (2016)
Ethical Corporation, Transitioning to a Circular Economy (2019)
Circular Amsterdam: A vision and action agenda for the city and metropolitan area, page 14