Getting Smarter, Going Circular: Maximising the opportunities of digital technology, innovation and collaboration
At last month’s ‘Foundations for Innovation’ conference organised by Northern Ireland’s Local Government Association, I presented Peterborough’s Circular Economy approach. The Future Peterborough team was invited to share our unique approach to implement circular economy principles at a city scale, with local authorities across Ireland. The conference included a diverse range of speakers, aiming to explore the opportunities of digital technology, innovation and collaboration and how councils can harness these. The Circular Peterborough approach definitely embraces these three levers!
Digital technology, innovation and collaboration are very much at the centre of circular economy projects in Peterborough, which include:
- The innovative online resource sharing platform for organisations in the city (Share Peterborough) is a unique digital tool to facilitate collaboration between local businesses, community groups and schools to make the most of the resources we have locally and minimise waste.
- Allia’s new Innovation Lab provides an exciting maker space for entrepreneurs to test their ideas within a state-of-the-art facility, which received funding from the European Regional Development Fund and Future Peterborough (formerly Peterborough DNA).
- The recently established Circular City Champions scheme which brings together a dynamic group of organisations passionate about driving the circular economy agenda forward.
In the ‘Getting smart, going circular’ session, I was joined by Martin Doherty from Belfast City Council who discussed how Belfast are working towards developing a circular economy locally. Highlights from the panel discussion, chaired by Andrew Cassells from Mid Ulster District Council, included the importance of moving away from a purely waste management perspective when considering the circular economy. When we think about a circular economy, waste is often at the forefront of most people’s minds! However, if we are thinking about stuff that is deemed as ‘waste’ and how to manage it, we have already missed out on some valuable circular economy opportunities. The circular economy aims to design out waste, so we need to go back and rethink how products, services, business models and systems are designed. In Peterborough, we apply this thinking by using our 7 Rs – our practical steps towards creating a Circular City. These include Rethink; Redesign; Repurpose, Reuse and Share; Repair; Remanufacture; Recycle and Recover.
At the city level, the circular economy should certainly stretch further than waste management and consider how silos across the city can be broken down in order to rethink how resources are used and redesign systems to ensure resources can remain circulating in the economy for as long as possible. This requires thinking at a strategic level and engaging with a range of different stakeholder to co-create innovative solutions.
Whilst the speakers discussed the opportunities available to those involved in developing circular economies, questions from the audience focused on how to encourage a behaviour change in citizens so they can play a role in creating a more circular economy. In my opinion, this needs to be a mixture of targeted campaigns to promote a mindset shift away from throwaway culture, and top down policy change to facilitate wider changes. Key to this, is changing how we value resources. As consumers, a fundamental change is needed in how we value the products we use, food we purchase and even the packaging we discard. This change is needed to ensure that we make the most of what we have and take appropriate action when we have ‘finished’ using the resource, whether that be using items for longer, going to the effort of repairing a broken household appliance rather than buying a new one, taking your old clothes to a charity shop, or recycling your old phone.
One challenge raised during the conference related to how iPads and iPhones destined for landfill could be repurposed and reused. A delegate questioned whether we could give these to those that need them. Although this was not immediately recognised as a circular economy initiative, it is a great example of one that could have a massive impact on people in cities.
Using technology, innovation and collaboration, local authorities can certainly drive the circular economy agenda forward and create cities in which we make the most of the resources that are available locally.
To find out more about the Foundations for Innovation conference, take a look at the Conference Report.
Circular Economy Project Officer