ICLEI Circulars event

1st ICLEI Circulars Dialogue at RISE Africa 2021

  • 31 May 2021

by Charis Hoffmann, ICLEI World Secretariat

On Africa Day, Mayoral representatives and city practitioners from the ICLEI Circulars Africa Hub’s leading cities Accra, Cape Town and Nairobi kicked-off the first ICLEI Circulars Dialogue at RISE Africa 2021, sharing their circular economy activities and needs for further upscaling.
“It is a great honor to contribute towards this session among other city leaders as we chart the pathway to circular development for this continent”, Major General Mohammed Badi, Director General, Nairobi Metropolitan Services, Nairobi, Kenya, stated as he joined representatives of Cape Town and Accra in the Mayor’s Plenary. In their integrated waste management plan, Nairobi Metropolitan Services are putting circular economy principles into practice.

“Cape Town wishes to strengthen its resilience by proactively addressing climate change, sustainable development and circularity.” Alderman Xanathea Limberg, Mayoral Committee Member for Water and Waste, City of Cape Town, South Africa, highlighted the benefits of a circular economy approach: “We are able to not only save our residents’ money, but reduce impacts on our environment, improve health and living conditions within our communities and contribute to our local economies, ensuring we reduce unemployment and other socio-economic challenges.”

Mohammed Adjei Sowah, Mayor of Accra, Ghana, underlined his city’s needs on the path towards circular development: “The biggest challenge the city of Accra is confronted with is the non-availability of land for use as final disposal sites for metropolitan solid waste”, thus requiring the city’s waste to be processed through intermediate treatment technologies such as anerobic digesters and material recovery facilities. He said: “It would therefore be much appreciated if ICLEI and their partners would assist the city authority in the area of technology transfer through capacity building of technical staff.” The thematic roundtables that followed offered space for exchanges between city practitioners, as well as with technical experts, academics, and private sector representatives.

Key takeaways from the thematic roundtables

Getting started: Identifying priorities and engaging stakeholders

“African cities are already more circular than other parts of the world”, argued Sam Smout, Waste Sector Analyst at GreenCape in Cape Town, South Africa, citing the high rate of reuse of materials and products. However, the data to visualize resource flows that is needed to design interventions to put circular economy activities into practice is often lacking. A key takeaway is the importance of using common frameworks and tools to gather data, such as the Circle City Scan Tool or the Circular Cities Actions Framework, to start the discussion and identify priority sectors and interventions.
“Cities have significant buying power that they can use to drive circular development”, in the words of Saul Roux, Head of Environmental Strategy Implementation at the City of Cape Town. He recognizes public procurement at the city level as a great entry point for cities to drive their circular development transition, as from this sector it can be scaled out to others. Cape Town has recently finalized a sustainable procurement action plan that includes circularity as a key principle. To get citizens on board with circular economy actions, a representative from the city of Nairobi underlined that public awareness raising campaigns are essential.
Another challenge in implementing circular economy actions that was noted is distrust between the public and private sector, particularly when the latter is composed of many informal businesses, which hinders information and data sharing. The unique position of neutral entities to act as brokers that bridge the gap between the two sectors and strengthen their collaboration in cities was highlighted by the city representatives. Another key takeaway from the roundtable is the importance of city-to-city exchanges on circular development topics. A representative of the city of Maputo, Mozambique, expressed great interest in learning from Cape Town to reach the same goals in their city.

City-business collaboration to promote circular innovations

In the roundtable on city-business-collaboration to promote circular innovations, both a city representative and a local business joined the exchange. Patricia Akinyi K’Omudho, Chief Environment Officer at Nairobi Metropolitan Services, opened the discussion by outlining the various ways in which the city of Nairobi is working together with local businesses to progress on circular economy efforts. This ranges from neighborhood community-based waste collection to city-business partnerships for waste collection and separation services. A promising avenue for city-business collaboration is the opportunity Nairobi gives to private sector actors to open up separate waste collection streams for specific resources they would like to gather. Organic waste, for example, is being revalorized into compost to be used by local farmers. A challenge there remains around the lack of awareness. A business representative who recently started a cloth diaper business provided insights on the solutions they are seeking together with local healthcare providers and the municipality to launder cloth diapers and address recycling challenges that are caused by erroneous sorting of used diapers. While they noted the great environment that the city of Nairobi provides for social enterprises through mutual support, Patricia spoke of the challenges that the city faces to find a financial model that would benefit both small businesses and the city. Nairobi city has piloted a franchise system for cooperation with private companies in specific sectors, however the need to address pressing waste challenges has meant that larger private actors were favored.

Organic waste segregation for recovery

This roundtable gathered city representatives, an international consultancy and ICLEI Africa staff. Solomon Noi, Director of Waste Management Department, Accra Metropolitan Assembly, Ghana gave the roundtable an overview of current activities and challenges of organic waste management in Accra. The city is particularly focusing on improving their waste management system, aiming to reach a diversion of 70% of municipal solid waste from landfills by 2035, which will greatly contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and is thus instrumental in reaching their climate ambitions. The city’s main challenges are the separate collection of organics and recyclables, as contamination of plastics in the recycling process impacts the ability of various stakeholders to transform waste. Solomon sketched out the diverse ways that the city is working towards improving organic waste segregation, ranging from integrating the informal sector players in the waste management process to technical solutions, such as biogas and Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants. Scaling up the number of facilities for these types of plants would have great added value for local communities, as these are easily integrated as local power resources. However, community buy-in, informal sector integration and the promotion of organic waste segregation in the given climate remains a great challenge in Accra.

Cities’ needs and the way forward

Together, the various inputs of the session painted a vibrant picture of cities’ circular development actions on the ground, from circular procurement projects to city-business-collaboration in waste collection and integrating the informal sector in organic waste recovery efforts. Some of the challenges identified are a lack of data, difficulty in mediating relations between different city actors, and community buy-in. The learnings of this session will inform future events and services organized by ICLEI Circulars. Stay tuned for the announcement of the next ICLEI Circulars Dialogue in the coming months and join us!

To watch the recording of the session, see the RISE Africa event page.