Circularity with a smile – that’s Aarhus

Polly Davis
Polly Davis
August 18, 2021

Denmark’s second largest city, Aarhus is known as the City of Smiles. And when it comes to embracing the circular lifestyle, there’s lots to smile about. Wherever you go in this cool compact city, you’ll find examples of how Aarhus is blazing a trail in reuse, reducing waste and innovative solutions focused on minimizing environmental impact.

Give and take again and again

For example, take a visit to the city’s REUSE recycling centre and see how one man’s trash is being transformed in another man’s treasure. The concept is simple – donate items that are still of use and only take as much as you can carry. That is unless you are a new student, in which case you can take advantage of one of the popular free moving-in boxes containing tableware and kitchenware.

The REUSE centre is a great example of the local circular economy. Each year it recycles around 500 tons of objects and furniture – saving money, landfill space and CO2. In the process, it brings people together and challenges their views on waste. This is the place to find school children learning about recycling, volunteers running repair cafes and even seasonal events, such as the popular create a Halloween costume workshop. This local involvement keeps the centre dynamic and puts smiles on lots of faces.

Innovative architecture

Take a wander down by the newly developed harbourside and you’ll come across more examples of innovation that promote sustainability and greater circularity – for example, the indefinable Dokk1. Depending on who you ask, you’ll hear that it’s the central library, a cultural centre, a multimedia house, a play area or an event space.

What’s easier to agree on is that this multipurpose building has circular sustainability designed into many aspects of its construction – including the very shape of the building. For its overall size, the surface area is relatively small so it can retain heat. This is much needed in Denmark, a country more renowned for its dark, cold climate than sunny days. Its energy efficiency is further improved by the building materials used, such as ROCKWOOL insulation material. This natural and fully recyclable material helps keep heat where it is needed – in the building – to save on energy.

In addition, the building works with the changing light and heat of the seasons. In the winter, the sun's rays hit the facades of the building adding natural light and heat while in the summer, when the sun shines down from a higher angle, the energy is captured in 2,400m2 of solar panels. What’s also cool, quite literally, is that the building makes full use of its waterside location by using seawater in its ceiling cooling panels, as well as for ventilation.

Getting around in a greener way

It’s not just the harbourside that has been transformed with new development. The public transport system in and around Aarhus has been overhauled in an ambitious plan designed to reduce emissions and contribute to the city’s overall sustainability goals of becoming completely CO2 neutral by 2030 and CO2 neutral in transport by 2027.

In 2017 the first of the three lines on the Aarhus light rail network opened. With 50 stations and over 200 kilometres of track, this electric railway has given people living outside the city access to a greener public transport network. Over half of the electricity used by the railway comes from wind power with the rest coming from biomass – carbon neutral renewable organic mass. 

Bus passengers have also experienced the green transformation with the introduction of an electric fleet. These new emission-free buses improve air quality while also reducing noise pollution by being much quieter on the roads. As you can imagine, removing smelly and noisy diesel buses has made the city a much more pleasant place for other road users, including pedestrians and cyclists.

What’s more, thanks to the city’s transport plan, cyclists can also enjoy a more extensive and interconnected network of bike lanes. The result is that today 29% of all Aarhus citizens use their bicycle on a daily basis, which is cheaper, healthier – and has none of the stress involved in finding a parking space! If you arrive from out of town, you can also experience the joys of pedalling around the city using one of the 500 city bikes that are freely available to borrow.  

Initiatives like this show how the city of Aarhus is leading the way in bringing sustainability and circularity into all aspects of daily life. For residents and visitors alike, environmental innovation is making living and working easier, more convenient and, in many cases, cheaper. Perhaps that’s why they call Aarhus the City of Smiles.  

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