Critical Analysis of Circular Economy Policies and Discourses in Different European Cities: A Case Study of Amsterdam and Glasgow
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Cities play a key role in driving and sustaining the unsustainable production and consumption patterns that permeate society at the expense of the planet and human wellbeing. This problem can be addressed in cities through the transition to a Circular Economy (CE). The CE is an ill-defined concept, thus, there are various understandings of what the CE entails and envisions. A common approach to CE, followed by practitioners and some academics, are technocratic depoliticised eco-modernist visions geared towards resolving the tension between economic growth and scarcity of resources. However, these visions limit the potential of CE to offer alternatives that fundamentally question not only how and why we produce and consume but, also, who controls and owns these processes and how are particular groups in society advantaged or disadvantaged. This is key for a truly sustainable and equitable future. So, now that the CE is being advanced at the city level it is crucial that how the CE is implemented is critically analysed and the variety of visions present is explored. This research then aimed to investigate the plurality of CE policies and discourses that are advanced by different European cities (Amsterdam and Glasgow) and identify how these policies and discourses can be critically analysed. To explore alternative circular visions and pathways present in cities, this research developed a policy-discourse framework, which connects circularity policies proposed at the city level to the four circularity discourse types identified and created by Calisto Friant et al. (2020). This framework was then tested through two pilot case studies (Amsterdam and Glasgow), in combination with document analysis, to critically analyse and compare the respective city’s CE strategies. Overall, the research found that RCS and TCE discourse are prevalent in both Amsterdam and Glasgow’s CE strategies. However, there were discrepancies between what was said in the policy document and what was being done in practice, with policies inadequately addressing socio-ecological issues despite each city’s socially progressive visions. Based on these findings, the conceptual and potential implications of the policies and discourses were discussed, including, the problematic assumptions behind decoupling and the need for participatory governance structures in cities. Subsequently, recommendations for improvement were provided.