The circular economy landing in Central Asia

July 25, 2019

Almaty is the world's first Central Asian City to identify circular economy opportunities.  

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Almaty is the world’s first Central Asian City to identify circular economy opportunities. A resource metabolism scan uncovers how Almaty can use circular economy strategies to shape its future as an international trading hub at the intersection of Europe and Asia. 

Almaty in Kazakhstan is the first city in Central Asia to identify circular economy opportunities. The city commissioned an international consortium — Shifting Paradigms, Circle Economy, Centre for Sustainable Production and Consumption (CSPC), FABRICations and Emerging Markets Sustainability Dialogues (EMSD) — to map resource consumption. The analysis produced new cross-sectoral circular economy strategies to achieve the city’s sustainable development ambitions.  

This resource metabolism scan comes as Almaty achieves impressive economic growth,  re-establishing its position as an exporter of agricultural commodities. An important station on the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s development plan to improve trans-continental cooperation, Almaty sees connectivity with Asia, Europe and other regions as key to growing international trade. At the same time, the government is opening new channels for public participation in urban planning decisions, to meet the needs of its citizens.

“This project helps strengthen international cooperation and share positive experiences, as well as fostering a dialogue between all stakeholders to achieve the principles of sustainable development”. 

B.K. Baibek, Mayor of Almaty City

The consortium worked intensely with local governments and industry players, to ensure the metabolism scan highlights circular strategies which take full account of cultural, socio-economic and geographic factors.  

Agriculture: Composting and Closed Cycle Farming 

In agriculture, the most promising circular economy opportunities lie in diverting organic residues away from landfill and processing them into soil enhancers or organic fertilisers.  Regional ambitions for agricultural output will require investment in soil quality. Applying processed organic residues on land can reduce the application of synthetic fertilisers, while also improving water retention, soil life and resilience to erosion.

Local Industries: Waste as a resource and Remanufacturing

Local industries already collect and recycle a significant share of mineral and metal residues. Improved connectivity to foreign markets through the Belt and Road Initiative can support the extension of manufacturing capacity with remanufacturing, whereby used products or components are refurbished as new; for example, car parts, furniture and construction elements. New service models can support this approach by incentivising companies to produce products that last, allowing suppliers to retain ownership and run take-back schemes to cycle products to second or even third users in different market segments.

During the project it was encouraging to see the amount of traction on the ground, from grassroots initiatives to large government programmes. Since 40% of the carbon footprint of the city can be addressed with circular economy strategies, it is important to scale these initiatives.“

Jelmer Hoogzaad, Shifting Paradigms

Construction: Preserve what is already there and Substitute carbon-intensive materials

Circular strategies in the construction sector are based on passive design and adjusting the design to replacing new, carbon-intensive construction materials with materials of secondary or renewable origin. This starts with design. Merely considering energy and resource use in the design phase of a building can bring down energy use with more than half. Design can also open opportunities for the use of secondary and renewable construction materials, potentially turning the construction sector into a net sink of CO2.

“It is encouraging to see the circular economy gaining momentum outside of Europe and recognised as a tangible tool for transition. It provides a change agenda to transform from an economy of depletion to an economy of opportunities that works for all people.”  

Harald Friedl, CEO Circle Economy

A tangible circular future for Almaty

By showcasing also what is already happening in the city, the circular prospect becomes more comprehensible. Artist impressions in the report aim to make the circular future tangible, connect it with socio-economic challenges and show how circular initiatives can make Almaty an even more pleasant place to live.

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