Circular economy to combat food waste

Food waste
The dual problem of waste and scarcity is prompting a return to circular economic thinking.

While it is difficult to envisage a completely circular food system emerging, cities and regions can help to reduce the burden of supermarket food waste by encouraging circular economic thinking.

Wartime Britain saw the development of a 'circular economy' designed to save precious resources and there is an urgent need to develop a modern equivalent. Today, a circular economy would help eliminate supermarket food waste, argue researchers from the University of Huddersfield.

Cities and regions could reduce the burden of waste if they encourage circular thinking as a way of distributing unsold food, but central government policy lags behind the developments in technology that would enable it.  

The researchers have also concluded that financial incentives to send surplus food to anaerobic digestion facilities – in order to produce fuel and other products – helps to reinforce the current “linear thinking” that serves to create waste.

Waste food

Dr John LeverDr Fiona Cheetham and Professor Morven McEachern from the University of Huddersfield’s Business School have carried out a research project into the sharing of supermarket food waste in the Huddersfield and Kirklees district.  

They carried out a series of detailed interviews with representatives of organisations that included supermarkets and independent food banks plus representatives of the local authority and regional NGOs.

The researchers have now issued their report, titled Supermarket food waste: prevent, redistribute, share: Towards a circular economy?

The authors stated that “there was a general consensus that it is all but impossible to eliminate food waste completely from supermarket operations and international food supply chains.  Even in a sustainable food system, there will always be a degree of surplus food to be redistributed to people in need.”

They also explored the problems faced by independent food banks, revolving around the type and volume of food they receive from supermarkets.

Closed-loop system 

The argued: “While it is difficult to envisage a completely circular food system emerging, cities and regions can help to reduce the burden of supermarket food waste by encouraging circular economic thinking.” 

They add that: “Better Central Government policy and sustainable business models are needed to facilitate movement in this direction.  Public and private bodies at the regional and national level must navigate the tensions involved as a matter of urgency.”

Dr Lever – who is  a senior lecturer in sustainability – contributed an article titled 'Where do you fit within the circular economy?' to the launch issue of the new SF Society magazine, described as “the independent voice of the ecosystem”.

In it, he explained how circular economic thinking was evident during the Second World War, and argued that today “people are once again worried about the scarcity of resources and governments are once again promoting circular thinking as a way of changing and sustaining production across all economic areas to address a range of increasing environmental problems”.

Dr Lever explained that “a circular economic model aims to create a ‘closed-loop’ system that keeps resources in play as long as possible”.

In addition, round-the-world yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur is a leading advocate of the circular economy.  She has established a Foundation and has visited the University of Huddersfield to talk about her work in the field.

This Author 

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from the University of Huddersfield.

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