Adopting the circular economy paradigm for Food Waste Management

Here is some food for thought: For every dollar, we spend on our food, society pays two dollars in health, environmental, and economic costs. Food is fundamental to our health, environment, society, and economy however, the food production supply chains today have become wasteful, resource-intensive, and polluting. As stated in a report by Ellen McArthur Foundation, half of these costs — totalling USD 5.7 trillion each year globally — are the result of the way food is produced and food waste and by-products are handled.

If we look at the linear model for food production; the model currently serves a fast-growing population, helps boost economic development, and supports urbanisation opportunities. However, the profitability of this model has resulted in our society paying a gigantic cost due to poor ESG practices. As a capitalist business model; the linear economy ends up utilising finite resources, indulges in wastage during and post-production thereby affecting climate and natural systems. The linear model today has proven to be unsustainable to meet the long-term prerequisites for building a sustainable planet and its salubrious citizens.

According to FAO, one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year! The circular loop business model is becoming one of the most promising business models to reduce climate impact. Especially if we were to look at the food industry per se, the model is well-positioned to effectively mitigate waste starting right from the production to the final consumption. With the adoption of the circular business model, less food loss and waste would occur along with more efficient land use and better water resource management with positive impacts on climate change and livelihoods.

The loop for infinite possibilities

With massive waste and by-products landing up being landfilled, incinerated and left to rot; 800 million people across the globe don’t have enough to eat making the linear model completely unsustainable. The food industry can reverse the ill-effects of the linear model and re-invent itself for addressing issues around climate change, biodiversity loss, and promote human health; yet at the same time reduce the overall cost borne by the society.

The circular paradigm has the potential to unlock a lot of opportunities to re-utilise the waste produced within the supply chain. The food industry can create a circular economy that can prove beneficial for society and the environment via reconnecting with the local communities to re-look at their food production practices, the way we grow food, invent food products, and manage by-products and waste.

Cities being the final destination in the take-make-waste approach tend to have enormous potential to influence what type of food is produced and how thereby making them the game-changers of how the food industry looks at waste management. Due to rapid urbanisation, 80% of all food is expected to be consumed in cities by 2050. When cities start to re-look at their consumption patterns, they can herald the transition of the food industry to a circular economy where food waste is designed out, food by-products are used at their highest value, and food production regenerates rather than degrades natural systems.

Businesses, governments, and cities together can play an instrumental role to transition the food industry towards a more regenerative path through conscious production, consumption, and circular economy. Studies suggest that the impact of transitioning to a circular paradigm for the food industry will help towards –
⦁ Revival of natural systems will help produce food regeneratively thereby, improving the health of the local ecosystem, promoting good human health, and protecting natural habitats
⦁ Enables the food industry to tackle climate change by reducing its GHG emissions by 49%, or 5.6 billion tonnes of CO2, by 2050
⦁ Build resilience in the food system, improves food security, and enables access to nutritious food
⦁ Improved livelihood opportunities for local communities along with food security

Efforts for a zero-waste future

The United Nations has projected the growth in world population from 7.6 billion to 9.8 billion by 2050, which makes the issue of food waste management and food security a more pressing issue.

Stakeholders within the food industry such as food brands, retailers, chefs, food businesses have a major influence on what we eat. Food designers hold the power to ensure that their food products, recipes, and menus are healthy to both people and natural systems and marketing activities can then be shaped to make these products attractive to people.

We waste more than we consume. Hence, the food industry needs to identify ways to circle the food surplus back into the system. Take the case of InStock, the food rescuers of our times. InStock, a restaurant chain in the Netherlands helps its consumers rescue surplus food from supermarkets and prepare delicious dishes. While they significantly reduce food landing as waste; in doing so they are breaking down barriers to create a circular loop and growing awareness. InStock also creates bespoke circular products, manufacturing beer and granola from food surplus. The leftover food either goes to make biogas, is used in staff meals, or is donated; none of it is thrown away. InStock has rescued 1,028,405 kilos of food to date!

Source: InStock

While food businesses can route the surplus back into the food chain, many companies are re-inventing the food waste and roasting some conscious care products from just coffee beans! Around 23 million tonnes of coffee lands up as waste every year. Blue Tokai India along with Switch Fix have partnered to tackle the issue of climate change by creating a circular loop i.e., repurposing the coffee excess during production and create personal care products that are safe for people as well as the planet. The collaboration has introduced two body scrubs derived from the coffee waste — Clean Bean for oily skin and Daily Grind for dry skin, with a launch of shampoo bars in the pipeline.

Global food chains have been embracing the model of circularity to meet their global sustainability commitments and have begun “lovin’ the circular loop.” Heard that your favorite French Fries from McDonald’s can help tackle climate change? Yes, you heard it right! McDonald’s in the Netherlands has been recycling the used cooking oil from French fries into a low carbon biofuel. Many trucks within the supply chain cover over 1000 km a month on Biodiesel which is made from recycled cooking oil from McDonald’s kitchens. The project is estimated to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 90% during the fuel’s life cycle compared to fossil sourced diesel. Surely, everyone is lovin’ it!

Takeaways and deliveries are the most lucrative options for food businesses to keep them up and running during the pandemic. However, packaging for takeaway and deliveries of those meals poses a serious sustainability challenge. Rising to the challenge, Burger King in the UK announced to incorporate reusable packaging that is intended to reduce the amount of waste it generates. The takeaway giant also plans on introducing a small deposit charged initially and refunded later when the customer returns the boxes and cups, which are taken away for cleaning and processing through their zero-waste e-commerce system with TerraCycle’s Loop.

Another intriguing way to re-invent plastic waste within the food industry is to channel it into manufacturing sustainable clothing. Yes, you heard that right! Beverage brand Moët & Chandon partnered with sustainable corporate merchandiser Reborn, to transform plastic waste collected from on-trade venues in central London into yarn for Moët & Chandon uniforms and merchandise. Through the initiative, Reborn not only utilises all single-use plastics to eliminate the need to extract natural resources for production yet at the same time provides recycling solutions at events and F&B locations that help reduce new plastics entering the ecosystem.

Certainly, a circular model helps add the much-needed sustainable flavour to our food production systems by helping reduce food waste, achieve the global goal to mitigate hunger, and create a robust relationship with their customers!