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The Circular Economy Action Agenda for Food

Why is a circular economy for food important?

Food is fundamental to our health, environment, society, and economy. But the food system today is wasteful, resource intensive, and polluting. A third of food is lost or wasted. Food waste and byproducts are landfilled, incinerated, and left to rot. Meanwhile, 800 million people don’t have enough to eat. It’s simply not sustainable.  

 

Building a circular economy for food is important if we want to support the global population of tomorrow, expected to be 9.7 billion by 2050. It’s time to work together to build a sustainable food system where the growing, eating, and disposal of food creates robust benefits for people, the economy, and the environment. 

What could circularity for the food industry look like? 

In a circular economy for food: 

  • Food is produced in ways that regenerate nature  

    First, we must change what we grow and how we grow it. The industrialization of agriculture has led to over 75% of food coming from just 12 plant and five animal species. Without change, the dangers to human health, and to the planet, cannot be overstated.  
  • Food is not lost or wasted  

    Second, we must reduce the vast amounts of food we currently lose at all stages from field to fork. If current levels of food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. By tackling the problem, we can make huge progress toward mitigating climate change.  
  • Commonly wasted resources are used productively  

    And third, less than 2% of the valuable nutrients in food byproducts and waste are currently recycled. By using these as fertilizers, to make textiles or animal feed, we can drive new innovation, establish new business sectors, and put a stop to the environmental destruction necessary for our current model. 

How to transition to a circular economy for food 

To successfully transition to a circular economy for food, businesses, governments, and civil society must work together. These ten calls-to-action can help us accelerate the transition, and make it as impactful as possible.

 

1. Enable Transitions to Planetary Health Diets

We must change what we grow – towards a diet richer in fruits, vegetables and more diverse proteins.

2. Scale Productive and Regenerative Agriculture Practices

We must change how we grow our food – towards productive and regenerative agriculture practices such as agroforestry and permaculture.

3. Increase Value of Nature-Regenerative Food Production To Farmers

There must be incentives and rewards in place for farmers, so they are able to produce healthy and nutritious food while also being stewards of the land and environment.

4. Better Understand Hotspots of Food Loss and Waste

We must better understand where food is being lost and wasted, and how much it is costing us, so that we can create a better system to recycle and reuse.

5. Integrate Food Loss and Waste More Broadly in the SDG Agenda  

Reducing food loss and waste has far-reaching effects on climate change and biodiversity, as well as driving down hunger rates, emissions, and economic losses for individual households. 

6. Increase Investment in Food Loss and Waste Reduction  

We must invest more in food loss and waste reduction. The costs are often hidden, but when businesses and individuals reduce their food waste, they save money and help save the planet. 

7. Reframe Wasted Food and Byproducts as Valuable Resources  

There are many productive uses for food waste, that also bring benefits to people and planet—for example, as fertilizer, plastic or textile feedstock, and animal feed. 

8. Facilitate Secondary Market Development and Access

Increasing ease of access to other markets for excess, lower-quality food and byproducts will increase value chain resilience, keep materials in use longer, and even help direct food toward those who need it most.  

9. Enable Sanitary Cycles for Human Waste  

Human waste can be processed into a safe and clean fertilizer that can be applied to the soil. This reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers, while reducing soil, air, and water pollution and related diseases from human waste.  

10. Increase Information Accessibility and Data Utilization  

We must use data and information more fully to ensure traceable and transparent supply chains, and to help shift consumer behavior.

Actions Working Toward Circularity for Food Systems

PACE projects image Champions 12.3
Champions 12.3
PACE projects image Global Future Council on Japan - Food working group
Global Future Council on Japan - Food working group
PACE projects image Cooperation for Reduced Food Waste (Samarbete för minskat matsvinn)
Cooperation for Reduced Food Waste (Samarbete för minskat matsvinn)
PACE projects image Food Waste Reduction Challenge
Food Waste Reduction Challenge
PACE projects image Ellen MacArthur Food Initiative
Ellen MacArthur Food Initiative
PACE projects image Our Food Future
Our Food Future
PACE projects image 10X20x30 Food Loss and Waste Initiative
10X20x30 Food Loss and Waste Initiative
PACE projects image Regional Food Waste Working Groups
Regional Food Waste Working Groups
PACE projects image FoodFlow
FoodFlow
PACE projects image Build Back Better: Using Green and Digital Technologies to Reduce Food Waste at Consumer Level
Build Back Better: Using Green and Digital Technologies to Reduce Food Waste at Consumer Level
PACE projects image Denmark against Food Waste
Denmark against Food Waste
PACE projects image Circular Coffee from Peru: creating value across the chain
Circular Coffee from Peru: creating value across the chain
PACE projects image Cool Food Pledge
Cool Food Pledge
PACE projects image Engineering Materials Product Portfolio
Engineering Materials Product Portfolio
PACE projects image Better Buying Lab
Better Buying Lab
PACE projects image Partners in Food Solutions
Partners in Food Solutions
PACE projects image Food Loss and Waste Protocol
Food Loss and Waste Protocol