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Circular economy: an opportunity for the new normal in Granada, Spain

In many cities worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a debate about the role of local governments in public health, social welfare and local economy. The province of Granada has been severely hit by the pandemic, reaching over 80 000 cases and 1 600 deaths by May 2021. Moreover, unemployment, which was among the highest in Spain before the pandemic, reached 28.4% in December 2020; and the tourism sector, one of the pillars of Granada’s economy, has come to a standstill due to the measures taken to contain the pandemic, resulting in a 12.6% reduction in the province’s GDP in 2020.

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need to rethink urban policies in a greener and more inclusive way, while improving environmental quality, fostering economic growth and job creation. The circular economy can play an important role, helping to:

  • do more with less,
  • make better use of available natural resources, and
  • transform waste into new resources, while promoting new forms of employment and tackling inequalities.

The OECD report on Circular Economy in Granada provides data, analysis and recommendations to support the transition towards the circular economy in Granada, as a new normal in the city in the recovery phase of the pandemic.

Granada’s vision for the circular economy should build on the local strengths: tourism and science.

The circular economy is not a new concept in Granada. Since 2015, the transformation of the wastewater treatment plant into a biofactory has been a tangible example of how to reuse and recycle waste products. Granada can build on this experience in other areas, focusing on its strengths in tourism and science.

Due to its various tourist attractions such as the Alhambra or the Albaicín neighbourhood, Granada used to welcome over 1 700 000 tourists every year and is ranked among the top three tourist destinations in Andalusia. While tourism is one of the major economic drivers of the city, it can also take a heavy toll on the environment. The report provides examples of how to implement a circular economy approach in tourism, by reducing the use of disposable products (plastic packaging, disposable cutlery, plates and glasses); including circular principles in hotel business models (repairing and reusing equipment or applying “product-as-a-service” models); and avoiding food waste (replacing buffets with à la carte models, selling surplus food at low prices and donating food to food banks).

In 2017, the Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness designated Granada as “City of Science and Innovation”, in recognition of its investment in scientific and technological infrastructure. The city’s science assets – which include the Health Sciences Technology Park (PTS), one of the few technology sites specialised in health in Europe, as well as OnGranada, the largest technology and biotechnology cluster in the region – bring great opportunities for the city to strengthen the links between digitisation and the circular economy. In particular, these assets provide a platform to use new data and technologies to reduce waste and transform waste into resources.

Collaboration is key to achieving a circular economy

Transitioning towards the circular economy is a shared responsibility. It demands action from all partners- the private sector, academia, non-governmental organisations, and across different levels of government. Urban policies need to be well co-ordinated between sectors and partners, and urban-rural linkages should be strengthened to promote local production and the recycling of organic waste.

How to move towards the circular economy?

Granada has enormous potential to develop the circular economy. The report provides three key lessons to help unlock that potential:

  1. Developing stronger institutions: Granada should consider creating a dedicated municipal office for the circular economy to coordinate actions across different departments. This office could develop and drive a circular economy strategy as has been produced in Amsterdam, Paris and London. The strategy would provide clear objectives; and work to promote a circular economy culture, building on inspiring examples of initiatives in other cities such as Valladolid’s “Circular Weekends”, where entrepreneurs join forces on circular projects, or London’s, “circular economy ambassadors” to raise awareness at the workplace.
  2. Enhancing coordination: Granada can take steps to improve co-ordination with circular economy strategies at the national level as well as with the region of Andalusia; identify synergies with other city initiatives on the circular economy; establish collaborations with key city stakeholders; and experiment/implement small-scale projects, for example at the neighbourhood level.
  3. Embedding a whole system approach: One way to lead by example could be through applying a circular economy lens to public procurement, as is the case in cities like Amsterdam and Ljubljana. Other opportunities exist to explore financing options to accelerate the transition; investments in skills and capacity to drive the circular economy; and support for businesses to adopt and develop new solutions to leverage the potential of Big Data, the Internet of Things and blockchain for the circular economy.

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Ander Eizaguirre is a Policy Analyst within the OECD Water Governance and Circular Economy Unit, Cities, Urban Policies and Sustainable Development Division of the OECD. He contributed to policy dialogues on the circular economy and water at national and subnational level, including the OCDE Policy Dialogue on the Circular Economy in Granada, Spain. He is also one of the authors of the recent OECD Report on the Circular Economy in Cities and Regions. Prior to joining the OECD in 2018, he worked on climate and energy policies at the Permanent Delegation to the EU of the CEOE (Spanish Federation of Companies). He has a Master in Economic Research from UNED University of Spain.