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The urban circular economy

Joni Baboci’s project and the role of cities in the sustainable shift through design, technological innovation and the involvement of local realities.

by Michele Gazzetti
23 July 2021
4 min read
by Michele Gazzetti
23 July 2021
4 min read

Energy, materials and infrastructure are the pillars on which the vision of Joni Baboci, General Director for Urban Planning and Development of the city of Tirana, is centred. In his report entitled ‘Urban Circular Economy, Global value chains to local value loops’, promoted by the Triennale di Milano and Eni, he outlines the guidelines for the urban circular economy of the future. Although some paradigms have been challenged by the pandemic, cities will always play a crucial role because they "involve less use of infrastructure, deliver services more efficiently and combat poverty by acting as an economic lift".

“Over the last two centuries, the modern economy has been based on a form of sustained open-ended growth, thanks to constant innovation”, Baboci states. Now the one feature of this special kind of growth is compounding. At every cycle, the system accelerates. Now the world generates more than 2 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste every single year. Animal populations have plummeted, on average, by 60% since the 1970s. We have pushed the limits of the planet’s life support systems to the edge. We are approaching an interesting phase shift. What this change will look like is up to us”.

The cornerstones of the urban circular economy

Four guidelines must be followed in order to determine a new meaning for the era of the urban circular economy:

  • better design can easily increase the efficiency of using a material and reduce production costs;
  • through technology there is less waste in production, thus improving the efficiency of the materials used;
  • intensive recycling is a necessary but insufficient first step towards a circular economy;
  • rewarding the use of sustainable materials to accelerate the development of innovation.
economia circolare urbana joni babuci

Urban Circular Economy: the project of Joni Baboci

Baboci outlines the scenarios of the future as follows: “Designers are the first ones who can change the way we see things. New business models can be created through collaborations between architects, designers and the whole engineering supply chain. We need to improve product design, we need to be less wasteful in our manufacturing, we need to have intensive reuse and recycling, and also reward sustainable material substitutions. An improved design would reduce waste by 30%”. Technology can play a decisive role in making existing materials compostable and biodegradable.

Innovation is gold standard we should pursue, but it is important to test it over a sufficient period of time to minimise potential risks. The numbers say it all. “At the production level, currently only 25% of virgin steel and 50% of virgin aluminium actually reach the hands of consumers and are then recycled again. Our present recycling practices are often symbolic in nature. We need to implement more intensive recycling and a more re-use-oriented modus operandi. Finally, modern design and the use of lightweight materials should be encouraged in order to speed up the best use of materials”.

His motto? Local

Baboci has no doubts: the circular economy is the only beneficial and concrete approach to continue growing prosperity and, at the same time, sustainability. The watchword for achieving change is local. The implementation of circularity through a network of local businesses keeps risks under control, while increasing the resilience of the global economy. “You have to view the circular economy as a localised set of sub-routines where local waste, the output, can be used as an input, again locally”, explains the architect. The local-oriented approach significantly reduces energy waste in the transport sector. At the same time, it makes the economy more resilient by making it more heterogenous and distributed. It also allows communities to have a piece of the pie, to be directly involved in determining their own future”.