Circular Economy Key To Sustainable Urban Development
With the technology available these days, 100 per cent of waste and water can be recycled on site and utilized to create a circular economy.
It is an unfortunate fact that the capitalist system predominant worldwide is currently based on a linear economic structure, whereby natural resources are extracted, processed into products, consumed, and then waste is created. This waste is then reintroduced back into the environment, often in a form that is ecologically harmful.
This system is often summarized as ‘Take, Make, Waste’.
However, the many harmful effects caused by this approach, in the form of climate change, depletion of natural resources, environmental pollution, habitat destruction and biodiversity collapse, are now widely recognized, and being measured in terms of the economic and humanitarian costs which are increasing every year. As a result of these costs, governments around the world are starting to drive the transition towards a circular economy.
The Circular Economy
A circular economy is a model of production and consumption which employs reuse, sharing, repair, remanufacturing and recycling to create a closed-loop system, minimizing the input of resources and output of waste, pollution and carbon emissions. The circular economy aims to keep products, materials, equipment and infrastructure in use for longer, thus improving their productivity.
So, when it comes to the ‘Take, Make, Waste’ system, the transition to the circular economy involves replacing the ‘waste’ element with ‘reuse’.
The good news is that we are already correcting our course. Many billions of dollars have been invested in research, development and technologies that can extract useful resources from waste to be reused in our economies, and the benefits of a circular economy are already well-recognised by the leadership of the UAE. In January of this year, the UAE Cabinet approved the UAE Circular Economy Policy, which states that “We can do more and better with less, breaking the traditional linkages between economic growth and environmental degradation.”
The policy has created a comprehensive framework for identifying sectors to be prioritised for a shift towards a circular economy. The sectors identified were infrastructure, transportation, manufacturing, and food production and consumption.
Although this policy applies to the UAE economy as a whole, the principles can also be applied to individual projects to create sustainable communities which minimise their environmental impact, reduce their carbon footprint and contribute towards the UAE’s circular economy objectives.
With regards to green infrastructure, smart and sustainable urban planning from the conceptual phase can ensure the whole project is built along green objectives. Architects can apply intelligent design and building orientation to avoid the sun and maximize shading to reduce heat gains.
Solar PV cells installed on rooftops and built-up areas offset on energy usage. However, the highest energy consumption is often at night, when all the family is home, with the lights and AC and the family’s EV charging in the car port. To avoid wasting solar energy generated during the day, homes can include energy storage solutions to provide power in the evenings.
With the technology available these days, 100 per cent of waste and water can be recycled on site and utilised to create a circular economy. For example, biogas plant can treat organic waste (food waste, green waste, and sludge) and convert it into a resource (electricity and/or thermal energy), whilst residues from the process can be dried and used as fertilizer for landscaping and vertical farming.
A Sewage Treatment Plant can treat wastewater to produce Treated Sewage Effluent for landscape irrigation, achieving 100% water recycling, and avoiding carbon emissions associated with tankers, as well as the need for increased capacity from local utility providers.
With regards to the actual building process, the carbon footprint can be reduced using the highest standards of sustainable products and materials. For example, the building envelope of the structures can use Precast Wall Panels, which reduce construction waste volume compared to cast-in-situ, thus lowering the total Embodied Carbon, including emissions generated by transportation.
Architects can use insulated UV reflective walls, roofs and windows to reduce air-conditioning loads, electricity power consumption, and operational carbon. Outdoors, pavers with high Solar Reflective Index (SRI) can be used to reduce heat gains and thermal discomfort.
Smart home automation and energy-efficient HVAC, electrical fittings and appliances offer lower energy consumption, and efficient, water-saving fittings and white goods such as washing machines and dish washers reduce water consumption. For example, a modern, efficient dish washer uses up to four times less water than hand washing dishes in a sink!
Any modern real-estate development should, as standard, be designed with sustainable transportation in mind. Safe and well-lit cycling and walking paths are the bare minimum, but projects should also factor in fast charging stations for electric vehicles in homes and public parking around the community, again with electrical consumption offset by solar PV. Truly green developments can go further by offering dedicated routes to sustainable public transportation such as EV shuttle buses and autonomous electric vehicles. Home deliveries from businesses within the community such as food outlets or groceries should be managed with EV delivery vehicles as well.
Sustainable Food Production and Consumption
One of the biggest priorities for the UAE government highlighted by supply chain disruptions during COVID is food security. As such, major investments in agritech such as hydroponics, vertical farming and more are being made to increase locally produced food without placing too much burden on water supply.
By incorporating biodomes with hydroponics and vertical farming technology which are highly space and water efficient, whilst harnessing the abundant solar energy available in the region, and recycling all wastewater on-site for irrigation, sustainable developments can harness modern agritech to produce food within the community.
Partnership and Collaboration
According to the UAE Circular Economy Policy, transitioning to a circular economy “necessitates comprehensive engagement and active participation of public sector entities, private sector, academia, and civil society groups”, whilst also offering “significant public private partnership opportunities.”
As a project developed in partnership with Shurooq, the Sharjah Investment Authority, Sharjah Sustainable City is a public private partnership. We have also partnered with the American University of Sharjah for academic research in sustainable development to ensure that lessons learned from this project, as well as other such as The Sustainable City – Dubai, can be successfully applied at scale to all future projects across the UAE and the world.