Defining and Refining a “Circular Food Economy”

Hello community,

The term circular food can mean different things among different experts. In our research we’ve come across a lack of discussion on elements beyond the economy itself, running the risk of creating the same extractive processes we currently have in our linear economic system. In order to overcome this, we are looking to integrate the three pillars below in order to move towards an integrated circular economy, one that is equally just for the biosphere, cultural societies, and the economy.

Please review the chart below (click here for a larger version):

To achieve an integrated circular food economy across our Biosphere, Societies, Economies, we are proposing factors that would drive them to be equitable, free from harm, diverse, and conserving in their food value chains. The idea behind our Transformative Goals is that they can be action points and or criteria buckets for potential prize designs to follow and promote change towards the integrated system.

Are there any Circular Economy principles/actions you feel are important that are not considered here? To you, what does it mean to have an integrated circular food economy?

As you share additional principles/actions, please consider how they will translate across all 3 pillars: Biosphere, Societies, Economies.

If you have any questions, clarifications, ideas, or thoughts, please share them in the comments below.

@RenskeLynde , @LaurenTurk , @Olawale - Would love to hear some insight on this topic!

Curious if you might have any input, @eakinyi @LHanson @Joanne @Utobou @Thanku @AustinClowes @iduaolunwa @kjbradford @marsxr @bngejane and @akb! And let us know if you have any questions :smile:

Hi @NickAzer absolutely. Will come back to this over weekend.

Just from curiosity. Why did you chose “Biosphere” instead of Environment? Are there any intent to elaborate the difference between biosphere and environment?

Following the above post from @yusuke it may be worthwhile adopting Environment as that includes biosphere and non-biological aspects. There are important factors in the environment that might not be categorised as biosphere. For example, a process that pollutes the land with salt would damage some biospheres; as would air pollution and water pollution.

On the subjects of environmental impact and a circular food economy, it could be useful to consider the short, medium and long-term impacts of different approaches.

Many policies recognise the importance of sustainability and promote sustainability. The reason for its increasing importance is that our global population makes increasing demands on the Earth’s finite resources, while continuously dumping man made pollutants and waste into the environment. Some of these pollutants add to the effect of global warming, and some persist in the environment for many years. This continuous process of depleting finite resources, polluting and discarding cannot continue forever - it is not sustainable. However, there is no absolutely sustainable process: no process can be sustained forever. The Sustainability Scale might help here, at least in terms of focusing minds on how long a circular process might actually be sustainable for.

Category ©, Duration of Sustainability (years)
0, Not sustainable.
1, 1 to 10
2, 10 to 100
3, 100 to 1,000
4, 1,000 to 10,000

For the biosphere or Environment, one way of moving from extractive to restorative is inculcating programs on
Tree planting -| Medium to Long term | 1-10,000
Changing diet ( less meat, soy), | Medium to Long term | 1-10,000 years
Move from ammonium fertilizer to volcanic rocks. Long term | 1 - 10,000
Increased collaboration on the future of food
Focus recycling on food: Coconut shells as bags
Map and measure food kitchens and/or encourage puree/ food drying opportunities.
. The options seem location-dependent. I think…

@akb @yusuke , thanks for the thoughts! My personal reasoning for pushing Biosphere instead of Environment is the idea that in general, when discussions are of environmental concern, they tend to prioritize or focus on “systems” (nutrient cycling, pollution, climate, etc), whereas Biosphere specifically centers the conversation around living organisms and the ecosystems they live in, with the Biosphere being the large integrated system that we all live in: Planet Earth. Living organisms have very unique and intimate connections with the abiotic lands and processes that surround them, with each species/lineage having millions of years of adaptations and metabolic responses to their environment: just because we are not polluting does not mean we are considering a species’ right to exist; just because we are planting trees to promote forests does not mean we are taking in to consideration how other non-prioritized vegetation habitats actually promote the establishment and growth of forests themselves; and just because we are concerned about climate change does not mean that there aren’t resilient systems that will push through and thrive in whatever human-made devastation we create. From my perspective, the term Biosphere allows for a principle of “Inclusion”, where in each pillar it may take the form of:

Biosphere: considering and making space for all living organisms and their complex relationships with each other and their environments.
Society: considering and making space for all identities and cultures across societies.
Economic: considering and making space for businesses of different ideologies, sizes, and economic priorities.

Would love to hear thoughts on this, as well as any other principles this post may inspire!

@iduaolunwa , agreed! I am definitely a proponent of locality-based solutions, as each context is different and what is “good” and “sustainable” in one may be catastrophic in another. I am absolutely fascinated with the idea of utilizing volcanic rocks for fertilizer and am wondering if you can touch on that a little more; I am also curious if there are any additional “principles” that you see a need to address.

Will the prize be focused only on food packaging innovations? There are so many aspects to creating a circular food economy across your three pillars…creating value from food waste, addressing food loss, creating new circular food system businesses, ensuring access to nutritious food…

Thank you for your reasoning of the term biosphere @nmgraham. That’s a reasonable perspective, and it might be that “biosphere” is sufficient for this project. It depends on the scope that the project wishes to encompass.

If the project is only focused on (current*) living systems, or biospheres, then “biosphere” seems very reasonable. If the project wishes to include non-biological aspects that influence the biosphere then “environment” might be a better term as it includes everything: biological and non-biological aspects. For example, some nutrients that support biological processes come from non-biological sources (e.g. minerals), which might be categorised as outside the biosphere. Similarly, for water. If food packaging activities impact on such aspects then consideration of the wider environment might make sense.

“Environment” is often used in the context of pollution, and plastic pollution is a hot relevant topic for this project. Conventional plastics are not biological in nature or origin. So in that sense “environment” could be helpful.

Having said that, definitions of words often lack clarity and so biosphere might be interpreted by some to be the same as environment. So long as all relevant factors are included in the project it probably doesn’t matter whether we call it biosphere or environment. :slight_smile:

** current: In addition to current biospheres we might want to consider environments that are currently devoid of a biosphere but could become biospheres in the future, with some human intervention (e.g. turning deserts green).*

This values framework will serve as a foundation and metric for our packaging prize design and any other competitions that are designed to transform food systems. We welcome insights on all areas!

@akb , yes! Desertification is definitely a major issue with ag land. With that issue in mind, it would be great to hear your insight on how the principles we have identified align, as well as any others you think we are missing.

As for definitions, I agree. Language can be so tricky; whatever term we end up choosing will be clearly defined in our competition and properly addressed within the framework.

@nmgraham , The basic concept is on two fundamentals. 1. Rocks are made up of minerals (which plants and animals need) 2. Igneous rocks are the primary rocks formed with the most minerals. I see some organization sells something similar as Azomite™. A few papers I found

I’m confident the XPRIZE team will do a great job of this @nmgraham based on past performance. I can’t think of any key factors missing from the project brief at the moment, but I’ll happily contribute if any ideas pop up.

Turning deserts green might benefit from the pending Energy XPRIZE: with sufficient renewable energy we can provide sufficient water to kick start the process. (Here’s my earlier contribution to that topic: Energy Solutions for the 21st Century.)

I appreciate the dialogue thus far. I have come across some other resources that may be useful to the conversation and how we define circular. - i think this speaks to the use of circular as a frame when it’s still used within the old system mindset of growth and economies, not on regenerative life cycles and healthy ecosystems. - plant based packaging. - plant based packaging.
Of course the question with plant based packaging is how are the plants farmed; how are the products distributed etc.
6 Easy Ways to Stop Plastic Waste Today – Food Tank - here is some simple steps to shift the waste aspect.
The US food system is killing Americans (Opinion) - CNN - this to me speaks of another factor i haven’t seen discussed much; reducing the need for packaging at all. If we can set up local food systems (regionally based) where the focus is on nutrition not calories (this would require and educational campaign i am sure), perhaps communities would have access to fresh food that doesn’t need a plastic wrapper. Something like this -
Hope this is useful…

@Thanku this is great! Tagging my teammates @Eti and @Caroline in case they have any questions on the resources you shared.

@nmgraham fantastic and thank you!! Here if needed.
I also posted these on another page but seems more useful here: