Environmental consequences of adopting circularity at different spatial scales

PhD project by Ben van Selm. Circular food systems are increasingly seen as an important pathway to a sustainable food system. Closing cycles at a national scale may seem logical, but in many cases importing products is required to meet the nutritional demands of the population. We will create a circular food system optimisation model to assess the environmental impact of a circular food system with varying degrees of circularity.

Applying circularity to food systems is increasingly seen as an important pathway to a sustainable food system. Circular food systems increase resource use efficiency to reduce the environmental impact by closing the loop of materials and utilising residual streams (e.g. manure, co-products, food-waste). However, the scale at which the loop of materials should be closed (e.g. regional, national, continental, global) and how these residual streams should be utilised (e.g. feeding to animals or applying to soils as fertiliser) is currently unknown. Moreover, the availability of residual streams in a food system is highly dependent on the dietary choices of the population (i.e. the availability of the co-product wheat middling’s is determined by the consumption of wheat flour). Therefore, a food systems approach is required to understand the consequences of applying circularity in a food system. A food systems approach assesses the environmental impact of the whole food system rather than focusing on the chain of a specific food product as is commonly done (i.e. a lifecycle approach) which has a more linear approach.

We propose creating a circular food system optimisation model using a food system approach to minimise the environmental consequences (i.e. land-use, greenhouse gas emissions, nitrogen losses) while providing an adequate diet for the population. For two case studies (the Netherlands and New Zealand) we will use circular food system models to gain insights into which crops should be grown where, how many animals should be kept, how residual streams should be utilised, and the consequences of closing circular food systems at different scales.