Circular City Actions Framework

Bringing the circular economy to every city

Download the publication

What is a circular city?

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

In practice, this means shifting away from the linear economy’s “take, make, waste” model and moving to an economic system where the value and utility of infrastructure, products, components, materials and nutrients is maintained for as long as possible. In a circular city, material loops are closed, meaning that existing materials are repeatedly cycled instead of becoming waste; resource extraction is also minimized.

Through this transition, cities seek to improve resource access, lower emissions, protect and enhance biodiversity, and reduce social inequities in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Circular City Actions Framework was developed by ICLEI, Circle Economy, Metabolic and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation 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
Lay the foundation for circular activities and enable the transition to a circular economy

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.

  • Eliminate linear incentives and set goals and incentives for circularity practices:The Brazilian city of Curitiba exemplifies transit-oriented planning. Curitiba’s mobility plan helped build more sustainable communities by institutionalizing the principle of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), which calls for urban development to be dense, mixed-use and highly accessible via public transit.
  • Support closed-loop systems and cross-sectoral synergies: The Hammarby Sjöstad district in Stockholm, Sweden, was designed around the closed-loop metabolism concept, which embraces synergies among water, energy, and transportation services. The district is heated by purified waste water, combustion of household waste and biofuel; once heat has been extracted from waste water, it is used for cooling. The biogas produced is used to run local transit.
  • Enable sustainable lifestyles: The three cities of Yokohama and Nagano, Japan, and Turku, Finland, joined forces to launch the 1.5-Degree Life Campaign. The campaign engages with youth groups on efforts to reduce emissions stemming from consumption. Participants are invited to make creative materials on their "1.5-degree lifestyles" to encourage others to adopt similar practices.


Harmonize with nature
Embrace infrastructure, production systems and sourcing that allow natural ecosystems to thrive

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.

  • Protect and restore local ecosystems: Drought in Brasília, Brazil’s capital city, reached crisis levels in 2016. To ensure that local water bodies remained able to naturally recharge, a diverse group of stakeholders collaborated to reforest springs in the northern urban watershed. These springs flow into lake Paranoá, an important water source for the city.
  • Promote solutions inspired and supported by nature: The Chinese city of Shenzhen turned a 105-acre abandoned agricultural experiment station into a park that incorporates sponge city principles. The sponge city concept uses nature-inspired water management solutions, including small swales to catch runoff, ponds with native rushes and permeable pavement, to capture, store and purify rainwater. Sponge city infrastructure functions to reduce the risk of flooding while also providing habitat for urban biodiversity.
  • Prioritize renewable resources: The village of Makang’wa and neighboring villages in Chamwino, Tanzania, implemented a solar-powered water supply project able to provide over 7,000 households with clean water. The project involved renovation of a water tank, construction of 13 water access points in the village and installation of solar panels and water pumps.


Do better with less
Design infrastructure, processes and products to minimize material, water and energy use and waste generation from production to end of use

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.

  • Design infrastructure and the built environment for resource efficiency: Guelph, Canada, relies on a limited supply of groundwater for its drinking water supply. The city has introduced various water-saving infrastructure solutions to reduce water consumption and preserve potable water for drinking. One such solution is Guelph's rainwater bus washing system. The system works by capturing rainwater, which is used to wash the city's buses. The city has saved over 1 million liters of drinking-quality water since the system launched in 2012.
  • Support circular and resource-efficient business innovations: The Indian city of Jaipur supported construction of the Jaipur Integrated Texcraft Park Private Ltd., an eco-friendly textile production park with facilities for water recycling, rainwater harvesting, and energy conservation. The textile park has also taken significant steps to protect the safety and health of textile workers.
  • Support local, low-impact circular economies: The city of Rosario, Argentina, collaborated with NGOs to create its highly successful Urban Agriculture Program (UAP). Concerted efforts on the part of the municipality, including provision of funding, implementation of supportive policies, and forward-looking city planning, contributed to the program’s success. One major outcome of the project was the development of a strong local food economy in the city, which offered residents income opportunities and reduced food insecurity. In addition, the project helped revitalize polluted urban areas via regenerative agriculture techniques.


Use longer and more often
Extend and intensify use of existing resources, products, spaces 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.

  • Design and regulate for extended use: The US city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, created a streamlined process that lets residents access vacant city land for gardening, growing food and creating rain gardens under the Adopt-A-Lot program.
  • Facilitate second-hand markets, 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 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.
  • Support reuse, repair, remanufacturing and maintenance of existing resources, products, spaces and infrastructure: Brisbane, Australia, runs regular reuse and upcycle workshops to help citizens learn repair and remanufacturing skills.


Make waste history
Maximize the recovery of resources at the end of the use phase and reintroduce them into 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 and regulate for separation and recovery: The city of Hebron created a market center directly linked to a composting facility, which facilitates valorization of the market's organic waste into fertilizer. Fertilizer produced at the center is redistributed to local food producers.
  • Collect and sort waste to facilitate recovery: In 2017, the Washington State legislature passed a bill that created the Washington Photovoltaic Module Stewardship and Takeback Program, which mandates that manufacturers of solar panels bought after July 2017 offer consumers an environmentally sound, convenient way to recycle panels.
  • Process waste and ensure its re-entry into industry at its highest value: Informal e-waste recycling practices at Agbogbloshie Market in Accra, Ghana, were widely recognized as unsafe and inefficient. In response, the city of Accra convened multiple national and international partners in an effort to improve recycling practices at the market. One outcome of these efforts is an e-waste recycling pilot facility set up by Blacksmith Institute and GreenAd Ghana. Workers learn how to disassemble items safely and cleanly so valuable parts can be sold at higher value.

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 the 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.


This publication should be cited as: ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, Circle Economy, Metabolic, and Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2021. Circular City Actions Framework: Bringing the circular economy to every city. Bonn, Germany.