Helisngborg - going into the circular age

The city of Helsingborg has made the circular economy part of its policy on sustainable development. Based on their example, five factors required for a change towards circular economy have been identified.

Already in 2018, just before the Interreg NSR CIRC project started, the city council decided that an Action plan should be drawn up to promote the sharing economy and circular economy in the city. Two circular initiatives in the Oceanhamnen district was chosen as pilot projects and they illustrate how the city believes it should be possible to make the use of resources more efficient: The Resource's House and RecoLab.

The Resource's House is intended to be a gathering place in Oceanhamnen where people can pick up packages, give things away for recycling, learn how to repair things, hand in their waste for recycling, and much more. The principle behind The Resource's House is to help citizens climb the waste ladder.

RecoLab is another type of circular operation consisting of an exhibition hall, a development facility, and a test bed. At RecoLab, the black water from the toilet, the gray water from bathing, showering and washing, as well as the food waste from the kitchen waste mill land in Oceanhamnen's residences. Thanks to the fact that these different types of water are already separated in the home through a three-pipe system, the treatment plant becomes a key part in a circular management of water, phosphorus, nitrogen and biogas in the area. There is no other such large facility in the entire EU yet.

New governance principles

New goals and types of operations require new governance principles, and with these two examples as a basis, the city of Helsingborg participated together with Campus Helsingborg, Lund University, in the international research and development project on the governance of circular projects – Interreg Circ-NSR.

Five lessons have been learned about the circular economy from The Resource's House and RecoLab.

A question about what. The first lesson is that when we move to the circular economy, more focus must be placed on the materials than in the linear economy. It requires us to carefully monitor what happens to the material throughout its use and reuse, for example to investigate whether it can be repaired or whether the material becomes contaminated in any phase of its life cycle so that it becomes difficult to recycle or reuse and preserve its properties. Despite its name, the circular economy is therefore more a model for optimizing resource flows than a model for money flows.

A question of where. The second lesson is that a transition to a circular economy requires increased attention to place and distance. The fact that RecoLab is located directly next to the newly built houses in Oceanhamnen that are equipped with the three-pipe system, or that the Resource's house in the same district is aimed at those who live very close by, is a consequence of the first point, namely the need to focus on what that happens to the materials. While a linear economy reduces distance to a financial cost, the circular economy requires an understanding of where the materials go. And then the place takes on central importance, with a question that emerges as decisive: How should the municipality operate in local, national, and global circular material flows?

A question of when. While RecoLab needs to ensure water management around the clock, Resursens hus meets different time rhythms when it comes to picking up packages or handing in hazardous waste. These examples illustrate how the circular economy follows different rhythms, in other words, how different materials circulate at different speeds. The fastest is perhaps sewage, the slowest is the building itself where it is handled. With the circular economy, you are forced to ask the question of how quickly you want the material to return, a completely foreign question for the linear economy.

A question about who. No actor today can master an entire food chain from design to reuse, or recycling via production, consumption, and waste management. For the city of Helsingborg, circular projects mean using its governance tools, for example the planning monopoly, to create collaboration arenas with representatives of the private business world and the non-profit sector. It is governance instead of conventional government. The municipality's possibilities to build closed material cycles are limited, and the challenge lies in learning to use its resources to create a community of interest among those who are needed to break this cycle.

A question of how. As is usual with innovation, the question of what characterizes a successful approach is the most difficult question to answer. But one thing emerged clearly in this project: success depends on there being broad support for acting more circularly. Without such support, it will be difficult to attract the actors needed to ensure that all parts of the circuit are covered. It will be difficult to gain acceptance that some circuits are faster than others, or that the circular materials must be allowed to take their place. One needs an understanding that the circular economy is ultimately about a moral responsibility not to deprive future generations of access to the materials that make a good life possible.

With this, we would like to draw your attention to the fact that it means perhaps more than you think that there are three pipes coming out of buildings at Oceanhamnen or that the city has designated part of the land in the mobile home to be used for things to have a chance at a new life, and maybe one more, before they become waste. RecoLab and Resursens are two concrete ways for the city of Helsingborg to demonstrate how the economy, but also society in general, can become more circular.

And we had a really fun way of exhibit our two pilots at the H22 City Expo in the summer of 2022!


The article in Swedish, published in the Magazine Avfall och Miljö