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Circular cities: the Copenhagen model

  • environment

As part of our circular economy month, we put a few questions to Mette Skovgaard, senior advisor, Copenhagen.

1. What opportunities does the circular economy provide for Copenhagen?

In the ‘Copenhagen Model’ Copenhagen combines environmental initiatives, economic growth and quality of life in a realistic and innovative planning approach. The opportunities of circular economy are jobs, economic growth and better management of resources. 

In the vision for 2025 ‘Co-create Copenhagen’, the technical and environmental administration outlines three aims: ‘A liveable city’, ‘A city with an edge’, and ‘A responsible city’. ‘A liveable city’ includes a better everyday life in clean urban spaces, the world’s best city for cyclists, and more urban nature with green and blue areas. ‘A responsible city’ aims at becoming the first carbon neutral capital, no waste of resources and to make the city more robust and resilient, ready to cope with the climate of the future.

2. What role do citizens have? How are you involving them in this effort?

As part of ‘Co-create Copenhagen’/‘A responsible city’, we want a majority of Copenhageners to use sharing, swapping and reuse schemes by 2025. The city has established swapping places at all its 11 recycling centres and we are also running some pilots with swapping places elsewhere in the city. 

As part of the recently adopted Action Plan for the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Copenhagen will develop a guideline so that citizens, institutions and enterprises can work with the goals in their daily work. The guide will include an introduction to the goals, a list of proposed activities and communication to enlighten citizens and engage them in adopting more sustainable behaviour. 

The city is also working to involve citizens in separating their waste and to avoid littering, e.g. through making public waste bins visible and painting green footsteps on the pavement to the bins. 

3. Can you share one idea or project that your city feels proud of?

At the moment the city is introducing a city-wide separate collection scheme for biowaste: the council decided to implement it in September 2016, and now in the autumn of 2017 it has been achieved. 

Copenhagen is focused on diverting plastic waste from waste incineration/waste-to-energy in order to become carbon neutral by 2025. Since 2011 we have conducted a series of pilot schemes to obtain information about good ways to recycle plastic and to remove some of the myths about how difficult plastic is to recycle. This involves working with enterprises, research institutions and associations to find innovative solutions. 

We aim to work with stakeholders in the value chain as we know that stakeholders’ knowledge is often limited to certain parts of the value chain and that may prevent finding a solution that meets the requirements of the circular economy. Without the necessary knowledge about the waste management process, a designer will not be able to design out waste or design a product for reuse, disassembly or recycling. Likewise, if the waste management sector does not know the requirements of the manufacturing processes, it will be unable to produce raw materials that can substitute virgin materials. So, somehow, we need to make these two ends meet. 

4. What support do cities need to develop and implement circular economy models?

To achieve a ‘real’ circular economy, up-scaling is important. This means engaging large (multi-national) companies in the circular economy so that they have an incentive to create products and services in line with CE principles. Although cities do have a considerable impact through their public procurement, it is not always enough to change large companies’ business models to make products more durable, repairable, reusable etc. More international collaboration among cities on circular procurement models/criteria could be very useful. Perhaps we can improve our ‘demand power’ by setting similar criteria in many European cities. 

Moreover, having clearly defined political ambitions and high targets are very helpful and provide room for us to act. 

5. What challenges do cities face when collaborating with different stakeholders?

A lot of our collaboration with stakeholders is on a voluntary basis. This means that we have to have defined and shared challenges with the stakeholders, to create cooperation benefits that the stakeholders cannot get individually (e.g. new knowledge, contacts, profiling of the city) and also to spend time on facilitating/participating in the collaboration. 


EUROCITIES is currently a circular economy month to share examples of circular transition from across our network. We are posting articles, interviews, social media cards and other items in the build up to the EUROCITIES conference in Ljubljana. Follow the conversation on Twitter via #circulareconomy and #EUROCITIES2017 and find out more at

EUROCITIES staff contact

Alex Godson