Federico Savini
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The circular economy of cities
The good, the bad, and the ugly
in Turning up the heat
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The circular economy has become an extremely popular paradigm for socio-technical transitions in contemporary policymaking. Governments at all levels are devising policy programs in different policy sectors – from water to energy, waste to logistics – with the objective to increase material productivity and waste recovery. As a strategy of green-growth, these programs are gaining an unquestioned consensus both among multinational corporations active in the market of secondary materials and local enterprises active in the sector of waste reuse and waste reduction. In this chapter, I will argue that circular economy defines an unfolding regime of ecological accumulation in city-regions that thrive out of the valorisation of urban waste. Previously understood as anti-value in modern capitalism, left to the marginal sectors of the economy and the planet, waste is today becoming a driver and not an externality of urban and regional development. Through infrastructural strategies for integrated material flows, I will show how circular economy establishes an approach to economic development that depends on the perpetual production of waste materials. To do so, I will look at current realisations of circular economic policies in the region of Amsterdam. My analysis shows that this development paradigm unfolds through a ‘wicked’ partnership between three distinct sub-markets that simultaneously compete and cooperate with each other. The micro economy of consumers waste reuse, repair and recycling, the corporate sector of multinational recycling companies investing in secondary materials, and the regional economy of biomass and incineration to produce energy for the city region. As the three bandits of Sergio Leone’s classic, I will metaphorically define this vicious triad of sectors seeking for waste valorisation as the good, the bad and the ugly of the circular economy.

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Turning up the heat

Urban political ecology for a climate emergency


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