Circular City Actions Framework

Follow five key strategies for circular development

What is a circular city?

A circular city is one that promotes the transition from a linear to a circular economy in an integrated way across the urban space and multiple city functions in collaboration with residents, businesses and the research community.

Circular development is not only about reducing material and waste production. This pathway also supports local governments in improving human wellbeing and health, achieving climate neutrality, protecting and enhancing biodiversity, and promoting social justice, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

However, how cities can build a circular economy can seem complex and perplexing. The Circular City Actions Framework was developed by ICLEI, Circle Economy and Metabolic to introduce cities to the range of strategies and actions available to them as they work towards circular development at the local level.

How to use the Circular City Actions Framework?

The Circular City Actions Framework provides urban changemakers with five complementary strategies they can use to start working towards a more circular system. The framework is action-based to provide users with concrete strategic directions and showcase the desired outcomes of each strategy. 

These five complementary strategies and their sub-strategies address the different roles that local and regional governments play, from public service delivery to cooperation with local stakeholders, asset management, urban planning and regulation. They can be applied to all production, consumption and waste management processes influenced by the city or its residents and are most effective when implemented in parallel. They can be used in stakeholder consultations to illustrate what the circular economy looks like at the local level and jointly identify relevant interventions. 

Explore the framework


Redesign the system
Structurally support circular systems, rethink how value chains are organized and phase out linear incentives.

Outcomes: • Urban systems are adaptive and support long-term sustainability • Urban systems support self-sufficiency • Residents are reconnected to value chains • Community links and inclusiveness are fostered • Consumption-based emissions are addressed • All residents have equitable access to goods and services.

  • Support cross-sectoral collaboration and restructure the urban space, consumption and production systems for sufficiency: Amis (United States) established 20-minute neighborhoods as part of its Climate Action Plan 2030. The goal is for 90% of Portland’s residents to be able to easily walk or bicycle to meet daily necessities by 2030
  • Support ownership systems and governance models that distribute value more equally: Ghent (Belgium) actively supported the setup of a renewable energy cooperative, REScoop. Through collective ownership of homeowners’ solar panels, members can share energy efficiency, so that even homes with less sunlight can benefit from the cooperative.
  • Divest from incentives, policies, investments and assets that support the linear economy: Madrid (Spain) plans to significantly reduce its residual waste capacity, with a progressive phase out of incineration. The city's waste strategy plans for the local incinerator to be scaled down to 50% of its capacity in 2022 and to be finally closed down by 2025.


Harmonize with nature
Ensure all infrastructure and production-consumption systems positively contribute to local resource and nutrient cycles and respect ecosystems' regeneration rates.

Outcomes: • Products and services are made from lowest-impact and renewable resources • Production and consumption systems do not exceed the carrying capacity of natural ecosystems • Ecosystem restoration is facilitated and prioritized • Biodiversity is restored and protected, contributing to public health • Carbon sinks are optimized • Urban systems are better equipped to adapt to climate change impacts • Amenity value of nature is increased, contributing to health and well-being in the city.

  • Restore local ecosystems and respect their carrying capacities: New York City (United States) carried out an ecosystem services strategy through an urban-rural partnership to preserve the pristine quality of its drinking water.
  • Prioritize lowest impact resources and nature-based solutions: Shenzhen (China) turned a 105-acre abandoned agricultural experiment station into a park that incorporates sponge city principles (e.g. small swales to catch runoff, ponds with native rushes, permeable pavement).
  • Facilitate regenerative industries and resource/nutrients cycles: Amis (Taiwan) implemented traditional and regenerative agricultural practices on peri-urban riverbank settlement.


Use longer
Extend the use of existing resources, products, and infrastructure.

Outcomes: • Consumption of primary resources is reduced • Materials are reused at their highest possible value • Energy needs are reduced • Consumption-based emissions are addressed • Total waste is reduced • Material and economic value is relocalized, contributing to the local economy • Local employment is supported • Community links are fostered.

  • Support reuse, repair, remanufacturing and maintenance of existing resources, products, and infrastructure: Brisbane (Australia) runs regular reuse and upcycle workshops and demonstrations to help citizens learn repair and remanufacturing skills.
  • Facilitate second-hand markets and sharing and exchange platforms: Seoul (South Korea) has made sharing services part of its transport demand management policy, which targets individuals without cars. The city’s Namun car sharing policy aims to have 2,000 stations across the city (5 stations per city district) by 2030. The city also provides bike and scooter sharing services. Public transportation and sharing cards can be used to access most services.
  • Design and regulate for extended use: Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) ensured the Handball Court designed for the 2016 Olympics could be repurposed into schools around the city.


Do better with less
Design infrastructures, processes and products to minimize material & energy consumption and waste generation during production, use and end of life.

Outcomes: • Toxic / hazardous substances are eliminated • Overconsumption of products and resources is reduced • Total extraction is reduced • Total material input is reduced • Total energy input is reduced • Total waste is reduced • Total GHG emissions is reduced • Reliance on scarce resources is reduced • Health impacts linked to pollution are reduced.

  • Minimize waste across the lifecycle: York (Canada) conducted a food waste audit and is implementing waste-reduction pilots with supermarkets and restaurants.
  • Encourage efficient infrastructure and production systems with optimal resource footprints: Jaipur (India) hosts the Jaipur Integrated Texcraft Park Private Ltd., an eco-friendly textile production park with facilities for water recycling, rainwater harvesting, and energy conservation.
  • Encourage sustainable consumption: Melbourne (Australia) partnered with a local nonprofit to create the “We Need to Talk About Food” to support sustainable food consumption.


Close the Loop
Enable the recovery of materials at their end of life and facilitate their reintroduction in production processes.

Outcomes: •Total extraction is reduced • Total material input is reduced • Total energy input is reduced • Total waste is reduced • Upskilling and employment opportunities are supported • The local economy and innovations are supported • Emissions and environmental impacts linked landfilling and burning of waste are avoided.

  • Design for easy separation and recovery: Turku (Finland) joined forces with 14 neighboring municipalities to build a wastewater treatment plan designed to facilitate nutrients capture and heat recovery.
  • Collect, label and sort waste to facilitate material/resource recovery at the local level where appropriate: Quelimane (Mozambique) collects organic waste from 11 markets as part of the “Quelimane Limpa” project. The waste is then taken to a local composting facility and turned into compost for distribution in neighboring gardens.
  • Process waste and ensure its re-entry into industry: Ashaiman Municipality (Ghana) works with Safi Sana, a circular economy business. Safi Sana collects sewage from public toilet blocks and organic waste, from which it generates biogas and compost, for an on-site seedling nursery.

How was this framework created?

The Circular City Actions Framework builds on the 3 circular economy principles developed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the 9 Rs Framework and Circle Economy´s Key Elements Framework and adapts them to fit the specific context of cities and sharpen the focus on stimulating systemic change. 

With support from MAVA Foundation, Circle Economy, Metabolic, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and ICLEI are working jointly to refine the Actions Framework and pair it with a policy toolbox as well as a monitoring framework for local governments to localize the circular economy.