The Circular Economy, or ‘circularity’, is a relatively new concept in the context of the traditional manufacturing model of the last 200 years. The “reduce, reuse, recycle” model is set to eclipse the “take, make, dispose” way of doing things and we’ve seen circularity grow as an applied model to sustainable design and manufacturing in less than a decade. Circularity requires less resource extraction and is designed to have a longer shelf-life to minimise the impact of waste. We’ve seen circularity manifest in the textile industry and also in the building sector. This sustainable cycle is appearing in the food system through the bioeconomy where biological resources from agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and organic waste can be renewed to produce food, materials and energy.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) was an early supporter of circularity and now they are leading the way again as champions of the bioeconomy, and in their most recent report, Cities and Circular Economy for Food recognises the role that cities — where 80% of the planet’s food will be consumed by 2050 — can play in transforming the food system, that is the entire value chain of producing the food that turns up on our tables at home, at work, in schools, in restaurants, and as waste.
Reducing the amount of food waste will curb the environmental impact by farming and processing only what we need.
According to Deutsche Welle, agriculture produces nearly one-quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, uses more than a third of the planet’s arable land, and consumes 70% of all freshwater used globally. We know that the global population is on a steady increase and most people will be living in urban centres and food security is a massive issue. Reducing the amount of food waste will curb the environmental impact by farming and processing only what we need.
Award-winning sustainable agriculture business, Monaghan Mushrooms, one of the world’s largest mushroom production companies, has teamed up with the BIOrescue project to develop their next stage in circularity. The project takes the used compost of 18,000 tonnes of mushrooms sold each week, recycles it and puts it back into the growing cycle. Farmers will soon be able to biopesticides, natural fertilisers and “we can to look developing a process that can generate new revenue streams in particular for rural-based farmers” says Darrah Gaffney, Research & Development Manager, Monaghan Biosciences.
“Nobody wants to throw food away needlessly,”
One retail company that is taking the lead in the bioeconomy is IKEA who aims to be a circular business by 2030. They’ve partnered with tech firm Winnow to reduce food waste in their stores using Artificial Intelligence (AI). The system photographs the food that goes into the waste bins and captures that as data so the kitchen managers can work out where the waste is and adjust their orders and menus accordingly.
Tackling food waste
“Nobody wants to throw food away needlessly,” says Carole Gutherson, a member of the kitchen staff at IKEA Wembley, and since the partnership began they’ve reduced food waste by half.
“IKEA exists as a business to create a better everyday life for the many people,” says Hege Hege Sæbjørnsen, Country Sustainability Manager, IKEA UK & IE, “and one of the ways we really do that is to become a people and planet positive company”.
Being smarter about the way we use resources isn’t just a concern for big business, it’s a problem that is being solved in the consumer space as well. Coffee recyclers Bio-bean have found circularity in coffee grounds. They take the used coffee grounds from a commuter’s morning latte and reconstitute them into biofuel to heating homes. Food waste app TooGoodToGo is a platform to sell their surplus produce at a reduced price, it’s active in nine other European countries.
We need to start valuing food again
Finally, entrepreneur Jenny Dawson Costa, saves produce from landfill before it even reaches retail outlets because buyers think an apple looks too bruised, or a carrot isn’t straight enough. She turns this surplus into upmarket condiments with her small business, Rubies in the Rubble.“We need to start valuing food again, treating it like treasure and seeing it as something precious rather than a cheap commodity” says Dawson.