Fighting Food Waste Using Circular Economy

regrow vegetablesIt’s 2022, and food waste in the United States is at an all-time high. Meanwhile, a whopping 690 million people worldwide, or 8.7%, are undernourished. That’s still fewer hungry people than it was over 20 years ago, but nevertheless, far too many mouths in need of feeding.

Of course, the issue isn’t just the fact that so many remain hungry, but also that so many tons of food end up in landfills. Current economic models for both food manufacturing and food retail have a lot of problems. For instance, a huge percentage of perfectly good food ends up as waste during transport alone. With that in mind, whether you produce, transport, sell or even just consume food, you need to think about approaching it differently. To begin tackling food waste, we need to think with a zero-waste lens.

Nowadays, the term circular economy has been appearing more and more often online. And seemingly everyone, from huge multimillion-dollar businesses to entire world governments, is starting to apply it. In this article, you will learn what a circular economy is, how you can apply it to combat food waste and what its benefits are.

Comparing Circular and Linear Economy

A circular economy is a somewhat evolved variant of the systems we’re currently using when manufacturing products. So, in order to understand it, you’ll need to get acquainted with its predecessor, i.e., linear economy.

In the briefest terms possible, the linear economy is based on the so-called “take-make-dispose” system. First, the manufacturer extracts raw materials from the source and takes them to a manufacturing facility, where they are converted into products. Next, the products end up on store shelves and reach the consumers who use them. Once they are done using them, consumers dispose of the products, and often those products end up in landfills.

Naturally, this system has a lot of setbacks. As early as the manufacturing process, companies end up throwing away a lot of unused raw material or material that wasn’t properly processed. In addition, with the current consumer demand, manufacturers are depleting the planet’s natural resources quickly, which results in shortages.

In comparison, a circular economy addresses all of these problems by focusing on eliminating waste altogether. The whole goal is to redirect every single bit of raw material, used material and waste back into the manufacturing process. We’ll use the food industry to illustrate how this approach works.

How to Apply Circular Economy to the Food Industry

Let’s start with the resources themselves. Ethical farming and composting can help reintroduce food waste into the cultivation process. Alternatively, you can use food waste from farms to create healthy and organic food for animals on farms and ranches.

Next, when it comes to manufacturing, the key is to sort the raw materials according to quality. The lower the quality of these materials, the better they’ll be for composting and organic fertilization.

Then there’s the issue of food lost or spoiled during transport. By working on creating better distribution channels, improving packaging and transport conditions, we can save millions of tons of food in the USA alone. And if we apply the same practices to worldwide shipping, then all of that excess food can reach the needy parts of the globe effectively and with minimal spoiling.

Consumers can play a part too. Through education, consumers can better understand the benefits of recycling and reusing, use their own waste as fertilizer or simply make informed and strategic purchases.

Finally, networking across the manufacturing process is key. Open lines of communication between manufacturers, transporters, consumers and even landfills can bring opportunities for reuse and recycling. It will greatly improve both the creation and consumption of new food.

The Benefits of Circular Economy

As you can imagine, a circular economy comes with plenty of benefits both for the consumer and the manufacturer, as well as the environment itself. Let’s go over some of the key ones in the paragraphs below.

Regeneration of Natural Systems

What would happen if you used natural fertilizer like animal feces instead of artificial chemicals? Well, your yield would be healthier, more nutritious and safer than the current alternative. The same goes for reintroducing food waste as fertilizer on farms. By farming ethically and diversifying your agricultural portfolio, so to speak, you’ll end up with food that’s healthy for consumption. You’ll also allow the local ecosystem to regenerate and improve.

Better Access to Nutritious Food

Over 40% of the world’s cropland is located in peri-urban areas — in the transitional areas between major cities and rural land. However, most of that food is either driven or flown across the country to other consumers. Not only does this risk food spoiling, but it’s also a massive strain when it comes to fuel pollution. So, by reconnecting this farmland to nearby urban centers, you can ensure that everyone has direct access to food at all times, especially during crises.

Fighting Climate Change

Ethical farming, agroforestry and other methods can help reduce carbon dioxide emissions globally. In addition, organic fertilizers help keep the CO2 underground and break it down for plants to use for further growth and development.

Saving Money and Increasing Revenue

If you were to manufacture and market healthier food, prevent waste and use regenerative cultivation processes, you stand to save a lot of money. In fact, said practices can result in a whopping $2.7 trillion in yearly revenue by 2050.

Supporting Local Communities

Most of the organic farming happens in small, locally owned farmhouse businesses. So, by shifting away from industrialized farming and switching to ethical waste prevention practices, you will be directly supporting the local economy.

In turn, these communities will contribute by making sure the neighboring urban center gets healthy, safe food. Furthermore, ethical farming will lead to reduced CO2 emissions, a major problem in big cities.

Food Waste and Circular Economy: The Bottom Line

Implementing the circular economy is not an easy process and will take time. However, its benefits are undeniable, especially in the food-manufacturing industry. By phasing out food waste, you’ll contribute to distributing food evenly to the needy, keeping the planet safe and living a healthy life while doing so. And you’ll even earn a solid amount of revenue along the way.

About The Author

Hannah MoskowitzHannah Moskowitz is sustainability director at RTS and has been advancing clients’ sustainability initiatives since January 2020. She is responsible for ensuring quality data; implementing new and refining existing processes; and overseeing the hiring, training and managing of the RTS data analysis team. Moskowitz has served as sustainability director since January 2022 and has built her expertise of RTS’ technology and approach through her prior role as sustainability and sales operations manager. She has a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and political science and an master’s degree in environmental esource policy from George Washington University, and participated in The Green Program at the Iceland School of Energy at Reykjavik University. She is also LEED AP O+M accredited and TRUE Advisor certified.