Circular Cities NRW

Headed by:
Prof. Dr. Annette Elisabeth Töller
Project Status:
17/02/2022 to 31/03/2023
Supported by:
The project is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
Wuppertal Institut

Project website [german]

Project Outline

Significant additional reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will be required to comply with the 2021 decision by the German Federal Constitutional Court on protecting the climate and to attain the goal of climate neutrality by 2045. Waste disposal is one area that holds potential in this regard, as incineration generates emissions of 20 million tons of CO2E per year. Household and residential waste account for almost half of this amount. Reducing emissions from waste incineration necessitates not only consistently closing cycles, but also avoiding waste in the first place.

Waste prevention is located at the top of the waste hierarchy, which is codified in European as well as national law, and therefore is awarded top priority in principle. This is contrasted in practical implementation, where only few steps have been taken towards consistent waste prevention. Lately, this topic has garnered attention in science and practice, including new political impulses – e.g., through the reform of the circular economy law (German: Kreislaufwirtschaftsgesetz) in 2000. This also applies at the municipal level, which plays a central role both in attaining sustainability goals and in transitioning to a circular economy.

Municipalities are facing great challenges as becomes especially apparent in independent cities in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW): Their volumes of domestic and bulky waste mostly exceed the German per-capita-average of 187 kg per year (as of 2018). Despite these challenges, there is hardly any research on municipal strategies of waste prevention beyond selective descriptions of implemented waste prevention measures.

Against this background, the research project investigates municipal policies of waste prevention in independent cities in North Rhine-Westphalia. Due to the high volumes of domestic and bulky waste, they possess significant potential for waste prevention. At the same time, independent cities – unlike cities and municipalities in districts – are responsible for their own circular economy. Specifically, this project aims to

  1. conduct a systematizing descriptive analysis of the occurrence, configuration, and level of ambition of existing waste prevention measures in independent cities in North Rhine-Westphalia,
  2. analyze which causal factors determine whether an independent city pursues an ambitious waste prevention strategy,
  3. perform an evaluative analysis of successful waste prevention measures and their preconditions, and
  4. analyze the efficiency of waste prevention measures and its preconditions.

This project examines the 22 independent cities in North Rhine-Westphalia in case studies. Based on the data collected, the causal factors of successful waste prevention policies are identified by means of a qualitative content analysis (QCA). In addition, the Wuppertal Institute collects data on five reference cases from outside North Rhine-Westphalia to compare the characteristics of these best practice examples to the cases from North Rhine-Westphalia.

The Circular Cities NRW research project is funded by the EU under the ERDF scheme and the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and is realized as a joint project of the FernUniversität in Hagen and the Wuppertal Institute.

Hanno Hahn | 25.10.2022