Circular Charlotte to Implement Zero Waste Strategy

$2.3bn Potential for Circular Economy in Charlotte, North Carolina

In North Carolina the City of Charlotte is taking the first steps towards implementing a circular economy that could lead to zero waste while generating thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue.

In North Carolina, the City of Charlotte is taking the first steps towards implementing a circular economy that could lead to zero waste while generating thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue.

The plan came out of a study developed by Amsterdam based sustainability consultancy, Metabolic, and commissioned by Envision Charlotte with the support of City staff.

The report, Circular Charlotte: Towards a Zero Waste and Inclusive City, found Charlotte’s 900,000 tonnes of annual waste represents a residual value of roughly $111 million per year.

By simply adopting a comprehensive waste diversion strategy, the authors said that Charlotte could create more than 2000 jobs, by harnessing material instead of dumping it into ever-growing landfills. Additionally, the circular model could generate an estimated $2.3 billion in revenue by 2040.

The City of Charlotte has committed to four of five case studies detailed in the plan:

  • The creation of 300 jobs by developing a circular industry based on feeding 50,000 tonnes of food waste to black soldier fly larvae, which can be converted into pellets to use as feed on North Carolina poultry farms.
  • The saving of 345,341 gallons of water by developing a closed-loop textiles chain for linens and uniforms used in hotels and hospitals, cutting demand for environmentally damaging cotton and polyester production and offering opportunities to work in a whole new industry
  • The provision of university student entrepreneurs (who might not otherwise be able to afford to develop their circular economy business ideas) with equipment, expert advice, and commercial feedback to develop circular economy business ideas at a startup incubator based at the Innovation Barn
  • The aversion of 41,186 in CO2e emissions by transforming concrete from demolition sites and powder created from discarded glass into new concrete, also creating new jobs.

“We started by understanding Charlotte’s current waste flows and where the value is being lost, and developed a strategy based on that,” said Metabolic cofounder Eva Gladek. “The five cases could save around 100,000 -150,000 tonnes of waste to landfill, create up to 500 jobs, and cut CO2e emissions by 379,000 tonnes a year.”

This would just be the tip of the iceberg of the benefits of a fully circular economy which goes beyond recycling to developing products that are easily repaired and upcycled at high value, using renewable resources and avoiding toxic substances.  

“We are thrilled to implement the circular economy strategy in Charlotte,” said Marcus D. Jones, Charlotte city manager. “The strategies outlined in the report will help Charlotte address key issues impacting the entire city - economic and social mobility. We fully expect Circular Charlotte, along with the work we do, to help us become the epicenter for people and cities to learn how to experiment, create and innovate.

As a first step to pursuing this vision, the City of Charlotte invested $2 million into Envision Charlotte’s circular economy hub, dubbed the Innovation Barn.

Envision Charlotte Executive Director Amy Aussieker added: “This initiative aligns perfectly with Envision Charlotte’s mission to create a more sustainable and efficient community… We are excited to create an Innovation Center where we can advance Circular Charlotte via communicating, impacting and empowering.”

Furthering its commitment to the circular economy, the City of Charlotte has joined The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Circular Economy 100 (CE100), a programme that brings together corporates and governments to accelerate circular economy innovations.

Metabolic’s report recommended that the city capitalises on its leadership in this area by branding itself as Circular Charlotte and launching visible measures such as prizes for circular projects, school education programs, and neighbourhood action plans.

Other short and medium term recommendations include the establishment of funding mechanisms, stricter waste regulations, enhanced waste processing capacity, and detailed data monitoring of waste streams.

In the long term, advanced scanning and sorting technologies for recyclables, circular procurement policies for government and a circular industry park will help add to Charlotte’s economic vitality and preserve scarce resources for the generations to come.

The full report can be found HERE

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