Regional workshop on Enhancing Urban Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy in Asia and the Pacific

19 Mar 2018 to 20 Mar 2018
Bangkok, Thailand

The Problem

As rapid urbanization continues, the future sustainability of cities in Asia and the Pacific region depends on the ability to innovate and integrate solutions for resource-efficient and resilient socio-economic development. The region has witnessed a landmark shift, with more than half of its population now living in urban areas. This shift has significant social, environmental, and economic implications-- as the proportion of people living in towns and cities increases, the use and disposal of resources and their related impacts also increase. One of the most critical urban challenges is the management of waste, where purposeful interventions have the potential to support transformational circular economies and build the foundation for more sustainable communities.

According to a 2012 World Bank report, 1.3 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste is generated globally each year. As the region shifts towards an urban population, Asian cities are estimated to generate 1.8 billion tonnes annually by 2025, increasing from 0.28 billion tonnes in 2012, contributing to one of the highest per capita waste projections. Currently waste management in the region is highly inefficient with an increasing volume of resources ending up in landfills and oceans. Landfilling still accounts for the largest avenue of waste disposal with rates being as high as 55% for Eastern Asia and 74% for South Central Asia.

The Asia Pacific region faces a significant issue of pollution, particularly from plastics, which contaminate land and water resources, including rivers, streams and oceans. It is estimated that of the 8.3 billion metric tonnes (Mt) of plastic produced globally over the past decades, only nine per cent has been recycled, while 79% has accumulated in landfills or the natural environment and up to 13 million Mt enters oceans annually. If unchecked, the world’s oceans will contain nearly 250 million metric tonnes of plastic by 2025 . Over 80 % of marine plastic waste comes from land-based sources, making plastic the most common type of marine litter . Countries with fast growing markets and underdeveloped waste management systems in Asia may be responsible for as much as 60% of global plastic waste leakage. Much of the waste produced in developing countries can be recovered to provide economic and ecological value to societies. However, the vast majority of plastic produced is lost to the economic supply chain, causing a serious threat to biodiversity, ecosystems, human health and wellbeing, and public budgets.

Urban resource consumption and waste generation processes have disproportionate global impacts: urban areas often do not produce the basic materials for consumption – food, water, energy – yet consume the majority of resources that can cause irreversible ecological changes, including from increased greenhouse gas emissions. Most of the waste of cities in developing countries is dumped outside of urban areas, adversely affecting the environment and eliminating the possibilities to identify waste recovery opportunities, or to support broader efforts to create and strengthen local circular economies. The future resilience and sustainability of cities depend upon more innovative solutions that promote efficient use of all resources, including waste.

Scaling Up Innovative Solutions: Technologies that work

Proven technologies and innovative, appropriately scaled solutions are already available and are being implemented in cities throughout the region through different partnerships and stakeholders.

• ESCAP and Waste Concern, a social business enterprise (SBE) in Bangladesh have been implementing the project, “Pro-poor and sustainable solid waste management in secondary cities and small towns in Asia-Pacific” to assist 9 secondary cities and towns of 6 Asian counties (Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Viet Nam) to establish Integrated Resource Recovery Centres (IRRCs). These are decentralised neighbourhood-based compost plants that are cost-effective, efficient and financially and environmentally sustainable models that use simple technology to manage urban solid wastes and promote zero waste and waste-to-resource recovery.

• China has created closed industrial loops by encouraging the use of outputs from one manufacturer as inputs for another. This approach has led to a reduction in dependence on virgin materials and the generation of waste. This form of industrial symbiosis can be observed at the Suzhou New District (SND). This particular industrial park was able to reduce its energy intensity by up to 20% between 2005 and 2010 and at the same time utilized 96% of the industrial solid waste generated.

• Kiribati's "return the rubbish" scheme has been functional since 2004 and has played an important role in managing the waste on the island. The partnership between a private recovery facility and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development greatly helped to reduce the load on landfills. This specific example highlights the important role that private entities can play in the process of shifting to a circular economy.

• To combat plastic pollution, the RED group, a Melbourne based organization developed an industry led initiative called the "REDcycle Program". The program is a recovery initiative for post-consumer soft plastics. This helps keep plastics out of landfills and oceans and at the same time creates a whole range of new sturdy products such as outdoor furniture, fitness circuits and signage. The program is supported by a private sector partner and at the same time its success also depends on consumer behavior and participation. Due to the initiative more than 1000 tonnes of plastics have been prevented from attaining waste status or entering waste streams.

Such innovative solutions can contribute to more holistic policy approaches to urban waste management throughout the region. Production and consumption of goods and services in Asia and the Pacific are outpacing the renewal capacity of natural resources and the capacity of local governments to manage wastes, thus requiring the development of appropriately scaled solutions.

Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy

Interventions to increase urban resource efficiency and adopt circular economic approaches in cities in Asia Pacific can create social and economic opportunities, and reduce adverse environmental impacts. Resource efficiency promotes careful and planned use of all resources available to us. The concept and practices of resource efficiency feed into the larger picture of a circular economy, and provide linkages among multiple supply chains (waste generated through one value chain can be a material resource for another). The key facets of a circular economy are to recover economic and ecological value from resources wherever possible throughout the resource use stream and to reinvest the value into production processes to improve overall resource use efficiency and sustainability. A circular economy can inclusively engage societal stakeholders, improve socioeconomic growth and environmental sustainability, and create new markets by innovating complex and interconnected economic value chains for waste and residual materials.
A circular economy further promotes highly efficient resource use via life-cycle thinking for every resource, innovative practices to identify productive or regenerative uses, as well as the creation of new markets for waste and residual materials.

Circular economy approaches provide a range of co-benefits, promote growth and development and strengthen the environmental, social and economic pillars of sustainable development, further assisting countries to implement 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement, the New Urban Agenda and the Regional Roadmap for Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the Asia-Pacific region.

A key element of local circular economies is the engagement of many stakeholder groups. In many Asia Pacific cities, informal waste pickers play a significant role in recovering reusable and recyclable items from the waste stream. In Pune, India, for example, the formal sector relies entirely on informal recycling activities which recover around 22% (or 118,000 Mt) of material of total waste generated. Although informal waste recovery, especially of plastics, limits pollution and emissions from landfills, reduces the costs and burdens on government, and provides income opportunities for large numbers of the urban poor, the potential co-benefits of linking informal waste pickers’ activities to formal waste management processes remains underexplored in most countries in the region.

Sharing Experiences to Facilitate Scaling Up Actions

In this context, ESCAP is organising a two-day regional workshop on ‘Enhancing Urban Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy in Asia and the Pacific’ from 19 to 20 March 2018 at the United Nations Conference Centre in Bangkok, which will also mark the culmination of ESCAP regional project. At the workshop, ESCAP will share key lessons from its regional project and draw on the experiences of invited governments, experts, civil society organizations, and international agencies to identify paradigm and technology trends, and policy interventions that can enhance sustainable urban development, particularly in small and medium-sized cities of the region where nearly 55% of total urban population lives.
The harvesting of lessons learned for policy advocacy at this workshop will help to shape the substantive development of the next ESCAP Future of Asian and Pacific Cities report expected in 2019, a policy advocacy report aimed at unpacking the key drivers of urbanisation in the region by leveraging innovative data, evidence based policy recommendations and cutting-edge research. The workshop participants will have the opportunity to support the development of key thematic areas for this flagship report that will be launched at the next Asia-Pacific Urban Forum in 2019.

The objectives of the regional workshop are to:

a. Share sustainability lessons from ESCAP’s normative, analytic and technical cooperation activities in enhancing urban resource efficiency through improved waste-to-resource recovery;
b. Identify the intersectoral linkages of various waste solutions, including IRRCs, to enhance urban resource efficiency and resilience, and promote broader circular economy policy approaches in the formal and informal sectors;
c. Identify financing options for national and local governments, as well as the successful models of public-private financing, to support implementation of circular economy approaches, sustainable urban waste management solutions and enhance sustainable urban development outcomes;
d. Recommend policy actions to scale up and replicate appropriate models for urban resource efficiency, waste management, and circular economy;
e. The above contributions will provide substantive inputs and recommendations to the Future of Asian and Pacific Cities report to be launched at the next Asia Pacific Urban Forum in 2019, providing an on-going policy platform for discussions around supporting more resource efficient and resilient cities in the region.

The workshop is expected to:
1. Develop robust policy recommendations for adopting and scaling-up circular economy approaches, including appropriately scaled zero-waste and waste-to-recovery solutions;
2. Development of ideas and concepts for successor projects for ESCAP in urban resource efficiency, waste management and circular economy;
3. Identify knowledge gaps and needs to be addressed in analytical products and research;
4. Strengthen and expand regional partnerships on resource efficiency and circular economy.
5. Define the analytical and thematic content to be included in the Future of Asian and Pacific Cities report.

Enhancing urban resource efficiency and fostering circular economies will be key thematic areas in the Future of Asian and Pacific Cities report. The workshop will initiate the development of these thematic areas and provide opportunities to solicit best practices and case studies to include in the report, and identify additional partner institutions to engage in the report process.

About 70 participants including resource persons are expected to attend the regional workshop. The participants will be:

a. National focal points and policy-making institutions and local governments from the Asia-Pacific region, including IRRC implemented countries;
b. Non-governmental, social enterprise, and private sector entities involved in inclusive and sustainable solutions for waste management and implementing the IRRCs;
c. International organisations, and experts involved in promoting resource efficiency, circular economy and waste-to-resource recovery and initiatives;
d. Multilateral development partners and representative of UN and its Specialised Agencies