• 26 November 2019

    Energy from the Oceans

    By Gianmaria Sannino – Senior Researcher at ENEA Gianmaria Sannino opened his speech during ReThink – Circular Ocean Forum in Genoa, with a brief and current introduction concerning the correlation between climate change and sea-level rise, explaining how the oceans absorb heat and they expand by increasing their volume. In addition to melting glaciers, in fact, the oceans’ temperature increase, is the second reason that causes the raising of the level, which is among the causes of the disaster that took place in November in Venice. The sea can also be exploited as an intelligent energy source, Sannino showed a quote by Joseph Conrad from the book Typhoon, which says “… he had never seen the immeasurable force and excessive anger, the anger that passes and runs out without ever subsiding – the anger and fury of the irritated sea”, which turns out to be a fictionalized definition of what marine renewable energy is. Even Victor Hugo already in 1874, with a quote taken from the novel “Novantatrè”, emphasizes how the sea is a source of energy that the earth should make use of: “Think of the movement of the waves, the ebb and flow, the coming and going of the tides. What is the ocean? a huge lost force. How stupid the earth is, not to use the ocean! “ The global marine energy potential can be a very powerful resource, it is estimated that the amount of marine energy we can extract is equal to 1,200 TWh / year, while the global wave is estimated to be 29,500 TWh / year, these data are surprising if we consider that the current global electricity demand is 25,600 TWh / year. It would be easy to ask why it is not exploited, the first reason is that this energy is not distributed...
  • 20 November 2019

    Plastic offset is here

    Plastic offset is here. Here’s how to do it right by Peter Wang Hjemdahl (Co-Founder, rePurpose Global) A new paradigm is entering the environmental zeitgeist, and that paradigm is plastic offset. So what is it really, and how could it stem the global tide of plastic pollution? Put simply, for every dollar contributed by a polluter, a certain amount of plastic waste would be intercepted from the environment on your behalf as an individual or a company.  All across the developing world, waste management social enterprises have popped up to provide ethical & efficient solutions to our plastic epidemic, yet they are often underfunded and left unable to scale. Inspired by carbon credit, plastic offset is a transformative way of funding these innovations to accelerate our transition towards a circular economy.  Just like carbon, there are as many ways to do plastic offset wrong as ways to do it right. With the complex relationship between consumer responsibility and producer accountability, generating a truly meaningful impact is challenging yet entirely possible. From the landfills and alleyways of Mumbai to corporate headquarters in New York, we spent years understanding both local needs and the global systems that govern our waste. Here are 3 principles we have distilled on how to do plastic offset, right. Principle 1: Hit the problem where it hurts Anywhere in the developing world, if you pay attention to the kinds of plastic that are actually littering our streets, beaches, and landfills, you will notice a trend – it’s dominated by low-value plastic like to-go containers, candy wrappers, and plastic bags.  These materials are classified as low-value plastic because they are extremely difficult to recycle. Shanghai, Cairo, New Delhi, Nairobi, Jakarta – a vibrant informal recycling industry do exists in cities worldwide and employs tens of millions of workers who...
  • 29 October 2019

    Orange Fiber

    By Enrica Arena – Orange Fiber Co-founder Enrica Arena presents Orange Fiber, a company that produces a sustainable fabric similar to silk from citrus fruits. The material was born as an alternative product to classic cellulose, so the production is cut down over 70 million trees all. The developed product can be printed, colored and packaged, so brands don’t have to modify their suppliers and can be woven together with all other materials. The activity was born from the idea of ​​recovering what remains at the end of the industrial pressing of the orange for the production of the juice, which is considered a processing waste and which involves great costs for the companies in the sector and for the environment. In fact, 60% of the original weight of the fruit is considered waste but through a series of research carried out in collaboration with a university professor in the chemistry department of the Politecnico di Milano, it is currently possible to examine and patent an innovative process to transform the by-product of citrus fruits in a new resource capable of revolutionizing fashion in a sustainable and protected way to the resolution of problems related to the disposal. In the fashion field, 60% of the garments are made with materials deriving from the transformation of oil, and this not only causes environmental problems, but also links the value of materials to the oscillation of oil prices, by influencing the possibility that a collection is profitable or not for a brand. Furthermore, 25% of the products in the sector come from the cotton, a material whose production requires high quantities of water and soil, and which is often produced using pesticides. Organic cotton, on the other hand, has the disadvantage of needing more soil because it uses less pesticides but has...
  • 23 October 2019

    The energy of the Circular Economy

    By Giovanni Tula Giovanni Tula started his speech by introducing the focus of his presentation: circular projects linked to the energy world. The goal is to understand the status of renewable energies and their dissemination at the global level, by considering the 4 macro areas: storage, efficiency, the automation, and digitalization. The starting point is the comparison of the estimates regarding the dissemination of the renewable energies developed by the World Energy Agency in 2008 and 2017. As you can see from the image above, the estimates have more than doubled, the reason is that in 2017, with circa 13 years to spare, the estimate of the 2030 has already been reached, now the expectancy is to reach 4.718 GW installed in 2030. Actually, the estimates recently made could be underestimated because the renewable energies are becoming highly competitive thank to a strong reduction of the cost of production. For example, in the solar energy field, there has been an 83% reduction in the costs of the photovoltaic panels starting from 2010 till today. In the previous image it is highlighted the evolution of renewable energy sources compared to the fossil fuel, where it is estimated that the renewable could reach 64% of the overall energy resources. The storage Among the enabling elements of this revolution there is the “storage theme”. The batteries are essential to this evolution per 3 functions: Stabilization of the electricity grid Reduction of the imbalances on the generation side Offer of the energy in time of need on the consumer side The evolution of the lithium batteries in the last years has been important such that it has gone from some MW of power and storage of some minutes to a power of hundreds MW that can last for hours. The one that is impossible...
  • 14 October 2019

    An urgent opportunity

    By Francesco Castellano Francesco Castellano started his speech by explaining the reasons that drove him to create Tondo and ReThink. It all started from a beach, a place where he loved swimming, that place changed dramatically during the years because of the plastic and the waste. Trash created by human beings, which denotes, in part, the failure of the current system, a system that doesn’t take into account the impact of our actions on the environment. ReThink – Circular Economy Forum Without any doubt, we need to rethink our economic system, to reconsider its elements and the path we are following. The necessity to rethink led to the birth of “ReThink – Circular Economy Forum”, with the purpose to question some of the elements of our economic and industrial system and to show concrete applications of some interesting trends in the Circular Economy. Problems To understand the importance of the Circular Economy we need to show firstly the problems that humanity has to face at this moment. One of the most important issues is global warming caused by the CO2 issued for energetic production, for industrial activities and for transports. In particular, Castellano reported, that according to the last IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)’s study, dated October 2018, to avoid the increase of the global temperature over 1.5°C (temperature that is considered the maximum limit to avoid effects that could be catastrophic on the global ecosystem and for the humanity in general), we have circa 12 years to reduce the 50% of the CO2 emissions and circa 30 years to delete them completely. Otherwise, some effects, that are already present, will expand more and more, with a devastating impact of drought, fire and flood. These events have already caused damages for 320 billion dollars in 2017 (https://newclimateeconomy.report/2018/). In addition,...
  • 8 October 2019

    Understand and Regenerate

    By Barbara Pollini Understand Barbara Pollini started her presentation by mentioning the contemporary philosopher Timothy Morton who coined the term “hyperobjects” to explain those interconnected phenomenons which have a wide vastness in time and space and that are incomprehensible for us. Climate change is one of them. In this perspective, designer’s ability to value material is important for the environmental impact of a product, also, in the complex world, the sustainability is not a steady-state, once it is reached you can’t keep it, it is a  dynamic threshold based on the continuous research. Designers, very often, are focused on some aspects of the project, and they ignore the life-cycle of the products and their materials; there aren’t many Italian universities that push the students to think about these issues and not many corporates of materials that explain information about the life-cycle of materials. Some designers adopt a critical approach and they reinvent some materials in order to find solutions that the market is not able to propose or in order to show a walkable path or an unresolved problem. Among these examples there is “Studio Swine” which created a stool made by plastic recovered at sea. It’s not part of a series production, but it wants to stimulate a critical thinking on an environment issue through the story of a material. At NABA, during Pollini’s lessons, there have been a lot of trials on DIY materials, that are organic or “made in waste”. Some of the projects are virtuous, such as “Peel Saver”, packaging for the street food made by potato’s peel, created by the students: Simone Caronni, Paolo Stefano Gentile and Pietro Gaeli. Also at Politecnico di Milano there are a lot of studies on DIY materials, Pollini is a tutor of the Metaprogetto Lab that took part at the...
  • 30 September 2019

    Blockchain, AI and Sharing

    by Lisanne Huizing Due to the urbanization phenomenon, more people are going to move to cities. This will lead to more congestion of traffic, more pollution, and a necessity for more resources in cities among others. We will need more of everything than we have right now, in order to generate food and products. Resources are not endless, and they will become scarce in the future. “Smart Cities” have to solve this problem of rapid movement of goods, people and capital. By integrating technology, both cities’ and citizens’ behaviors can be understood. People can become involved and empowered by giving control over resources to more stakeholders by combining circular and smart technologies. It will give citizens the possibility to more actively govern their own resources at a lower geographical scale. Adaptive systems will be very beneficial for our future needs. Sharing & Circular Economy  With the Sharing Economy, a new phenomenon has arisen and it provides opportunities to redesign urban planning and access to locally shared resources. This will create a shift from possession-based, to a service-based economy. In order to use less resources in a growing and more demanding society, it will become necessary to make better use of the capacity of resources that is already existing.  When you look at a car that you only use in the weekends, for example, by sharing this with other people, it can also be used during the week. Once the car is optimally used and it comes to the end of its lifecycle, you can move towards the next step; circularity.  Although the Sharing Economy and Circular Economy are two different elements, they are connected. Because where the Sharing Economy ends, the Circular Economy begins. Together, they influence the taking shape of practices and optimization of processes. Cities can play a big role...
  • 23 September 2019

    New trends for circular materials

    Marco Cappellini’s speech is focused on three themes: the production of new materials and their end-life management, the transition to “products as services” and the measurement of the circularity. Trends in corporates According to a report by OCSE, it is estimated that the number of used resources will double by 2060. In particular, this fact involves specific sectors, as the packaging and the fashion ones, that are promising the recycling and the creation of biomaterials starting from 2020/2030. However, there are no doubts about the possibilities of recycling, but there could be problems about who carry out the process: some corporates produce recyclable products, but they are not recycled. For this reason, it exists the idea that the circular economy is uneconomic: but this is not the truth because multiple international cases prove the contrary. New business realities are proposing new custom materials. Many of these start from the principle of being “biomaterials”, material that are easily biodegradable and, or, compostable; there are other recyclable materials that are recyclable only through very specific processes and methods. This is very worrying because, it is possible to order recyclable products, but it is very hard for consumers to manage the end-life of the products. We can say that corporates have to play a more important role in managing the recycling of materials, for example, by creating a clause that specifies the end-life of the products in the patents. Matrec’s example is about a material made of recycled rubber by PFU, that is a very useful material, but it is undervalued. The input is to add value to the material: Matrec worked for new solutions that can improve sound and heat insulation performance, but they are also working on three-dimensionality. The aim is to increase the value of the materials on the market...
  • 14 September 2019

    “Old” and “New” Circular Economy

    This article is based on Roberto Zoboli’s speech during “Re-Think Forum”. Roberto Zoboli, during “ReThink Circular Economy Forum”, introduced some key elements to understand the Circular Economy, by distinguishing between “Old” and “New” Circular Economy. Some of the elements described in this article are coming from studies developed by the Inter-University research center called “SEEDS” – Sustainability Environmental Economics and Dynamics Studies – of which Catholic University is a member. Catholic University is also a partner of the European Topic Centre on Waste and Materials in a Green Economy, that develops studies and researches for the European Environment Agency (EEA). In particular, the Catholic University has contributed to the drafting of three reports for the EEA which include both technical and informative aspects: “Circular Economy in Europe, Developing the knowledge base”  “Circular by design, Products in the Circular Economy”  “The Circular Economy and the bioeconomy, Partners in sustainability”  In 2019 the fourth report of the EEA on the Circular Economy will be published. New behavioral patterns The idea of implementing the Circular Economy can force and orient the whole economic system towards new behavioral models. That means to move towards what the community like and what the community wants to prevail, from a sustainable, environmental and social point of view.  The OECD’s conceptual scheme is useful to frame the Circular Economy, it underlines three different levels of possible actions: The closure of the resource flows: best known as the “recovery and recycling process”, where the waste system has an important role, but it also includes the re-use and re-manufacturing of products; The slowdown of the use cycle: the elongation of the lifespan of products and the contrast of the fast aging, compared to what it is logical by the technical point of view and acceptable at the social level; Shrinking...
  • 9 September 2019

    Built environment

    This article is based on Guglielmo Carra’s speech during “Re-Think Forum”. Guglielmo Carra’s speech opened with the comparison of two pictures that portray the city of Shangai, one of them was taken in the mid-1990s and the other one only a few years ago. The difference is clear: the development of the city in the past 20 years was impressive and this trend is common in all urban contexts in Asia, Africa, South, Centre America and also in Europe. It is estimated that by 2050, about 70% of the global population will live inside these cities. It means that every week, a city of 1,6 million people is built. Cities are a place for people, but also a place where resources, coming from outside, are transported to be consumed with a linear approach. This change will impact the construction sector – that, at the current state, consumes 60% of resources and emit 40% of CO2. Improvements are possible since the constructions sector is the least automated ever, so it is also the least efficient, whose productivity of one hour is still equivalent to the one in 1946. Circular Economy can be the solution, in order to enhance the processes and the resources used, not only in the design of the utilization of the building but also by defining what will happen in the future to those materials and resources used for the construction. The 4 areas by Arup Carra presents some projects by Arup that revolve around 4 thematic areas: The regeneration of natural capital, which consists of transforming the city from a place that consumes resources, to a place where resources are produced and regenerated; The creation of open and shared processes by developing and implementing collaborative processes in addition to the promotion of actions and production chain processes....
  • 9 June 2019


    In the common imagination, technology and environment can be seen as in contrast. On the one hand, the manufacturing industry with its energy-intensive production processes, which consume enormous amounts of resources, introduces toxic substances in exchange for air. On the other hand, the environment is seen as an element to be preserved and defended. The term technology itself, however, indicates the most efficient and economical use of available goods and tools. This is why it is not an oxymoron to talk about Cleantech, clean technologies, although it can be complex to define its fields of action in an exact manner. Cleantech: clean technology without borders The concept of Cleantech is difficult to define. If it is true that in a theoretical level it is a rather simple concept when you go into it, the possibilities become practically endless. In Cleantech, we can include all the innovations, regarding processes and products, that limit or completely eliminate the negative environmental impact of human action. We can talk about Cleantech when we are faced with technologies that deal with: • Collection and recycle of waste • Production of electricity from renewable sources • Rationalization of transport • Optimization of energy consumption • Reduction of packaging volumes • Limitation of resources used in the production process • Cutting emissions of pollutants into the atmosphere. In a Circular Economy perspective, Cleantech can, therefore, become any technology that limits energy; optimize their production and consumption processes; prevents waste eventually produced. In our analysis, we will focus on technologies that provide innovative energy production and storage. Artificial intelligence Forbes has dedicated to the world of new technologies for the creation of clean energy an article on the possible trends for 2019. Among the 6 trends that could emerge this year, the newspaper cites Artificial Intelligence, now pervasive...

Circular Cities

3 models for a sustainable city: the Circular Economy applied to the urban context

A story of two cities. The first is the city as we have known it so far. The air made unbearable by pollution. It is very difficult to dispose of waste properly. Resources are widely wasted or underused. The other is a sustainable and circular city. Here the waste does not exist, the resources are used to the best according to the rules of the sharing economy and the energy required is completely produced from renewable sources.

In the middle, there are the real cities, which are more or less similar to one or the other model. Cities are the first context in which it is essential to apply the terms of the Circular Economy. Because they represent an area in which it is perhaps easier to agree on its founding principles. Also because, above all, they are the place par excellence where humans live and will live.

Why the cities?

According to a World Bank report, 54% of the global population lives in urban areas and in cities, 85% of world GDP is produced (data: 2017). 75% of the natural resources are consumed here, 50% of the waste produced and greenhouse gas emissions equal to 60-80% of the total, according to different estimates.

It is therefore clear that we need to start from the cities if we want to influence the way in which human beings live together and exploit resources. Also because the trend is destined to increase, by 2050 75% of the population will be living in cities.

This means that even more funds will be invested in cities: infrastructures will be at the center of the growth strategies for the cities. Increasingly, natural resources, capitals, talents, and data will be concentrated in urban contexts. Moreover, given their relative geographic limitations, cities can better be governed and directed towards the principles of the Circular Economy.

The risk is that the global middle class, growing everywhere except perhaps in the “developed” economies and concentrated in the cities, ends up requiring an even greater percentage of resources to feed its “well-being”. This would inevitably lead to higher waste generation (which also means a decrease in material productivity) and a huge negative impact on the environment.

Some real examples will help us to understand what is at stake.

Why is the sustainable city the only way?

The city is the place for excellence, where humanity resides and will reside. This can be a source of opportunity, but also of problems.

We remember some of them.

The under-utilization of materials. Among the founding principles of the Circular Economy is the use of materials in a continuous cycle, without turning them into waste. Expanding the concept, we can say that the materials are always used to the maximum of their potential and without waste. This does not always happen, even more in the cities. Considering the cars, according to some reports, in Europe cars are parked on average 92% of the time. A huge waste of resources. In the same way the offices: the structures are used for just 35-50% of the time.

Waste of food (and not only).

31% of food in the world is wasted at the different levels of the chain: from production to distribution to consumption. This represents not only a social problem, but also an enormous waste of resources: the production of fruit, vegetables and meat is one of the activities with a relevant environmental impact.

The picture becomes even less positive when we consider that such waste must be disposed of with further costs in terms of economic resources. In developing countries 50% of the city’s budget goes to waste collection and management.


As mentioned, urban areas contribute to most of the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Another fact that should makes us reflect: about 80% of urban areas have a level of air pollution that exceeds the limits established by the WHO.

The impact of climate change and global warming should be particularly felt by cities, given that 90% of urban areas are located along the coasts.

A vision for the sustainable and circular city

The urban contexts must, therefore, assume circularity as a basic model. To achieve this, they must exploit materials, technologies and flows that optimize and connect infrastructures and those who live in them, with their human and social capital.

To the most detrimental aspects of living in urban contexts, the circular city can, on the contrary, put in place a series of principles and actions to completely overturn the paradigm.

Three principles

We start from three principles on which the circularity is based according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

To design. Circular production and consumption processes involve the elimination of all the negative externalities linked to the creation of value: toxic substances released into the environment, greenhouse gases, water and soil pollution, traffic congestion and so on. To achieve this, a systemic project is needed in which all the actors are involved at the highest level in a joint effort.

Eliminate the concept of waste. The idea of ​​an ideal sustainable city is not so much (or at least not only) that of recycling the materials that are discarded and end up in the trash can. On the contrary, the idea is to minimize the use of non-recycled materials. This is the idea behind the concept of circularity: the materials are not discarded but reused continuously, in a continuous cycle. At the same time, synthetic materials must be gradually replaced by organic compounds of a biological nature.

Regenerate. Natural capital is a value to be preserved and included in the circular process of the economy. An example is the regeneration of the soil, which can be obtained by avoiding polluting wastewater to go directly in the soil, but instead using compost, deriving from the organic materials mentioned above.

What can not be missing in a sustainable and circular city

On these general principles, then practices are founded, which can help to realize the dream of a circular city.

Buildings. Offices and houses are built in a modular and flexible way so that they are not used by a single owner but shared as much as possible. The construction materials must be reused and recyclable, reducing the use of virgin materials. Buildings must not consume as much energy and food as they produce, with systems for the production of energy from renewable sources and installations such as urban vertical farms.

Energy. Overall, the city must use energy that is renewable, distributed and efficient, cutting production costs and protecting the environment.

Transportation. As for buildings, even in transport it is necessary to overcome the concept of private property. The transport system must be accessible to all (and therefore economically advantageous) and holistic: to the “traditional” solutions such as trains and buses, electric on-demand cars, bike sharing and other solutions for the so-called “last-mile” must be added. Vehicles will also have to be rethought to last longer and to consume materials and fuel to a minimum.

Urban bioeconom. Food waste is another scourge, social and environmental, of urban areas. Here too it is possible to use a circular approach. The polluted waters do not end up in sewers (and therefore in watercourses), but are purified and sent to the land or in hydroponic crops. The organic fraction of waste – to be reduced to the minimum possible – becomes instead the fertilizer of those crops or material to feed fish farms, for example. What remains can lead to the production of clean energy (through biofuels).

Production systems in a loop. The production of goods and services can become widespread. The waste of a given activity can become, for example, the raw material of another. The tools can be shared and no longer be an exclusive property. Then, the faulty objects can still create value and work if they are repaired or reused.

Digital revolution. The Circular City can only be a Smart City. Mobility, for example, to be really efficient, requires the rapid processing of a large amount of data. The same can be said of the energy distribution systems, or of the food production. Digital technologies can make the production cycle much more transparent, for example by tracing the ‘journey’ of materials from birth to reuse.

3 cities that are doing it

Examples of Circular Cities are already underway, considering pilots on Smart Cities, Sustainable Mobility, and Urban Farming. It is still missing an example of a completely circular urban context, at least if we consider big cities where this kind of target is quite demanding.

However, there are examples of the progress made in this direction. Let’s find out.

San Francisco

In 2009, the city on the bay took a fundamental decision: it was the first in the United States to make the separation of organic waste from the rest waste for all citizens and businesses. The 2020 target is to reach “Zero Waste” and today the recycling percentage exceeds 80%, among the highest in the world.

The Californian city is also at the forefront of the so-called upcycling. What is it? It is a recycling process of a specific material for the production of a good of greater value than the original one. One example is ReGrained, a company that takes waste from beer brewing processes and creates energy bars.

The next step for San Francisco has to be to reduce the quantity of virgin materials used at the beginning of the production / consumption cycle: the greenest product is the one that is not produced.


The Singapore challenge is particularly interesting because the city is in the third most densely populated country in the world. The efforts of local administrations have focused mainly on the protection of biodiversity.

To build new buildings in the city, companies must, for example, restore all the vegetation they have eliminated elsewhere. Many skyscrapers, then, which give a home to 80% of the inhabitants, are covered with gardens on the roofs. For this reason, Singapore is covered for 40% of vegetation.

The city has created an app that helps citizens to identify specimens of the 392 species of birds that take refuge on the island. Singapore has also launched, thanks to the collaboration with the managers of the local National Parks, the CBI, the City Biodiversity Index: an index that “measures” the biodiversity of the city through a series of parameters. The tool is also useful for other urban areas to evaluate its efforts in this direction.


What is perhaps difficult for many to understand is the fact that Circular Cities are not just a requirement for the environment, but a way to create better conditions for everyone.

In Seoul with the “Sharing City” initiative, the rulers are trying to prove this. The goal is to share everything that is not used. Precisely everything: some abandoned buildings have been refurbished with the contribution of many; those who had a suit lent it to those who could not afford it to present themselves for a job interview; the same was done for children who go to school.

Among the most interesting projects, the redevelopment of Cheonggyecheon. A heavily polluted area has been transformed into a public space for recreational activities. The project has brought not only an undeniable environmental and social value but also an economic boost, with the creation of many jobs.

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