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Sladjana Mijatovic

To move towards circular economy, we must talk about circular citizens


Sladjana Mijatovic, an expert in circular innovation, reminds us that In the natural world, waste does not exist, but humans generate toxic waste that makes this world unsustainable. She made this point in her  "Circular Economy: A Shift in the Productive Model" conference held on the 4th of April as part of the Re-City platform  "Facing climate change" conference cycle, organized by the Catalunya Europa Foundation in collaboration with BBVA and supported by the Barcelona City Council, the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona and the Department of "Territori i Sostenibilitat" from Generalitat de Catalunya.

What is the circular economy? This question was answered in a two minute video produced by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, one of the most active institutions worldwide in the transition to circular economy. Sladjana Mijatovic showed the video to the audience in the conference moderated by Humberto Llavador, professor of Economics at the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics and the Pompeu Fabra University at the Antoni Tapies Foundation.

Sladjana Mijatovic explained the advantages of an economic model that promotes recycling, waste reduction and the reuse of products instead of a linear economy based on the logic of produce-use-throw that does not take into account the deterioration of our planet. She spoke of her experience in Amsterdam, where she was the head of the City Council's Office of Circular Innovation and Technology, working on the development of a number of circular economy projects. Mijatovic holds a degree in architecture from the University of Amsterdam, a master's degree in Urban Design and Urban Spaces Planning from the Technological University of Delft, and is currently responsible for sustainability and the circular economy at the Dutch company BPD, where she continues to promote sustainable and circular construction processes in the Netherlands.

Life as a refugee, her first "circular" experience.

However, Milatovic's relationship with the circular economy began much earlier, before the concept was well-known. At the age of five she experienced life in refugee centers in the Netherlands, where she lived for a while with her parents after fleeing the war in the former Yugoslavia. Mijatovic explained how they lost everything - they had no material goods and the refugees were not allowed to work. This meant that refugees had to develop certain skills such as learning crafts, building objects and subsisting through the exchange of services, recycling and reuse of products, that is, what we know today as a circular economy. Life as a refugee was her first  experience of a colborative economy.

She warned that, according to forecasts, 70% of the population will live in cities by 2050, and that as a consequence  the concentration of waste in cities will be enormous. The only way to confront this is to think of  new way to consume and produce - the cirular economy may be the solution. A change of mentality, governments, companies and citizens is also necessary. If we want to change cities, we have to start talking about circular citizens, so that together we can rethink and redesign our future. The circular economy is a new production system that starts with the design of the products so that they never lose their value and may continue to have different uses in the future. Today's goods can become the products of tomorrow. 

The circular economy can also become a business.

The Netherlands has seen business opportunities in the circular economy for a long time and the government has set itself the goal of 2050 for 100% of the economy to be circular. According to a government study, the most dynamic and most likely sectors in the Netherlands to go fully circular are the construction industry, which provides 85 million euros a year of added value to the circular economy, and the food sector, reaching 150 million euros year.

Recycle and reuse experiments are already being carried out in these sectors, for example at music festivals in the Netherlands where visitors spend 700 million euros annually.  In just a few days, thousands of people consume large amounts of food and generate large amounts of waste that can be reduced, recycled and reused through the circular economy and local commerce.

Organic waste can make fertilizer (coffee remains, for example, are very good for the production of mushrooms), old traditions have also been recovered, such as taking advantage of rainwater to make beer (hence the name of the brand Rainbeer), and a restaurant has been created that only cooks with supermarket surplus stock, so the menu is decided the day before based on the products that arrive. There is also the example of a company 50% owned by the City Council that uses the dirty water from 8,000 homes to extract nutrients and make biogas to heat houses.

The De Ceuvel project also stands out. It was carried out in an area of Amsterdam that was extremely polluted, but which a group of companies have creatively transformed into an urban space by building a series of boathouses, connected to each other with wooden walkways covered in plants and vegetation. The area now houses offices, studios and workshops for creative and social companies, a restaurant, a cafeteria and a bed & breakfast. In addition, it is a totally self-sufficient space, supplied with hot water and electricity through solar energy and rain collection systems. It also uses the latest sustainable technologies to improve the area's biodiversity.

Another highly sucessful initiative from the City Council involved offering a 25,000-euro stub to new tenants of a housing development to furnish and decorate their homes on the condition that they could only use second-hand or recycled materials and objects. After the initial shock, they accepted the offer leading to a process of learning with advice from professional architects. The results were highly satisfactory, as each house had its own identity and was decorated in a completely circular way.

These are just some of the 73 projects that the City of Amsterdam has published on this website. All of them show that the circular economy is a good solution that, in addition to being sustainable, generates business and creates new jobs.