Opinion: Cities and regions need support to unleash the circular bioeconomy

By Gemma Castejón

“You may have missed it, but 1 January 2024 was a landmark day for the circular economy in Europe. Why? It marked the start of mandatory separate collection of food waste from households and businesses.

“Biowaste – food and garden waste – is the single largest component of municipal waste. Effective recycling of biowaste is therefore essential to achieve the EU’s recycling targets and create a genuine circular (bio)economy.

“The new mandate poses a challenge for local and regional authorities though. Aside from the difficulty of organising separate collection, waste managers must identify and finance sustainable and economic treatment methods for all this biowaste. The most common method currently in use, composting, does not use the waste’s full potential, resulting in low-value final products.

“Given the endless variations between cities and regions in Europe, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Even municipalities with experience in biowaste management need expert support and advice.

“CETENMA actively supports cities and regions to improve their biowaste management through technical assistance and consultancy services. We have elaborated circular economy strategies and action plans, for example for the City of Murcia. Through the experience acquired in projects such as VALUEWASTE, we have a very good understanding of all the steps required for a successful biowaste management value chain, and access to examples from best performing territories.

“During the last four years we have coordinated the HOOP project, which has supported the uptake of new biowaste valorisation technologies by providing Project Development Assistance (PDA) to eight cities and regions around Europe.

“In Bergen, Norway, HOOP helped launch a project to produce microalgae from food by-products, supporting the proof-of-concept on a large scale to demonstrate feasibility. As a result, the project has secured €1 million in equity and €661,000 in funding towards its goal of €2 million.

“Likewise, in Kuopio, Finland, HOOP supported the creation of a pyrolysis pilot plant to produce biochar by analysing urban metabolism and suggesting best available techniques for the city. Consequently, the projected raised €830,000 from European funding (ERDF, ESF) and private investment.

“We have also been active in Porto, Portugal, facilitating the knowledge on the state-of-the art of technologies for an open market consultation organised by the municipal waste management company LIPOR. The goal was to address wastewater treatment and nutrient recovery in the effluent of an anaerobic digestion plant for urban biowaste, for which an investment of approximately €50 million has been secured for 2025.

“To support the delivery of the PDA, HOOP partners have developed a series of open-access tools. The HOOP Circularity Label allows cities and regions to self-assess their circularity level, while the HOOP Project Maturity Level empowers project developers to assess the bankability of their circular initiatives. All tools and resources are hosted on a dedicated online platform called the HOOP Urban Circular Bioeconomy Hub.”

All this and more will be presented and discussed at the HOOP Cities and Policy Conference, which takes place from 4-5 June in Brussels. It is still possible to register until 24 May, join us!

Gemma Castejón is the Managing Director of CETENMA and Coordinator of the HOOP Project.

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