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.