Flagship 1: Alternative futures of a circular bio-based society: the environmental and economic consequences of adopting circularity at different spatial scales

The transition towards a circular bio-society requires knowledge of the ecological and socio-economic principles of applying circularity at different spatial scales (land, continent, world). This project strives to design and evaluate different scenarios for a future bio-society in the Netherlands -varying in level of circularity- and their various ecological and socio-economic consequences.

The increasing world population leads to an increase in the demand for food, which, in turn, causes a discrepancy between food production and the environment, since food production in general, and animal-based products in particular, have a significant negative impact on the environment. Our food system is responsible for a quarter of the greenhouse gasses generated by humans and uses 40% of our planet's available land (excluding deserts and areas covered in ice). The question is: How do we feed the increasing population while respecting our planet?

In our search for solutions, we see an increasing number of scientists advocating a transition towards circular food systems, based on plant-based biomass, which is primarily used for food production. Related byproducts and food waste must subsequently be recycled or reused. For example, by feeding them to animals (who will then transform them into high-quality proteins) or by using them in the production of bioenergy (thus avoiding the use of fossil fuels). Although the principles of circularity are well known and resound through society, we are currently unaware of the real implications such a system would have on our society.

In other words, we do not know what effects striving for circularity at different levels (region, country, European Union) will have in terms of environment and social-economic performance of the food system.

Our goal is therefore to develop alternative scenarios for the future of a circular society in the Netherlands at different spatial scales and to analyse the environmental and socio-economic consequences of these scenarios. Our results will provide parties such as politicians and policymakers with a broad knowledge base on the implications of a circular food system and how to get there.