Municipality-led circular economy initiatives can contribute to local culture change
Written by: Kamara Jeffrey, Circular Economy and Innovation Team, City of Toronto
Cities around the world are exploring how circular concepts can be deployed at the local level to fast-track the transition to circularity.
Through the work of our Circular Economy and Innovation team, a business unit situated within the City’s Solid Waste Management Services Division, the City of Toronto is finding innovative ways to collaborate with the marketplace, communities, and other partners to drive the shift toward increased circularity. We are piloting new approaches to city service delivery, working to leverage our purchasing power to drive strategic outcomes, and working across sectors to operationalize circular concepts.
Guided by the 2016 Long Term Waste Management Strategy (Waste Strategy), which outlines a masterplan and sets waste reduction targets for the next 30-50 years, the City of Toronto has also set an aspirational goal of becoming a circular economy city. The Waste Strategy prioritizes waste reduction and reuse efforts and emphasizes the social benefits of public education and engagement around waste reduction.
Strong partnerships play a crucial role in how the City of Toronto is implementing the Waste Strategy. We are exploring innovative ways to collaborate with art and design communities to develop public-facing initiatives. The intent is to increase public awareness, encourage reflection and dialogue on civic issues, and, in the long term, strengthen the local circular economy by inspiring a culture of sharing, reuse, and repair.
As a way to generate public awareness and reflection on the City’s waste management system, the City of Toronto launched the inaugural Solid Waste Management Services Artist-in-Residence pilot program in 2018. Our staff team collaborated with Artists in Residence JP King and Sean Martindale. The artists created a body of work which included a public photography exhibit and a short film, both shot within the City’s waste management facilities. The public exhibit, appropriately named Our Desires Fail Us, explored society’s disconnected relationship with the vast amount of waste generated by consumer culture.
We are also exploring new approaches for gaining insights from our residents. In 2018, through an innovative, City Council-approved partnership between government innovators and the tech community, Civic Hall Toronto, our team hosted a Human Centred Design Sprint event focused on the issue of recycling contamination. The event’s goal was to better understand resident recycling sorting behaviour, sentiments, and use insights from the user experience to identify possible solutions to system-level challenges.
These initiatives have not only engaged members of the arts and design sector, but also support Waste Strategy recommendations to find innovative communication tactics to reaching members of the public who may not have been previously engaged.
Future City of Toronto collaboration with this sector could involve development of public-facing infrastructure designs that incorporate circular economy principles about Toronto’s work to become the first circular city in the province.
In the meantime, our Circular Economy and Innovation Unit is involved in ongoing work to identify opportunities for public education and engagement while simultaneously evaluating our methods of incorporating circularity into the city’s programs and processes. As we’ve learned through our work with other municipalities, local organizations, and global partners, the circular economy has the potential to be a key driver for the financial, social and environmental outcomes we all want to see.