This is achieved by, after reusing a product through its lifetime, recycling the product and its components an ‘infinite’ number of times (Figure 1). The product can be broken down into its parts, and the individual parts are used again. This eliminates both the excessive production of waste, and the necessity of a continuous input of new resources into the system. This is particularly important when some of the components are nonrenewable on a human life’s timescale (for example Lithium used for batteries).
Figure 1: The concept of a circular economy. Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation circular economy team drawing from Braungart & McDonough and Cradle to Cradle (C2C) via World Economic forum Report.
Only 8.6% of our global economy is circular. Moving towards increasing the global CE is a social challenge that entails international and national law, urban planning and coordinated transport and supply chains. Community and individual lifestyle changes towards ethical consumerism, reorganizing living conditions (e.g., ecovillages, eco-municipalities and sustainable cities), reappraising economic sectors (permaculture, green building, sustainable agriculture), or work practices (sustainable architecture), using science to develop new technologies (green technologies, renewable energy and sustainable fission and fusion power), or designing systems in a flexible and reversible manner that conserve natural resources.
Within that context, the Dutch government has set an ambition for the Netherlands to become fully circular by 2050 (Ministerie van Algemene Zaken, 2019). To reach this goal, the focus lies first with transforming different pilot sectors – one including a new form of catering. Worldwide, around one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, which accounts for an estimated 8% of annual greenhouse gas emissions (FAO, 2011; CAIT, 2018), hence transforming sectors in the food industry towards a circular future is particularly important. The Ministry’s vision of circular catering has been defined to encompass: procurement (choosing products that apply circular principles), production (increasing recyclable bio-based raw materials for disposables, with as little mono-packaging as possible), business operations (minimally burdensome preparation methods and distribution processes), assortment choice (more vegetable proteins, preferably produced locally), and the use of residual flows (e.g. coffee grounds, tomato stems, beet pulp) (Heijink, 2019).
Rachel Greer and Timo von Wirth are participants in the Belmont Forum Food-Water-Energy Nexus / Sustainable Urbanisation Global Initiative (SUGI) funded WASTE FEW ULL project that takes a transformative research lens into circular catering, building on transition and innovation theory. They explore how an alternative catering model – made up of a collection of circular approaches – can be diffused and scaled up, to create a more widespread and transformative impact. They investigate the factors that played a role in the process that transformed circular catering from an alternative niche into being adopted by one of the national ministries.
CAIT (2017). Historical emissions.
FAO (2011). Global food losses and food waste–Extent, causes and prevention. SAVE FOOD: an Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction.
Geissdoerfer, M., Savaget, P., Bocken, N. M., & Hultink, E. J. (2017). The Circular Economy–A new sustainability paradigm?. Journal of cleaner production, 143, 757-768.
Ghisellini, P., Cialani, C., & Ulgiati, S. (2016). A review on circular economy: the expected transition to a balanced interplay of environmental and economic systems. Journal of Cleaner production, 114, 11-32.
Greer, R.L., von Wirth, T., & Loorbach, D.A. (2019). The diffusion of circular services: transforming the Dutch catering sector. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Heijing, R. (2019). Naar een circulaire categorie catering: een visie en actieplan voor het circulair maken van de categorie. Rijkswaterstaat rapport.
Tukker, A. (2015). Product services for a resource-efficient and circular economy–a review. Journal of cleaner production, 97, 76-91.
EU circular economy action plan
US Chamber of Commerce Foundation
Ellen MacArthur foundation
World Economic Forum: Form linear to circular—Accelerating a proven concept
Ministerie van Algemene Zaken
Written by: Susan Pit and Rachel Greer
Edited by: Adina Paytan and Timo von Wirth
A copy of this blog was also published on Oxford Univeristy's Urban Transformations network.
São Paulo in Natura Lab – an Urban Living Laboratory for Sustainable Food Systems and the preservation of the Atlantic Rainforest
Ellen MacArthur Foundation: Do you want to learn more about the circular economy? Due to the overwhelming interest, they have expanded the capacity of the programme and registration is now open again. They are running a ten-week online programme, From Linear to Circular: Open to All, designed to empower the next generation of circular economy leaders and pioneers. The programme is free and anyone can take part. Broadcasting live at 4pm GMT+1 each Wednesday starting 15th April Sign up. Note: An existing knowledge of the circular economy would be useful, so please take a look at the learning hub on our website.
Waste FEW ULL Project in Brazil is organizing a "Sustainability Governance Forum", at the University of Campinas next November, the 26th. We will have speeches of the Sao Paulo State Water and Sanitation Co. president, professor Benedito Braga, the Sao Paulo City Food Supply and Agriculture Secretary, the Sao Paulo State Environment Secretary, some food supply, agroecological and food security NGOs, etc. We will have, besides the lectures, a multi-agent validation of the Delphi tool, once academics, enterprises, our partners at Waste FEW, NGOs, etc will be at this event.
The second meeting of all ULL leaders took place in Rotterdam on September 26th-27th 2019. Leaders discussed progress and future direction across all ULLs and work packages. The progress report identifies some key projects achievements.
Sustainable Urban Global Initiative (SUGI) Waste FEW ULL and Brazil (Zika)
Projects research visit to Sao Paulo, Brazil, 8-15 June, 2019
Professor Sue Charlesworth, Drs Jana Fried and Matthew Blackett and Masters by Research student Rebecca Lewis visited Sao Paulo for two projects funded by Newton Institutional Links (Brazil, Zika) and Belmont (SUGI WASTE FEW ULL). We were hosted by Professor Ester Dal Poz of the University of Campinas who organised a fascinating set of field visits followed by research seminars at the University. Ester is responsible for one of the 4 Urban Living Labs (ULL) which make up the focus of the SUGI project in which the nexus between Food, Energy and Water is investigated in order to close wasteful loops in terms of resource production and use.
Field visits in Sao Paulo. First of all, in the Parelheiros region, 40 km to the SW of Sao Paulo city, we visited a cooperative, comprised of some 400 small holders producing a variety of fruits, salad vegetables and greens which were grown 50:50 agroecological: conventional. The cooperative also grew native rainforest plants to be used to conserve the area.
They also had poly tunnels where they undertook experiments with various produce such as sweet potatoes, onions and lettuce.
We then headed deep into the rainforest to visit an indigenous Guarani indian village visit arranged by the Sao Paulo City Food Supply, a partner in the Sao Paulo ULL. There we saw how this community is conserving the forest by removing invasive pine trees and eucalyptus and growing food agroecologically as shown in the images.
Travelling to Ibiuna, a mainly agricultural area (Motto: A agricultura é nosso forte (Agriculture is our strength)), but still classified as “urban” since it is situated in the Sao Paulo Metropolitan area, we met Edson on his 1 hectare farm. Here he grows maize, lettuce and cabbage agroecologically. He reduced pesticide use by planting cover crops to protect the produce from insect damage.
Fully funded 3 year PhD opportunity available at Coventry University urban food-energy-water nexus modelling; Application due June 30th 2019; https://www.coventry.ac.uk/research/research-opportunities/research-students/research-studentships/dynamic-modelling-of-linked-circular-economies/
The Bristol Urban Living Lab is working hard with a diverse set of stakeholders to adress critical water management issues including nutrient recapture from waste water and micro plastics.
International teams will meet on September 26th and 27th 2019 in Rotterdam to discuss the ULLs
The ULL implemented an array of experiments and designs focused on achieving a strong focus on the nexus of Food-Energy-Water. more information can be found here
Coventry University has two fully-funded PhD positions available looking at inefficiencies in the food-energy-water nexus in four Urban Living Labs: Bristol, Rotterdam, Sao Paolo and Cape Town. Deadline March 18:
· System Dynamics Modelling of Linked Circular Economies (link)
· Agent-Based Modelling of Linked Circular Economies (link)
Capetown ULL is testing the use of biosludge (exposed to UV for at least 14 days) as a medium for growing plants and are testing the response in a controlled experiment. In addition to installing the monitoring equipment, the ULL will be building a new permaculture garden and a top structure. Over the next 6 months, the ULL will deploy smart water quality sensors in the biofiltration cells as well at the influent of the cells and final polished state of water. More information here