Although the shift toward a circular food chain was already underway before the emergence of Covid-19, the pandemic underscored the need to leave the linear chain behind. Covid-19 restricted the movements of food workers, altered customer demand, impacted food chain policies and ultimately, placed the food chain under immense financial stress.
Accelerating the shift to a circular system would address many of these challenges as the pandemic continues, as well as prepare our food systems for future disruptions. A group of industry experts discussed the true cost of linear food production and what a circular food system should look like during a virtual panel on 19 November at the 2020 Sustainable Foods Conference.
Sasha Babitsky, CEO of Entoprotech, said that so far, the focus has been on dealing with issues related to food waste, such as landfill capacity and climate change. The next phase in this evolution is to bring resources back into the “cycle of consumption.”
Entoprotech is a circular economy company that uses the Black Soldier Fly (BSF) to decompose organic food waste and turn it into protein, insect fat (oil), fertiliser and other high-value products. Most of the BSF byproduct is currently used to produce animal feed, but Entoprotech is collaborating on two projects to explore medical and cosmetic uses for BSF.
“Insects are instrumental in closing the cycles of food production,” Babitsky said.
Michael Eydt, CEO of Beyond Leather Materials, which transforms apple waste into vegan leather, said it’s important to start seeing food waste as an untapped resource. “One quarter of apple is waste or used for animal feed, and we need to change the perspective of how we see waste and how we use waste,” he said. “There is so much biomass and food waste available.”
Along with copious resources, there is abundant opportunity to grow, as most circular food initiatives are at their early stages.
Marion Schuppe, investment and impact manager for Quadia, pointed out that not only is the current food system mostly linear, but there are different players along its entirety that miss out on opportunities to synergize. “The current food chain is highly intermediated and highly complex, which causes food loss and waste. It needs to evolve toward a circular value chain,” she said.
Babitsky added that in regards to the relationship between circular systems and sustainable cities, both authorities and regulators have the power to support the success of circular solutions.
“Cities play an important role by regulating how food waste is handled and encouraging food waste producers to access companies like Entoprotech,” he said.
Babisky noted that the economic value of circular systems is also linked to their quality and sustainability.
“The better we can extract economic value from waste, and use it to its full extent, and then create a product from those streams, the more sophistication and knowledge we will gain. This will play a big role in resolving linear food chain challenges,” he said. “Market forces will shape the future of circular systems. As circular solutions are increasingly economic, more money flows in, which means they can solve more issues.”
“There is enormous market pull for capital on food security and global supply chain concerns,” added Jim Totty, managing director at Viridis Capital. “The issues raised by Covid-19 won’t go away; they’ll stay with us forever.”