City of Phoenix and ASU's Collaboration Platform for Circular Economy


The City of Phoenix and ASU have partnered to make Phoenix a leading circular economy "hot spot."

[Editor's Note: Attendees on the second annual Circular Economy Delegation Tour to Phoenix on October 20-21 will have the opportunity to explore how Reimagine Phoenix works firsthand. Learn more and register here.]

A transition from a linear economy to a circular economy requires a departure from the industrial status quo and the extensive engagement of corporate, cultural, and civic leaders. Additionally, research and development of new processing methods will be essential to transform waste into new products and resources. A successful transition to a circular model will enable vast amounts of innovation and collaboration across a variety of industries, both private and public, resulting in truly exciting developments.

The main driver of economic benefits in the circular model is derived from the ability to restore materials that would normally be disposed of in a linear production model. The restoration of these materials leads to multiple cycles of product use. The process of product reuse, repair, remanufacture, or recycle is more energy and cost efficient than producing from scratch.

Reimagine Phoenix was developed to create a cultural and behavioral shift among Phoenix residents and businesses in order to achieve the city’s waste diversion goal of 40% by the year 2020. The campaign centers its main message on repositioning the concept of trash as a valuable resource rather than a material to be thrown away.

Reimagine Phoenix deploys a comprehensive strategy to gain public buy-in and achieve measurable results through programmatic changes to existing solid waste programs, an inclusive communications plan designed to reach multiple target audiences, and partnerships with regional and private-sector organizations.

To accomplish this established goal, the city is working to invest in infrastructure for mixed waste and/or other solid waste diversion technologies. These will help to divert additional recoverable material in the municipal solid waste stream from the landfill, and create a circular system focused on job creation, new revenue for the city of Phoenix, and innovative development.

The city of Phoenix demonstrated its commitment and investment in innovation by establishing a partnership with Arizona State University’s (ASU’s) Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives as part of the city’s Reimagine Phoenix initiative. Together, the city and ASU created the Resource Innovation and Solutions Network (RISN), intended as a global network of public and private partners who share the goal of creating economic value and driving a sustainable circular economy. RISN encompasses partnerships that cultivate cutting-edge research and development opportunities to advance the diversion of waste and create economic value through the creation and advancement of new technologies.

To date, the city and ASU have developed 10 projects focused on waste aversion, diversion, and conversion solutions. Projects have focused on such areas as industrial recycling, multi-family recycling, waste aversion and education in school systems, zero waste planning and implementation for business, and food waste. The collaboration has engaged most of the more than 20 cities and two counties in the Phoenix area, the state, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), several nonprofits, and dozens from the private sector, from very large corporations to technology-based start-ups. One signature project is the development of a metro area–wide system design for managing green organics and food waste in a closed-loop manner; it is being funded by eight public entities.

The city and ASU are further fostering public and private partnerships through the development of the Resource Innovation Campus, located on a city-owned site that includes a closed landfill, transfer station, materials recovery facility, and more than 100 acres of vacant land. Through a “call for innovators” and a series of requests for proposals, the city seeks to populate the campus with interrelated business that will use the material resources available on the site.

RISN, which will be headquartered at the Resource Innovation Campus, will manage the on-site Circular Economy Technology Solutions Incubator space for innovators, developing emerging products and technologies from the city’s waste resources. The vision of the Resource Innovation Campus is to be a world-leading, vibrant innovation hub, demonstrating the values of Reimagine Phoenix and the principles and benefits of the circular economy in action.

Together, Reimagine Phoenix, RISN, and the Resource Innovation form an enabling, collaborative platform to aid the Phoenix region in its transition to a sustainable materials management paradigm. With the city’s support, ASU is working to expand RISN— and the idea of the Resource Innovation Campus— nationally and globally. To date, start-up RISN hubs are in Lagos, Nigeria, and Antigua, Guatemala. Several entities have expressed interest in creating similar initiatives across the United States. Other international collaborators are considering joining the network.

Ultimately, Phoenix and ASU hope to be catalysts in creating a global network of practitioners and academics working together to realize a more sustainable, circular future.

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in Achieving a Circular Economy: How the Private Sector is Reimagining the Future of Business.]