Circular economy

In the City Strategy 2021–2025, the carbon neutrality objective of Helsinki was moved to 2030, and the ambitious implementation of the circular economy roadmap is seen as a way of reducing emissions. The deployment of the Helsinki Roadmap for Circular and Sharing Economy, approved in 2020, is mainly progressing well. 

Image 15. Status of the actions included in Helsinki’s Roadmap for Circular and Sharing Economy on 8 April 2022. Most of the measures have progressed on schedule.

Education and communication as key commitment factors in an organisation

The realisation of the circular economy objectives requires a shared understanding and commitment from the organisation as a whole. This will require communication and education. In 2021, a total of four training sessions on circular economy were organised for the building and infrastructure developers under the Urban Environment Division. About 300 persons attended the sessions. The theme of circular economy was also included in the City’s three training sessions for eco-supporters, which were attended by 168 eco-supporters in total. The Environmental Services also offer the management and business students of Helsinki Vocational College and Adult Institute education and circular economy and sustainable development. In 2021, three training sessions were organised. The total number of attendees was about 100. Circular economy was also included in the pedagogical activities of the City’ Education Division: for example, in 2021, learning modules were designed to reinforce circular economy competencies in basic education.

In 2021, the City’s internal circular economy network was founded. The network consists of representatives of various divisions and public enterprises. Its tasks include e.g. deploying and coordinating measures related to circular economy included in city-level programmes, supporting annual environmental reporting, coordinating the updates to Helsinki’s map of circular and sharing economy, and sharing information and best practices about circular economy. The circular economy network convened twice in 2021.

Construction sites enhanced material recycling

In autumn 2021, the City started a three-year circular economy cluster programme. The goal of the programme is to promote circular economy in the construction sector by developing solutions and new innovations for concrete planning and construction sites. The City has invited construction companies, research institutes, universities and other operators related to the field to join the cluster. 

The circular and sharing economy roadmap also presents objectives and actions regarding demolition projects. In 2020, demolition instructions that take the circular economy into account were completed for the demolition of the City’s service buildings. A separate collection of demolition waste, according to the instructions, was required at eight sites in total in 2021. A demolition survey in the planning phase was implemented at nine sites in total, and the reuse of demolition materials was required of five sites. The demolition instructions and demolition survey mentioned above have also been piloted at demolition sites related to housing production.

In 2021, a total of 1,500,000 tonnes of excavated earth and rock material was used in the construction of public areas. Thanks to reuse, approximately EUR 8.5 million and 1,100,000 litres of fuel were saved, in addition to which CO2 emissions were reduced by 2,600 tonnes. The location data-based ‘mass tool’ intended for managing land masses was adopted for Helsinki’s infrastructure design projects, and in 2021, mass data from over 70 projects was entered into the tool. 

Helsinki will also enhance other material flows from infrastructure construction. These include organic surface soil dug during construction, green waste produced during the maintenance of public areas, and surplus paving stones from construction sites. Recycled substrate products are produced in the Kivikko processing field and the Tali soil farm, using topsoil originating from the City’s worksites and composted green waste. In 2021, the substrate production in Kivikko and Tali was established and the recycled fields were used efficiently. A total of 12,300 cubic metres of recycled substrates were used. In 2021, the City also prepared an operating model for the reuse of recycled rocks and started the systematic recycling of rocks. 

Examples of realised projects 

  • The restoration of the Vuosaarenhuippu area was completed in autumn 2021. In the restoration of the landfill, a total of 800,000 cubic metres of recycled materials were used. Through recycling, 2,400,000 litres of fuel and 6,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions were saved, compared to a situation where the masses would have been transported to reception points outside the city. 
  • Recycled materials, especially crushed concrete, have been used in the construction of Jokeri Light Rail. Furthermore, the topsoil peeled off during construction has been utilised in recycled substrate. The aim is to utilise restored soil, and the kerbstones and paving stones to be removed will be reused.
  • In the ‘From Kalasatama to Pasila’ project, circular economy was defined as one of its key goals. The project area’s excavated masses and structure will be used systematically. Recycled substrates, recycled rocks and recycled asphalt reduce the need for virgin materials. When mass economy is balance through the use of recycled materials, the project’s carbon footprint will also be reduced as worksite traffic decreases.

Visibility for services in circular and sharing economy

Helsinki City Strategy 2021–2025 has set the goal of facilitating residents’ opportunities of making eco-friendly choices in their everyday lives. 

A circular economy service selection was added to the service map of the Metropolitan Area in spring 2021. This section includes services offered by both the City and companies that focus e.g. on selling recycled and surplus products, loaning out, renting and repairing products, and shared spaces and vehicles. When the new service selection was published, a communication campaign was implemented along with it, with the service map being advertised on the outdoor screens around the city and news articles being written about it. 

The Stara Reuse Centre sells movable property removed from worksites and renovation sites. The materials and equipment to be removed will be sold at the shop of the Stara reuse centre in Oulunkylä, which is open to all residents. Vehicles and machinery are sold via an bidding competition held twice a year. In 2021, the Stara Reuse Centre sold e.g. 197 pieces of small-scale machinery and worksite equipment, 103 passenger cars or vans, 53 pieces of machinery, 33 carpenter’s benches, and 27 worksite cabins and sea containers.

Pakila Work Centre renovates the furniture from City premises. Some of them are returned to the City, and the rest are sold to private customers in the furniture shop in Pakila. Wood remains and wood dust from furniture production are compressed into burnable briquettes that can be used among firewood. In 2021, about 18,000 kilograms of briquettes were sold. 

The Uusix workshops make products out of recycled and surplus materials and repair and maintain devices such as computers no longer used by the City, which are then sold at the Uusix PC-shop in Kyläsaari. In 2021, 1,556 workstations, 508 laptops, 1,098 monitors and 568 printers were sold.

The City of Helsinki libraries actively realise circular economy in their operations. Libraries loan items such as tools, musical instruments, cargo bikes and sports season cards. Various devices can also be tested and reserved in the libraries, including sewing machines, VR glasses or 3D printers. Some libraries also offer a studio or music room with instruments and equipment.

Table 11. Items borrowed from libraries in 2021.

Items borrowedPiecesTimes borrowed
Mölkky games34266
Energy meters51161
Decibel meters358
Structure detectors7188
Sewing machines541
Hand-held drills272

‘Eco-shelves’ showcasing books on recycling, climate change and energy-efficient construction were established in 14 libraries, and 540 books were borrowed from them. The Helsinki City Library network communicated about its sharing services e.g. via the ‘Dear Library’ campaign, in addition to which the information screens in the libraries showed environmental information monthly.

Borrowable tablets at Oodi.
Image 16. Libraries loan tablets, among other items. Photograph by Aleksi Poutanen.

Pilots and established operating models for using surplus food

In autumn 2021, the Head of the City Executive Office approved the policy on catering in events organised by the City. The purpose of the policy will be to reduce food waste from catering, reduce the environmental impact of the food served, and reduce the use of disposable plates and cutlery. The policy is based on the City’s Roadmap for Circular and Sharing Economy and entered into force at the start of 2022.

Service Centre Helsinki is constantly working to reduce food waste. In 2020, schools adopted a software-based solution for monitoring food waste. In 2021, the use of the monitoring system was extended to all schools and daycare centres. The lines with cafeterias in the care sector started using the Hävikkivalvoja app for monitoring food waste in May. The objective for the coming years is to harmonise the food waste monitoring system so that all premises of the Service Centre will have the same monitoring system. General instructions on reducing surplus food were prepared for the staff of the sites. In 2021, daycare centres piloted a new payment system for selling surplus food.

Stadin Safka launched and established its operations. During the first year of operations, the focuses were on the formation of the processes, the relationship with donors and the expansion of the food aid network. At the end of 2021, the network of Stadin Safka included 55 donors and 57 food aid operators. The surplus food delivered by Stadin Safka is offered to Helsinki residents in need of support in various ways, including food bags, meals and snacks. During the year, about 660,000 kilograms of surplus food was delivered from the Stadin Safka terminal. In spring 2021, a calculation model was prepared to assess the climate impact of the operations.

Eyes on the future

The Roadmap for Circular and Sharing Economy will be updated in 2022 so that it will cover the various themes of circular economy more extensively in the future. Of the current focuses, construction involves the most challenges. The aim is to accelerate measures within construction through the circular economy cluster programme that was launched in autumn 2021. The objective for 2022 is also to develop an operating model that promotes the internal reuse of furniture throughout the City organisation. We are also considering potential ways of promoting the visibility and popularity of various circular and sharing economy services.