Circular Economy, Cities, Cities and sustainability reporting, Sustainability

Resilient Cities and the Circular Economy

This post on Resilient Cities and the Circular Economy is the third in my series on the Resilient Cities 2018 conference.

I participated in a discussion about Resilient Cities and the Circular Economy at Resilient Cities 2018 – Cities in transition: From waste management to circular city economies.

Panelists- Sunandan Tiwari, Gwen White, Catherine Allinson, Johannes Paul, Lisa Junghans, Keith Weitz

My presentation focused on circular economy activities in the city of Bloomington, Indiana.

Sunandan Tiwari, Gwen White, Catherine Allinson

Where is Bloomington?

Facts about Bloomington

Waste Management

There appears to be a lot of circular economy activity going on in cities, but it may under reported. How and where the waste data is reported depends a great deal on a city’s waste management system. Waste collection can be done by a private contractor or a public utility or a combination. This is the case in the city of Bloomington, Indiana, which is home to Indiana University. The city’s population is 85,000 people; half of these residents are students. The university, the city, and private collection companies collect waste. The city and the university track recycling. At present, private collectors track by regions not by cities.

Are there other waste disposal options in Bloomington?

There are several NGOs involved with the circular economy that report annually on their work. For example, the Monroe County Habitat for Humanity Restore collects donated used building materials and appliances to resell to the public at discounted prices. In 2017, 1.1 million pounds were diverted from the landfill. This does not include all the construction waste from the demolition of buildings. Collection of this data would be a complex endeavor, but lessons could be learned from the city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. It has plans to create a circular city that in part organizes the building chain to incorporate the reuse of building materials in new construction. It is a new program that will require considerable coordination from setting up a storage facility to measuring and monitoring the materials. It will involve a multi-year effort, but Amsterdam is on the cutting edge of becoming a circular city.

Another example of the circular economy in Bloomington is a local NGO foodbank, Hoosier Hills Foodbank (HHFB). HHFB coordinates food collection with local grocery stores, farmers markets, and restaurants. It in turn makes food donations available to over 100 nonprofit organizations including emergency food pantries, daycare centers serving low-income children, youth programs, shelters, residential homes and soup kitchens.


Hoosier to Hoosier (H2H), an annual event that diverts reusable items from the landfill during Indiana University’s student move-out at the end of each spring semester, illustrates the reuse of post consumer goods. This program prevents new resource consumption by selling collected items to students and community members at the beginning of each fall semester. The funds raised are donated to local charities and other organizations. H2H is a partnership between the city of Bloomington Sustainability, Indiana University Office of Sustainability, and Cutters Soccer Club. In 2016, it successfully diverted 60 tons and collected $45,000 from its sales.


Yard waste collection in Bloomington is another example of the circular economy. Each fall the city collects residential yard leaves with trucks equipped with vacuum hoses. The leaves are delivered to Green Earth Recycling and Compost, a private company, which charges the city a dumping fee per load. The company processes the leaves into compost for sale to the public.


There may be many more examples that are not widely publicized so an assessment of progress in Bloomington is incomplete. Collecting data on other examples needs to be made a priority if we are to assess progress and make decisions about new initiatives for the city. One issue for better assessment of progress is getting all the information together in one place. This could be accomplished on the city government website. Having the information in a central location could provide more opportunities for partnerships across the city.


Circular Economy, Sustainability

Circular Economy – Activities in the Midwest

Flyer DIF2015_Open Mic

Decline of the midwestern United State’s industrial sector, sometimes called the “rustbelt,” began in the 1970s as manufacturing outsourcing became more common leading to job and population loss and urban decay. Yet in recent years, much has changed in the region with many activities that can be included in the circular economy.

As part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Disruptive Innovation Festival (DIF) 2015, we spoke with nine panelists from Indiana and Kentucky to talk about how their organizations are moving beyond rust belt industries to foster economic, natural, and social resources. Our group was diverse, representing a broad spectrum of organizations and professions. It is reflective of the diversity of the Midwest and the need for connections between diverse partners in a circular economy network. These panelists were a small representation of the activities occurring in the region. In the following sections, I provide a brief description of their conversation. You can click here to watch the Nothing Abandoned: No Place for Rust Belts in the Circular Economy panel discussion along with a followup session.

If you are interested in learning more about a specific panelist’s organization, you can click on their organization name to access their websites linked below.

Imhotep and Diop Adisa, Kheprw Institute (KI), addressed the importance of attending to social capital as an essential element of the circular economy. They discussed the work that KI does as a community empowerment center and independent private school in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana. Their work involves building a culture that is in harmony with the environment and creating economic opportunity through social entrepreneurship. They focus on training and empowering young people through projects that are attractive to them, like social media or aquaponics, and that they can share with other young people and their community.

Duncan Campbell, an architect and historic preservationist, discussed that reusing buildings is far more efficient in many ways than demolishing them. Constructing buildings incurs an environmental debt because materials, fossil fuels, and labor are expended in building structures. If buildings are demolished, the environmental debt is not recovered. The new structures will incur more environmental debt resulting in great waste. Reclaiming structures and repurposing them has shown to reduce economic and environmental waste not to mention the added social benefits of revitalizing commercial areas and neighborhoods.

John Gibson, State Coordinator of Earth Charter Indiana (ECI), provided information about ECI as it pertains to the Circular Economy. ECI launched its first major project in 2006—Sustainable Indiana (SI) 2016. The mission of SI 2016 is to discover, document and celebrate Hoosier­based sustainability initiatives as a Bicentennial legacy. On its website, ECI has a list of sustainability projects across the state in a variety of categories from agriculture, architecture, arts, business, to universities. These stories are explained in detail on the ECI website.

Tayler Glover, Vice President of Indiana Hemp Industries Association, talked about her organization’s work in Indiana as it relates to the Circular Economy. Their mission is to promote the research and development of industrial hemp products and foster industry development within the state of Indiana. Tayler talked about Purdue University’s research with growing industrial hemp. She works to promote the growing of industrial hemp in the US because of its many sustainable properties. The US is largest importer of industrial hemp.

Kelly Kepner, Director of Economic Development for Benton County, Indiana, talked about the benefits from wind farms within the county. The county has three wind farms, the Benton County Wind Farm, the Fowler Ridge Wind Farm and the Hoosier Wind Farm – numbering a total of 495 wind turbines within the county – operated by energy companies Orion Energy Group, BP Alternative Energy and enXco, respectively. Since 2009, the county has collected close to $5 million in combined property taxes from the three wind farms. The tax revenues from these farms enabled the county to pay off all debt, remodel its community center along with purchasing emergency extraction equipment for its various county fire departments.

Sean Vandevander, CEO, and Elisa Owen, Vice President of Ecobridge Industries, talked about their company’s mission to work with local farmers in sustainably growing and harvesting crops that can be processed into bio­composites, bio­plastics, and other Eco­friendly products. They described how they partner with farmers and manufacturers from the Louisville, KY, area which is within a one day’s drive of 65% of the U.S. population. The benefits of local sourcing are many. One is that manufacturers of plant fibers reduce their carbon footprint and meet their personal sustainability goals. In the automotive and green building applications, their feedstock allows for light weighting of components while maintaining strength and cost­competitiveness. In addition, they discussed how their feedstock has superior retention of mechanical properties during recycling when compared with glass­reinforced thermoplastics.

Kyle Squillace, Impressive Prototypes, discussed his firm that specializes in local preproduction prototypes. The firm has experienced model makers with 20­30 years experience in model making, whose skills are maintained, put to continuous use and transferred to a younger generation, including Kyle’s. Several of their pieces of equipment come from previous manufacturing plants that were de­localized to low­cost countries. In addition, Impressive Prototypes use 3D printing as part of their production to create prototypes quickly for local manufacturers. He discussed how they recycle waste materials from their 3D printers.

Please take look at our discussion to see some of  the interesting circular economy activities in the Midwest.

Circular Economy, Disruptive Innovation Festival 2015, Sustainability

Circular Economy Disruptive Innovation Festival 2015

Flyer DIF2015_Open Mic

We are delighted to contribute to the Disruptive Innovation Festival (DIF) 2015, curated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Our session is a two-part event entitled: “Nothing Abandoned: No Place for Rust Belts in the Circular Economy.” Part one is a roundtable discussion, scheduled for October 29th in Indianapolis, with a panel of Midwest sustainability and circular economy professionals. A video recording of part one will be available at the start of the DIF 2015 on November 2nd. During part two on November 13th, 9:00 – 10:00 am EST (14:00 – 15:00 GMT), we will summarize the October 29th discussion and host a live Q&A session.

Please join the DIF 2015 and engage with a global community dedicated to mainstreaming the circular economy.

Our goal is to highlight all the positive actions taken in Indiana and the Midwest to revive this region’s economy along its industrial and farming traditions and competence. We will discuss the opportunities provided by the circular economy framework. Our panel will showcase organizations and activities in the Midwest that represent examples of positive and sustainable transformations in this region.