Sustainability & Me

Circular Economy

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What is the Circular Economy?

The circular economy is an economic system that generates value by reusing, repairing, sharing, lending, and promoting all activities that give goods and resources a new life or extend the useful life of an item. A linear economy makes waste. Items are produced, sold, used, and thrown away. Building a circular economy means rediscovering a culture of reclaiming products and materials, following the model of many cultures - notably indigenous ones - that prize conservation and creative reuse of material resources. ​​


​How Can the Circular Economy Promote Equity?

In our current single-use economies, we find ourselves throwing things away several times a day. The question then becomes, "Where does all our trash really go? Who bears the burden of all this trash?" In the case of Ann Arbor, whose population is predominantly white, the city outsources 67% of its waste to landfills in Wayne County, which is home to the 6th largest Black population in the US (about 39% of the county's population). While Ann Arbor's median household income in 2019 was $66,000 per year, the median household income in Wayne County that same year was $47,000 per year.

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​Strengthening our circular economy in Ann Arbor, as outlined in Strategy 5 of the A2ZERO plan isn't just about reducing our trash at home or at work. It's not just about saving money by consuming less and buying second-hand. It's also about promoting environmental justice - the right that all people have to clean, healthy, and culturally vibrant environments, irrespective of their race, economic status, religion, or any other demographic. It's about protecting the rights of vulnerable communities against further resource extraction and labor abuses. It’s about fighting for economies in which no being or material is treated as disposable. 

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​​​How is the City Promoting a Circular Economy?

  • ​The Parks Department ​mulches grass clippings and leaves on-site, shares equipment between golf courses, and ​​paves cart paths with street grindings (the top layer of asphalt removed from a road being resurfaced)​​.
  • The City maintains a storage area for surplus supplies to be shared by all City departments.
  • The City has implemented city-wide curbside recycling, established a local Materials Recovery Facility (MRF)​ to handle this recycling, and opened ​a local drop-off station for recyclable materials not accepted at the curb.​​​​​​
  • ​The City has implemented city-wide residential composting.
  • The Public Works​ Department is working on a circular economy strategy, with help from Nextcycle's Intergovernmental Initiative and Public-Private Partnership (I2P3) track, ​​two Circular Economy Interns, and a team of ​UM SEAS master's students.​​

How are You Already Involved?

​Most likely, you're already involved in the circular economy! When was the last time you donated clothing to a thrift store or had something repaired instead of buying a replacement? Have you bought something from a reuse store or a garage sale? Do you mend your clothes when they show signs of wear? Do you get your appliances repaired when they break? When was the last time you borrowed something from a friend instead of buying it yourself? Have you sold something you were done with instead of throwing it away? All of these actions - and more - help to make up the fabric of our circular economy!


ircular Economy Resources

​Want to get more involved in the circular economy, support Strategy 5 of the A2ZERO Plan, and promote a more equitable and resilient future? Check out the resources below!​

Circular Economy Map

Check out th​is map​ of the locations in our community that support the circular economy and zero waste initiatives! Have a suggestion of a business or organization that should be on this map? Submit suggestions here​!

​Circular Economy Journal Article

​Check out "Envisioning a Circular Economy: The Journey of ​​One Mid-Sized Midwestern City,"​ ​a journal article written by City staff and published in the ​journal Sustainability.​​

​Fix It, Don't Toss It!

​Visit a Repair Cafe or a FixIt Clinic​​​ to find the tools and expertise you need to repair broken items, from clothes and furniture to bicycles, toys, and appliances. 

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​​Unusual Stuff to Borrow

​Check out the Ann Arbor District Library's catalog​ of items you can borrow, beyond the usual books, music, and movies.

​​​Composting and Recycling Resources

Learn more and check out these resource guides from the City on composting and recycling​.​​​

​​Just Help Yourself!

​Have items you no longer want? Or looking for something you don't want to buy brand-new? Check out the ​​below flyer for the Sister Lakes Association's "Just Help Yourself" Day, and consider starting a similar event in your neighborhood!​​

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​​Stories of Circularity

​Through our “Making the Old New: Stories of Circularity'' video series, we plan to show ​what the Circular Economy looks like in action. The Circular Economy is all around us in Ann Arbor and beyond. From reuse, repair, sharing, lending, swapping, refurbishing, or composting, many businesses and organizations are actively giving  valuable materials–clothes, furniture, electronics, food–a new life, instead of being tossed in the trash. Some have also been engaged in sourcing material, growing, and making local, as well as selling in bulk or offering refill services to reduce the use of single use packaging and plastics​.

Among the inspiring stories that we will​ feature in this series are businesses and organization owners of color who draw on family traditions that  remind us that “Circular Economy” is a way of talking about things that many communities  have always done. Their experience teaches us how to bring those practices back to life on a larger community scale​!

*Videos on their way this summer. ​

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​​Circular Economy Partners

Recycle Ann Arbor

SPARK Ann Arbor

Washtenaw Community College

Entrepreneurship Center at WCC 

Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce

University of Michigan School for the Environment and Sustainability

University of Michigan Office of Campus Sustainability

Washtenaw County Public Works 

Community Action Network (CAN) - Washtenaw 

Michigan Small Business Development Center - Greater Washtenaw Region

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Office of Sustainability & Innovations (OSI)
301 E. Huron St.
Ann Arbor 
[email protected]
OSI Manager 

Dr. Missy Stults
[email protected] 

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