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
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 incentivize circular practices: Turku, Finland, has committed to decreasing lifecycle emissions from food services via circular procurement. To achieve this goal, the city's strategic procurement department set targets for food waste reduction and provision of vegetarian meals. The department also uses an emission monitoring tool to track emissions connected to its food service contracts.
  • 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.
  • Incentivize the shift towards sustainable lifestyles: The three cities of Yokohama and Nagan, 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. Youth are invited to make creative materials on their "1.5-degree lifestyles" to encourage others to adopt similar practices.


Harmonize with nature
Promote 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 city of Bogor, Indonesia, processes organic waste with a system built around the lifecycle of the black soldier fly. Fly larvae eat organic waste, thus reducing the amount landfilled. The process produces beneficial outputs: remaining residue can be used as fertilizer and fly eggs and larvae can be monetized as animal feed.
  • 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.


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.

  • Design infrastructure and the built environment for resource efficiency: The city of Guelph, Canada, has long been considered a leader in water sustainability and conservation in Canada. To further increase water efficiency, the city introduced financial rebates for installation of greywater reuse and rainwater harvesting systems. These systems reduce demand on the water supply by allowing homes and businesses to use water that would otherwise enter sewage or stormwater systems.
  • 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. Besides reducing food insecurity, the project also helped revitalize polluted urban areas via regenerative agriculture techniques.


Use longer and more often
Extend the 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 city of Bonn, Germany, started the "Werde Cupster" initiative to encourage adoption of reusable beverage containers. The initiative’s website provides information to businesses (including guidance on accepting reusable containers during the COVID-19 pandemic) and connects interested consumers to participating businesses.
  • 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. Toronto, Canada, hosts the Repair Café, a similar initiative.


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 RAG administration building in Essen, Germany, was constructed with circular economy principles in mind. In order to enable separation and later reuse of building components, all materials were documented on a material passport. The building was also designed to facilitate later disassembly.
  • Collect and sort waste to facilitate recovery: In 2017, the Washington State legislature in Washington State (US) 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: Quelimane, Mozambique, composts waste from urban food markets at the “Quelimane Limpa” composting facility. The waste is then taken to a local composting facility and turned into compost for distribution in neighboring gardens.

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.