Circular economy strategies in European regions

An EU action plan for the Circular Economy advocates that waste management should not be the only issue tackled within the concept of circular economy, but that rather should be considered as a broader sustainable development strategy that also should “support Member States and regions to strengthen innovation for the circular economy through smart specialisations” (European Commission, 2015).

The EU Member States have developed and adopted different strategic documents regarding circular economy, taking diverse approaches toward its understanding. Several countries developed their circular economy strategic frameworks, roadmaps or national plan[1] (Greece, Italy, Denmark etc.) while some countries integrate circular economy aspects into their national strategies through waste management[2] (Germany, Romania, Slovakia etc.), and Sweden does it through its bio-based economy.

However, regions and cities (NUTS 2 and NUTS 3) have rather identified their circular economy strategies[3] instead of spreading circular economy actions through different plans.

Uppsala University has implemented a research in order to understand the state of the art regarding circular economy and cultural heritage at national and regional levels. Although a small number of countries, regions and cities have officially adopted circular economy strategies and roadmaps, it should be taken into consideration that other national and local governments have also started implementing circular economy principles through other actions.

The results show that circular economy became an umbrella assembling strategies, but also practical solutions at different levels regarding economic transformations. However, at regional levels circular economy is also directed at the green and bio-economic sectors, which implies that agriculture and biotechnology are prioritized, as is the case in Germany, Sweden and Portugal. On the other hand, some countries, such as Spain, France and Romania, integrate circular economy principles into their national strategies through waste management. Waste reduction and conversion is an essential part of circular economy; however, it should not be the only possible way to implement the circular model.

A search performed for “cultural heritage”, “cultural”, “culture”, “creative”, “heritage”, “adaptive reuse”, “historic buildings”, showed the results that “reuse” has been applied the most, but mainly in the context of “reuse of building materials”, “material reuse”, “waste reuse”, “reuse by enabling reallocation of materials”. Even Amsterdam city, which manages the Seventeenth-Century Canal Ring Area of Amsterdam inside the Singelgracht designated as the UNESCO World Heritage Site, does not recognise the term “cultural heritage” or “adaptive reuse” in context of “historic buildings” in their document “Circular Amsterdam, A vision and action agenda for the city and metropolitan area”.

On the other hand, the “Regional Plan for Circular Economy, Brussels Capital Region” implemented through four sectors (construction, resource and waste, logistics, retail business), in its construction sector clearly recognises “making use of the building stock – urban mining” as one of the main strengths, as well as “occupying empty buildings” and “building conservation”. In Brussels, with between 15,000 and 30,000 buildings standing empty and with increasing numbers of people looking for an affordable place to live or to carry out a wide variety of activities, the local government renovates these buildings and makes them temporarily available for social initiatives, with the idea to bring about a proliferation of urban activities and a laboratory illustrating creative potential which can intermix social, economic and charitable activities, while also accommodating cultural gatherings.

Päijät-Häme region in Finland included circular economy in its regional innovation strategy for smart specialisation, thus defining circular economy as a priority sector for the region, but still not including cultural heritage as a part of its implementation.

No other region declared “cultural heritage adaptive reuse” in the context of their circular economy strategies and its understanding mainly remains in domains “Constructions” and “Waste management”.

It remains to be seen if Europe’s ambition on the Green Deal will and how integrate Smart Specialisations as a deep transformative process involving smart governance frameworks and a place-based approach.

  1. National Action Plan on Circular Economy of Greece; Roadmap towards the Circular Economy in Slovenia; Towards a Model of Circular Economy for Italy—Overview and Strategic Framework; Leading the Transition: Circular Economy Action Plan for Portugal; Circular Economy Roadmap of France: 50 Measures for a 100% Circular Economy; A circular economy in the Netherlands by 2050; Danish Circular Economy Strategy; Spain – Circular Spain 2030; Leading the Cycle – Finnish Road Map to a Circular Economy 2016-2025;
  2. German Resource Efficiency Programme II: Programme for Sustainable Use and Conservation of Natural Resources; Luxembourg’s National Waste and Resources Management Plan;
  3. Extremadura 2030: Strategy for green and circular economy; Strategy for the Transition to Circular Economy in the Municipality of Maribor; Strategy of the Government of Catalonia: Promoting Green and Circular Economy in Catalonia; Circular Flanders Kick-off Statement; Making Things Last: A Circular Economy Strategy for Scotland; Northern Irish Region – Circular Economy Strategy; Regional Plan for Circular Economy, Brussels Capital Region; Roubaix’s Circular Economy Route Map; Päijät-Häme Roadmap toward a Circular Economy; London’s Circular Economy Route Map; Circular Amsterdam, A vision and action agenda for the city and metropolitan area; White Paper on the Circular Economy of Greater Paris.