Circular economy and food systems: mobilising pragmatic solutions to change organisational and consumer behaviour
Ribeiro-Duthie, AC, Circular economy and food systems: mobilising pragmatic solutions to change organisational and consumer behaviour, Barriers and Enablers of a Transformation to a Circular Economy, 26-28 June, Montreal, pp. 1-25. (2019) [Non Refereed Conference Paper]
The Circular Economy (CE) concept has gained momentum in Europe from the 1990’s onwards. It proposes a new production model that aims to reduce waste generation to zero by transforming it into inputs to feed productive chains. It is the result of a new paradigm contrasting with the traditional linear economy based on the extract, produce, use, discard model. The CE proposal is that the value of products, materials or resources remain circulating in the economy to reduce the extraction of natural resources. There are companies, countries, government, NGOs, and people mobilising circular innovations in the food chain. Increasing awareness of the CE empirical innovations may contribute to change organisational and consumer behaviour. Hence, contributing to a pragmatic and tangible application of CE in relation to food production and distribution. To have an entire production cycle attaining circularity principles will require organisational change that will not be immediate in any sector. For these reasons, a transition towards a CE paradigm is a valuable issue to discuss. This paper reviews the academic and ‘grey’ literature (government, business, NGO) relating to CE and food systems. The application of circular innovations occurs in different stages of a business process: design, planning, supply chain, sales, waste management. Admitting the possibility of a circularity model across a productive process is considered here as enablers for the transition towards CE, not the final stage. The danger in using the concept of CE regarding food waste is that companies may be tempted to merely adopt a piecemeal approach and engage in ‘circular washing’, which can turn the initiative into a new form of ‘green washing’. Instead, the greatest challenge is to design circular models that avoid waste, where inputs are re-integrated and play roles in the economy for as long as possible, even in different functions or chains. CE mobilisation within the food sector is a complex issue understood in the context of a necessary pragmatism for immediate solutions addressing food insecurity and natural resources management. Thus, food waste management can be considered a critical step for a transition towards closing the loops of food systems. Supermarkets constitute one important realm where CE principles are applicable to food systems; but food production, restaurants, private companies’ canteens, and households can also be a target for changing behaviour and practices. Altogether they contribute to generate around 1.3 billion tons/year of food waste, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. Given those figures and the complexities of food distribution worldwide, the transition of the food sector towards a CE model is essential for a sustainable food system. This review will help inform theory and practice by stressing how CE is being employed in food systems, by identifying actors and actions to implement change, and whether these are consistent with ‘circular washing’ or enablers of potential innovative solutions.