The circular economy, combined with responsible food
Posted on May, 23rd 2018.
How can the circular economy promote more sustainable food. The 2C conference organized by the Veolia Foundation on May 15th reported on this leading priority at global level.
"80% of the content of our bins is recyclable"
The second Circular conference in 2017 was organized by the Veolia Foundation and took place on Tuesday May 15th at La REcyclerie. These conferences are mainly intended for students, and share the main priorities of the circular economy, with better resource management, with the former. These conferences are led by the CliMates network of young people and involve different contributors depending on the conference topic. Responsible food was the key topic of the day on this occasion.
"We are consuming more resources than the planet can provide", reiterated Amélie Rouvin, who is in charge of the Circular Economy commitment for Veolia, to introduce the event. Since the 1970s, we have been consuming more natural resources than the planet can regenerate in one year. At this rate, we could find ourselves needing the equivalent of 2.5 planets per year by 2050…
How did we reach this stage? The main reason relates to population growth. 7 billion human beings currently live on planet Earth, and we are expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. This population comes with proportional water, food and energy requirements.
In this context, our current linear economy system – extract resources, produce, consume, throw away – is not sustainable. We throw away over 4 billion items of waste each year, and only one quarter of this volume is recycled. We need to change approach and switch to a circular system, where one person's waste becomes another person's resources. The good news? "80% of the content of our bins is recyclable" according to Amélie Rouvin.
We often tend to associate waste re-use with recycling. In fact, the circular economy has seven cornerstones: recycling, re-use, repair, product-service systems, ecodesign and industrial and territorial ecologies.
Negative external factors
The current production system comes with extremely negative external factors. 30% of greenhouse gas emissions produced worldwide are indeed due to food. This figure is generally due to food waste: approximately 1/3 of world production is thrown away every year.
This waste is produced at all stages of the value chain: from agricultural production, to the transformation into a finished product, and from traders to consumers. In France alone, we throw away 8 million tons of food each year, i.e. 150 kg per inhabitant.
The circular economy can indeed help to design effective treatment and recovery systems to transform organic waste into resources. Either by redirecting flows which can still be used, or by transforming waste into energy (anaerobic digestion) or into compost.
A priority for public policies
In France, responsible food is a key priority, and at the heart of public policies. In 2015, the law on the energy transition laid down the initial milestones for the fight against food waste. In 2016, the Garot law led to progress by prohibiting food distributors from considering unsold items, which can still be consumed, as unsuitable for consumption. The law also requires large supermarkets to conclude a convention with associations to donate their unsold items.
The Circular Economy roadmap, published by the government on April 23rd, 2018, intensified the battle yet again, particularly by setting the target of totally eliminating all biowaste from bins by 2025. In fact, biowaste represents 22 million tons in resources to be re-used.
Finally, after the large-scale meetings on food organized between July and December 2017, a draft law is currently being drafted. The extension of the Garot law to the entire collective catering segment, both private and public, is particularly under consideration. This means that hospitals and collective catering sites – to mention just a couple – could soon be prohibited from scrapping products which could still be consumed.