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Sustainability News

Thought Leader Series

July 31, 2015

A Thought Leader Series Piece

By John Trujillo

Headshot of author John Trujillo Note: John Trujillo is the director of Public Works at the City of Phoenix and heads the City's Reimagine Phoenix initiative. In January 2014, the Phoenix City Council approved funding for $2 million to initiate the Resource Innovation and Solutions Network, which is managed and operated by the Sustainability Solutions Services, a program within the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives at ASU.

The current world population of 7.2 billion is projected to increase by almost another billion by 2025 – reaching 9.6 billion by 2050. A report by McKinsey & Company states that three billion people from developing countries will rise into the middle class by 2030. This population growth will create an unprecedented demand for our planet’s already limited resources, thereby increasing commodity prices and the cost of future manufacturing and reducing our natural resources.

Currently, we work in a linear economy society that extracts resources to make products for consumers to use. The vast majority of these products are then disposed of in landfills where we manage and maintain environmental controls for decades. The City of Phoenix wants to change that concept by creating a circular economy in which we divert waste from landfills and keep resources in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them while in use and then recovering and regenerating products and materials at the end.

To create that transition from a linear economy to a circular economy requires a departure from the large-scale industrial status quo – along with extensive engagement of corporate, cultural and civic leaders – to be successful. Additionally, research on and development of new processing methods will be essential to transform our waste into new products and resources. A successful transition to a circular model would enable vast amounts of innovation and collaboration across a variety of industries, both private and public, resulting in truly exciting economic and sustainability 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 percent by the year 2020. The campaign centers its main message on repositioning 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 that will help 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 development by establishing a partnership with Arizona State University’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), 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 while generating economic value through the creation and advancement of new technologies.

The city is fostering public and private partnerships through the development of the Resource Innovation Campus, occupying the area from 27th Avenue to 35th Avenue, and from Lower Buckeye Road south to Rio Salado. RISN, which will be headquartered at the Resource Innovation Campus in Phoenix, will manage the on-site 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 a circular economy in action.

This campus is an example of the City of Phoenix’s commitment to innovation and has led to the creation of international RISN hubs in Guatemala and Lagos, Nigeria – making RISN a truly global network. We are privileged to have ASU's Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives as a partner in this important endeavor.