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19 March 2021

New tool supports deep explorations on data and circular initiatives: here’s what it means for African cities

The Circle City Scan Tool will help cities discover circular economy opportunities. We share experiences from Accra and Cape Town on the role urban data plays in circular economy solutions and the challenges to make informed decisions that respond to local contexts.

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African cities are increasingly interested in circular economy approaches to support  sustainable development. As cities face increasing pressure to reduce resource consumption amid rapidly growing populations, circular development is becoming increasingly appealing by offering solutions that extend the lifespan of resources. Achieving circular development that impacts cities positively requires an understanding of the pain points that cities aim to address through material and sector data, and strategies that define priorities, opportunities and action plans.

The Circle City Scan Tool (CCST), developed by Circle Economy, is proving to be a useful starting point to explore and strategise circular development opportunities available to African cities. ICLEI is in the process of piloting this tool with ten cities around the world to ensure it can be adapted to fit different regional contexts and addresses the practical needs of cities. Discussions with two of the cities, City of Cape Town and Accra Metropolitan Assembly, have provided a good basis for understanding  how the two cities can identify circular solutions through embedded data and case studies. Although circular economy solutions are presented as resilient and responsive solutions, our cities remain faced with great socio-economic challenges that need to be incorporated into circular development. At the foundation of both cities is the critical need to assess how data is collected, accessed, used, and interpreted in order to inform decision-making.

Cape Town has begun exploring circular economy opportunities in a number of sectors. Through the CCST officials from various departments were given the opportunity to collectively share and reflect on their circularity perspectives and projects. As with many sustainability agendas, engagements around the CCST remind us of the need to develop relationships across organisations, departments and sectors to support efficient data collection. There is growing interest, at global and national levels, in reducing the material impact of cities, and indeed, many institutions are calling for this, but the data to support these indicators is not currently collected. The CCST reminds us that material and economic data are still collected using different scales, methodologies, approaches, and units. We need to standardise this to support local governments to use and effectively compare available data. Most importantly, we need to support local governments to decide which data are most useful to collect. 

Accra Metropolitan Assembly is in the early stages of exploring the circular economy and has the opportunity to frame a comprehensive approach to circular development. During engagements with city stakeholders, the waste sector was identified as a key entry point to understanding and implementing circular practices, but circularity expands beyond designing out waste through resource reduction and recycling. Accra identified, through the tool, that the city could expand their circular development approach beyond the waste sector through practical and achievable strategies such as industrial innovation through industrial symbiosis. This strategy could link residue materials with relevant industries to close loops, while encouraging government and non-government sectors to collaborate. Through this strategy, the city would have to invest in data collection and management in order to optimise the value of bi-procucts and cross-sector engagement.

Data continues to play a critical foundational role in decision-making at the local government level. Accra and Cape Town are highlighting the value of circularity in responding to some of the key challenges experienced in their cities. ICLEI and participating cities of the Circle City Scan Tool are excited to see the opportunities that emerge through this reflective process. Stay updated about the Circle City Scan Tool Pilot Project and explore the tool at Circle City Scan Tool – Digital – Circle Economy (

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