The global food supply chain requires 21.3 billion tons of resources annually and generates 10 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, making it one of the most resource- and emission-intensive sectors. Additionally, it is a very inefficient system as it is estimated that more than 30% of all food produced is wasted. While a sizable section of the world's population is undernourished, many people are overweight. With a small proportion of the resources currently poured into linear food systems, nutrition for everyone could be better ensured. It is time to transition to a circular food system.
The majority of food, from pasta to morning cereals, has been designed; i.e. the flavor, texture, amount of nutrients, and look of the food are all the result of intentional choices. Concept development, ingredient selection, sourcing, and packaging are all aspects of food design. The concepts of a circular economy can be applied to how we design food in order to create products that benefit consumers, farmers, businesses, and the environment. These principles—to eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and resources, and regenerate nature—can be used in a variety of businesses by adopting a systematic approach to the development of goods and services.
The use of ingredients with lower environmental impact, greater variety, and from regenerative production are a few of the prospects of circular design in the food industry. Possibilities of a circular food system have advantages for both individuals and the environment, and advantages are increased when possibilities are combined. Following are a few of the benefits offered by a circular food system:
More variations and species of plants and animals can be used as ingredients when creating diverse foods. As a result, more food flavors are accessible, resilience is increased, and the nutritional profile of diets is increased.
Increased reuse leads to reduced waste
We can maximize the utilization of already available agricultural land to generate new revenue streams for farmers and companies by converting inedible food byproducts into new ingredients, such as fruit juice pulp, cacao fruit, and coffee cherries, which can be used to produce sweetness instead of using sugar beet or sugar cane.
Adoption of plant-based diets
An ineffective strategy to meet our daily calorie requirements is to consume animal-based proteins. 1 kg of beef requires 25 kg of grain and around 15,000 liters of water, both of which might be utilized to feed people. In some places of the world, when there are many other nutrient-rich, high-protein options available, giving up animal proteins can be one of the most climate-friendly individual activities. A diet based mostly on plants might reduce emissions by 1.32 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalents globally.
Giving preference to local food markets
Supporting regional agriculture can reduce emissions and promote a circular economy. Going local and regional when choosing our ingredients, as our grandparents used to do, can have significant environmental benefits. This frequently eliminates the need to warm vegetables, which results in decreased fuel use, fewer food miles, and reduced negative transportation effects. The use of toxic synthetic fertilizers, which is a significant source of emissions on its own, can be eliminated by supporting or implementing urban, organic, and precision farming techniques.
Adopting environmentally-friendly cooking practices
Last but not least, using polluting fuels for cooking results in the annual death of roughly 4 million people from pollution-related illnesses. By substituting polluting cooking appliances such as traditional biomass and black carbon-producing stoves for newer appliances such as modern solar-electric stoves, food preparation resources can also be made more sustainable and secure. Making such improvements available to those who need it the most will depend on expanding global access to clean and sustainable energy.
So, what steps are you already taking to make our food practices and system more circular?