In the European Union (EU), 16 tonnes of material are used per person per year. The inflows that stay in urban areas become part of the urban ecosystem in the form of landfills, wastewater treatment plants, and physical infrastructure, while the outflows of urban spaces are exported back to the hinterlands and distant localities as pollutants and consumer products. Research in industrial ecology and related fields have framed these material and energy inflows and outflows as a city’s ‘urban metabolism’ (UM). In the EU, out of these 16 tonnes, 6 tonnes become waste (EC, 2010). This waste production indicates the limited ability to use resources efficiently both in their transformation into consumer goods and waste’s transformation back into valuable resources.
Moreover, waste production results in competition for water and land use, increasing risks of adverse environmental effects such as climate change and ecosystem toxicity, and finally reduces quality of life. About 60 percent of the land used to meet the EU’s consumption demand is located outside its territory. Europe is thus the continent most dependent on land and resources beyond its borders to sustain its consumption patterns, agricultural industry, and energy demands (Unmüßig et al., 2015). Transitioning towards a more circular economy is crucial to delivering the resource efficiency agenda established under the Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable, and inclusive growth. The recently withdrawn amendment of the EU Commission’s Directives on Waste (2008/98/EC), Packaging, Landfill, and other wastes had foreseen concrete goals for the recycling and preparing for re-use of municipal waste, as well as a variety of other waste fractions, and moreover the phasing out of landfills. REPAiR develops, in this phase of reshaping policies towards a CE, the possibility for public and private local actors to simulate and assess projects, policies and spatial plans towards a more circular economy.
A resource-efficient Europe can only be achieved with ‘a policy mix that optimises synergies and addresses trade-offs between different areas and policies’ (EC, 2011a). Thus, local authorities, citizens, and other stakeholders need a collaborative and science-informed decision environment that allows for developing different waste and resource management options and assessing their impacts on environmental resilience, spatial quality and the quality of life. Conducting robust assessments of options for improving waste and resource management in the EU is essential, but ‘the availability of data remains a key challenge’ (UNECE, 2014). Ideally, waste management data should include variables affecting complex system behaviour in order to understand the relationships between socio-economic and environmental dynamics and the built environment, making the concept of urban metabolism more applicable.
Therefore, the key innovations of this project are the integration of dynamic resource flow modelling, resource allocation together with urban and regional planning, and human behavioural aspects. REPAiR uses six peri-urban regions across Europe to develop, test and implement a GDSE as a tool for devising place-specific solutions to enhance resource efficiency and urban metabolism.
REPAiR focuses on peri-urban areas, landscapes characterised by a patchwork of dispersed urbanised areas, agricultural land, open space and high density residential areas within a discontinuous countryside. This focus is underpinned by DG Regio’s statements in Cities of Tomorrow (EC, 2011b), which pinpoints problems for sustainable urban development like urban sprawl and extensive land consumption, fragmented local governments and planning systems as well as excessive use of resources and waste production in peri-urban areas. Peri-urban areas are particularly relevant as a source of problems, but their specific spatial configurations also offer a range of possibilities to establish a CE. Moreover, the presence of both urban, rural and hybrid spatial characteristics allows for developing eco-innovative strategies that are transferable to rural as well as urban areas. For example, the local and regional economic networks of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the fields of manufacturing, creativity, design, telecommunications, energy and environmental technologies – key characteristics of peri-urban areas – provide REPAiR the possibility to support a strong, competitive, and diversified manufacturing and value chain in the spirit of the “Innovation Union” of the European Commission 2010 (EC 2010b).
The concept of Urban Metabolism is particularly strong in supporting improvements in urban and regional planning. It can, in fact, be used to develop policy support tools capable of assessing the impact of development scenarios against normative ideas on sustainable development. This applies not only in energy and resource use terms, but also in relation to most technical and socio-economic processes in urbanised territories related to growth, the production of energy and products, elimination of waste as well as to related spatial qualities and the quality of life. In order to make the concept of urban metabolism more effectively implementable, REPAiR addresses the main shortcomings of earlier UM approaches.
First, it accentuates the inner workings of the case study areas, rather than treating them as black boxes for general input-output accounting. By choosing subparts of metropolitan regions as the smallest scales of the system, REPAiR examines the processes that drive the transformation of resources into products, services and waste, as well as their impacts. Related to this is the choice and selection of sustainability indicators to be driven by the decision needs of key actors and not by data availability.
Secondly, by concentrating on peri-urban areas, the interlinkages between the urban form and metabolic processes are brought to the foreground. The need to do so was highlighted as one of the key areas for further research by the SUME project. Overcoming the methodological barriers among industrial ecology and spatial planning and design is crucial to achieve this linkage. REPAiR therefore aims to integrate material flow analyses and lifecycle analyses into spatial models and planning policies.
Thirdly, REPAiR uses a sociometabolic perspective, which does not reduce UM to an accounting exercise of gigatons and megajoules, but embraces existing knowledge, creativity and capabilities to redesign, invent and test strategies for a circular economy in living labs across Europe to achieve a more sustainable future. In this way, REPAiR will contribute to preventing waste generation and promoting the use of waste as a resource in order to enhance the natural and living environments.