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Fighting Food Waste & Food Loss Through a Circular Economy (2024)

During the last few years, food loss and food waste became burning societal and environmental issues. 

Until recently, there weren’t good solutions to these problems. But now, the idea of a circular economy offers a practical way to tackle them without losing profits.

In this article, we’ll explain what a circular economy is and how it can help with food waste and loss.

What Is a Circular Economy?

To understand what this type of economy entails, we must first explore its opposite:

Linear Economy

Namely, the currently practiced linear economy can be briefly explained as a take, make, use, dispose system. 

In other words, producers exploit a resource to create a product, and once this product is used, the remains are thrown away.

Although the linear economy has been used for decades, it’s far from perfect. 

First of all, this system eventually leads to resource shortages and depletion. Therefore, resources such as water, clean air, or even fertile soil can be wasted in a matter of years. 

Secondly, continual exploitation and production can lead to environmental issues such as climate change, environmental degradation, and excessive amounts of unnecessary waste. 

Circular Economy Food Waste and Food Loss - Graphic from Canva showing Linear and Circular Economy Processes
Linear Economy vs Circular Economy

Circular Economy

circular economy, on the other hand, can be explained as a take, make, use, reuse system. 

A circular economy gets rid of the disposal phase by altering different stages of the production process. 

Furthermore, the circular economy introduces the reusing stage, which deals with remaining waste, if there is any.  For example, food packaging that can be reused as a bowl once the product is consumed.

Note that this process shouldn’t be confused with recycling as it is much more complex and effective. Namely, recycling merely represents an additional phase in the linear economy that takes care of the excess waste. 

On the other hand, the purpose of the circular economy is to bring the amount of waste to a bare minimum. Therefore, if the circular economy is doing its job well, recycling is barely necessary.

Check out this Ted talk by TEDx Talks for a brief introduction to the concept of a circular economy: 

Food Waste and Food Loss – What Is the Difference? 

To understand how the circular economy can help us manage food waste and food loss, we must understand what those terms mean. 

Food waste refers to any food substance that is discarded at the retail or consumption level. Therefore, contrary to popular opinion, this concept doesn’t include food packaging or other inedible components.

The main reasons behind food waste include:

  • Poor storage conditions
  • Bulk buying and overpreparation
  • Inadequate food waste policies 
  • Inadequate understanding of date labels

Food loss, on the other hand, involves all food products that are thrown away along the food supply chain. 

So, food loss can occur during the farming, production, or distribution process. However, this term omits the retail stage, as it is in the domain of food waste.

The main reasons behind food loss include:

  • Improper farming practices
  • Poor storage conditions
  • Overproduction
  • Processing and packaging issues

How Can a Circular Economy Help? What Does it Entail?

1. Farming

Improving or modifying the current farming practices might be the first step towards managing food loss. 

However, doing that requires better trained and equipped farmers. In other words, they should own machines that allow them to utilize 100% of their agricultural potential and repurpose the residue—for example, composting damaged produce to use in their farming process.  

Furthermore, they’ll need the knowledge and skills necessary for handling such equipment.

2. Storage

Another major issue that must be dealt with is improper storage of raw materials. Different agricultural goods require different storage conditions. 

Therefore, modifying these conditions to fit the particular resource could minimize food loss. For example, storage designed to minimize spoilage or damage to produce can keep it fresh for longer, reducing food loss. 

In addition, storage units should be resistant to extreme weather conditions such as heat and storms, and use clean, renewable energy. 

3. Processing and Packaging

This production phase is particularly interesting from the viewpoint of the circular economy. 

If the name of the game is reducing food loss and waste, processing and packing will have a crucial role. 

By altering current inefficient practices, food companies could increase the shelf life of their products by up to two times. Therefore, both retailers and consumers would be able to avoid throwing away expired food so often.

Circular Economy and Food Waste - Fresh Produce in Trash Bags on the Curb

4. Transportation

Admittedly, transportation is not as volatile as some other stages on this list. Still, lack of transportation will leave tons of perfectly good food to rot unattended, and transportation methods that do not adequately protect food products lead to damage and waste.  

Therefore, increasing shipping capacities (or decreasing production) could lead to a decrease in food loss figures. 

Making sure that transportation methods are designed to best protect the products they carry can reduce damage and food loss. 

5. Retail and Consumption

Although the circular economy deals with all of the previously mentioned stages of the food supply chain, retail and consumption are the focus of this strategy. 

To reduce food waste, shops, restaurants, and consumers need to reevaluate their current practices and introduce new ones. 

Generally speaking, bulk purchasing results in more food waste than small-scale purchasing. Therefore, businesses and households should avoid purchasing more food than they need. 

Furthermore, this food should be stored in conditions specified by the manufacturer or supplier so that it doesn’t go bad before anyone has a chance to use it.

Another important issue most businesses often run into is what to do with the products past their “best by” date. 

Circular Economy and Food Waste - Image of the 'best before date' printed on the bottom of a can of food

Although these products shouldn’t be sold or served, they aren’t exactly trash material. Namely, most date labels do not indicate the expiration date but the date until the particular product retains its purest form. 

A possible solution to this problem is for restaurants and shops to donate products that are past the date to food banks or animal shelters. 

Alternatively, they could offer products that are almost past the date at much lower prices. 

6. Waste Management

Finally, businesses and individual consumers need to adopt better waste management strategies. These strategies should be designed so that unused food can be repurposed or recycled. For example, leftovers from a Thanksgiving dinner can be frozen for future use or donated. 

You can use organic waste for composting at home or join communities like ShareWaste to find people composting in your area. You can even make brandy from overripe fruit! 

It is important to change the way we view food waste and understand how severe the impacts are for the environment and particularly climate change from the greenhouse gas Methane emitted when food rots in landfills so that we can actively participate in circular economies and do better. 

To delve deeper into the circular economy and how it can change the world, please watch this video by CNA Insider:


Final Thoughts

Food loss and food waste remain among the major issues modern economies are dealing with. 

However, through a circular economy, these problems might soon become a thing of the past. Hopefully, more and more cities and countries will adopt this model and become a part of the solution!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is circular economy used only for food?

No, principles of circular economy can be applied to any industry imaginable. However, seeing that the food sector is among the worst polluters out there, these principles will be especially useful when used for food waste. Check out the full guide for more info on how a circular economy fights food waste.

How do I adopt a circular economy in my day-to-day life?

Adopting a circular economy means thinking about your products differently. For example, instead of focusing on buying new, you might think about how you can reuse or repurpose old products. You may also want to work with suppliers who are committed to the idea of a circular economy. Read more on how to adopt a circular lifestyle in the full guide.

What are the benefits of adopting a circular economy?

The benefits of a circular economy include:
● lowered production costs
● increased sustainability
● reduced food waste
● improved social responsibility
● good reputation and favorable public opinion
Read the full guide to learn more about the benefits of a circular economy.

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