The city of Almaty in Kazakhstan asked an international consortium to identify circular economy opportunities, which can support the city in its sustainable development ambitions. This started with an overview of all resources used by the city, pointing at where material value is lost, or assets are underused. After mapping out the current situation, the circular economy opportunities have been identified by cross-sectoral expert groups with private, public and civil stakeholders. The result is a set of circular economy opportunities which cuts across sectoral boundaries and aim to go beyond incremental improvements alone.
Almaty is the first city in Central Asia which underwent a circular economy opportunity analysis. The city is experiencing impressive economic growth and is re-establishing its position as an exporter of agricultural commodities. As an important station on the Belt and Road Initiative, Almaty sees its connectivity with Europe, China and other regions improving, easing international trade. Next to this, there is momentum as the city is expanding, and its government is opening new channels to facilitate a public debate over important urban planning decisions, further tailoring the development of the city to the immediate needs of its citizens.
Such projects help strengthen international cooperation and share positive experiences, as well as fostering a dialogue between all stakeholders to achieve the principles of sustainable development. (E. Seytenov, mayor Almaty)
In agriculture, the most promising circular economy opportunities lie in diverting organic residues away from landfills and processing them into soil enhancers or organic fertilisers. The agricultural production ambitions in the region require investing in soil quality. Applying processed organic residues on land can reduce the application of synthetic fertilisers, while also improving water retention, soil life and resilience to erosion.
Local industries are already collecting and recycling a significant share of the mineral and metal residues. The improved connectivity to foreign markets through the Belt and Road Initiative can support the extension of manufacturing capacity with remanufacturing, whereby used products or components are refurbished as new. This could include car parts, furniture and even construction elements. Taking this even a step further, service models can support this approach by incentivising companies to produce products that last, allowing them to retain ownership and run take-back schemes to offer the product to a second or even third user in, perhaps, different market segments.
Also within the city, designers and fabricators can tap into secondary products to repair, repurpose and redesign them into fashionable new products. Circular economy concepts can help keep small assembly, design and repair activities within the city, avoiding that new urban developments become ‘sleeping districts’ and avoiding that citizens need to travel far to access certain services, acquire circular products, or simply get a satisfying job.
Circular strategies in the construction sector are based on passive design and adjusting the design to replacing new, carbon-intensive construction materials with materials of secondary or renewable origin. This starts with design. Merely considering energy and resource use in the design phase of a building can bring down energy use with more than half. Design can also open opportunities for the use of secondary and renewable construction materials, potentially turning the construction sector into a net sink of CO2.
By showcasing also what is already happening in the city, the circular prospect becomes more comprehensible. Artist impressions in the report aim to make the circular future tangible, connect it with socio-economic challenges and show how circular initiatives can make Almaty an even more pleasant place to live.
Client: Emerging Markets Sustainability Dialogue Challenge Fund
Partners: Circle Economy; Center for Sustainable Production and Consumption in Kazakhstan; Fabrications
Advisory team: Almaty Municipality; UNDP, UN Environment; Asian Development Bank; European Bank for Reconstruction and Development; Kazakhstan Business Council for Sustainable Development; Almaty Chamber of Commerce; EU Delegation in Kazakhstan; Waste Management Company Tartyp.