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How can we design a fully circular food system for Amsterdam in 2050?

Published on
October 24, 2022

How can you keep organic materials for food production in the cycle and how do you arrange that with each other? In a series of podcasts and articles, Wageningen researchers talk about their vision of the circular food system of the future. The first is Hilke Bos-Brouwers on Circularity by design: how can we design a fully circular food system for Amsterdam in 2050?

In the Connected Circularity programme, four research teams -  within 4 Flagship
projects - from Wageningen University & Research (WUR) have been working on
HOW to shape the transition to a circular bioeconomy. That is an society in
which organic material forms the basis of our food system and in which no more
materials are wasted.

How can you keep organic materials for food production in the cycle and how do you arrange that with each other? That, in a nutshell, is what Connected Circularity focuses on. The point is that governments, businesses, consumers and other stakeholders each have their own interests. The programme investigates how all these parties can meet their needs without - unknowingly - depriving the other of choices.

The food system as we know it is unsustainable, Bos-Brouwers argues "That is because of the mismatch between what we need and what is produced," she says. Added to that, she says, it is easier to keep - say – a material like steel in the cycle than food. Because food decays."

What and where?

In the Circularity by Design project, in collaboration with AMS Institute, it was investigated how Amsterdam could become fully circular by 2050 for food and organic materials. She says the challenge is not so much whether enough food can be produced to feed the world's growing urban population. "On the contrary, we produce too much now and - for instance - by reducing waste, less will have to be produced in the future. The challenge is: what do you produce and where do you produce it?”

Urban agriculture, rooftop greenhouse

Circularity by design focuses on designing a food system in the city beforehand. According to Bos-Brouwers, this starts with figuring out what is needed: a city like Amsterdam has about a million inhabitants and you can calculate how much food is needed to feed everyone in a healthy way and which side flows are created. Science can provide many options to make these circular. Together with initiatives from the city, we tworked on how to make design choices. It is not just about selecting a technique, such as urban agriculture or putting a greenhouse on top of an apartment building, but mainly about the question: will we achieve our circular ambitions with this choice?

One vision

Circularity by Design has taught how important it is to develop a shared vision at an early stage with all stakeholders, from residents and entrepreneurs to property developers and architects. The biggest challenge on the road to a circular city? "Ensuring that circularity becomes normal and no longer depends on frontrunners. Partly by showing that it can be done. But you also need to engage with the 'non-believers'. "

Also curious about Hilke Bos-Brouwers' views on insects as part of the circular city menu and the future of the supermarket? Listen to the podcast:

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