picture by Zahirul Alwan

Project

Towards a circular food system

Currently, there is no understanding of the actual implications of closing the loop of materials and substances. The aim of this project is to compose pathways towards circular food systems that are able to feed the world while respecting the planet.

It is widely recognized that food production, especially animal production, generates a broad range of environmental impacts, increasing the pressure on the Earth’s system. An increasing body of literature suggests that a transition towards circularity in the food system might be the solution. In such a circular food system plant biomass is the basis, and should be used primarily to produce human food; by-products from food production, processing and consumption should be reused or recycled into the food system; and we should make the most efficient use of animals by using them to unlock biomass inedible for humans into valuable food, manure and ecosystem services. While these principles of circularity make sense scientifically and resonate in society, there is no understanding of the actual implications of closing the loop of materials and substances. The aim of this project is to compose pathways towards circular food systems that are able to feed the world while respecting the planet.

To direct us towards animal farming that contributes to a circular food system, we are in need of a new metrics. During the first phase of this project we will develop a global bio-physical food optimisation model that accounts for circularity. The objective of the model is to minimize the environmental impacts (land use, greenhouse gas emissions, water use, phosphor use and nitrogen use) on a global scale while still meeting human nutritional needs. Our first results will show a boundary between sustainable production and consumption for the growing world population. During the second phase of the project we will extend the model towards a bio-based economy that accounts not only for the production of food but also for other essential products such as clothes and energy. During the last phase of the project we aim to identify strategies for the transition of our current food system towards a circular food system. Such strategies must be economically feasible and socially accepted and will therefore be context specific.

The results of this project will eventually result in a roadmap that incorporates locally relevant sustainable development goal (SDG) targets, synergies, and trade-offs for stakeholders to bring about transformative changes, thereby contributing to the transition towards a circular food system.