Food waste is one of the most pressing problems of our time. Especially within cities, the disposing of food, that would have still been edible, is a common concern. However, what if food waste could become a resource? Circular economy models promise that the loop of nutrients related to the food system could be closed and the cycle of matter can be partially closed, depending on the reuse of food. These circular models involve an enhancement or renewal of our current linear systems. Where do we start with implementing a resource recovery-focused approach?
Begin with supporting local food systems as they have strong potential for increased environmental sustainability through nutrient cycling and waste reduction. Strengthening local and seasonal elements in short-supply chains, reduces storage and transportation times resulting in less waste and a lower carbon footprint. Austrian start-ups participating in the 5th edition of RE:WIEN, such as deli*MAT and Fine Food For Busy People are committed to making fresh, sustainable and local food more accessible, in quantities we need instead of overbuying; Bienen-Retter Honig is dedicated to organic food production and biodiversity protection; and 2nd chance cereal is giving unsold bread a second chance.
Let’s Talk Numbers
Approximately 30%–50% of food intended for human consumption is wasted at different stages of the food system, such losses might be due to storage, transportation, processing, packaging and sorting in the agricultural operation and on the market (Felicitas Schneider, Lebensmittel im Abfall – mehr als eine technische Herausforderung).
On average, the Viennese throw away around 40 kilograms of food each year that could have been eaten.
These numbers show an inefficiency in the food economy, where the consequences are a loss of energy, biodiversity, natural resources, productivity and money, and not to forget about the pollution and greenhouse gases that are created as a result of these processes. The WWF views food waste as one of the greatest ecological threats for this planet and calls for actions to be taken, for food wastage to be reduced by 2030.
What is Circular Economy and How Can it Help Manage Food Matters?
Circular Economy applies the theory and principles from industrial ecology, which aims to close the loop of substances and materials to consequently reduce both resource consumption and discharges into the environment. Circular economy intends to optimize and enhance the systems by reusing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling existing materials and products. That which was regarded as waste – becomes a resource. Circular Food Management refers to the circular economy that is most concerned with the management of the food system. This involves the reduction of waste generated in the food system, re-use of food, utilization of food waste and by-products, nutrient recycling, and changes in diet toward more diverse and more efficient food patterns.
As far as we know, the loop of nutrients related to the food system can be closed and the loop of matter can be partly closed relating to the reuse of food, and the utilization of by-products and waste. To avoid food waste, all the different stages of the food system must be considered, and measures must be adopted by the producers, distributors as much as by the consumers.
Urban Regions as Catalysts in Changing the Food System
Looking back a century the amount of waste produced in Vienna was quite limited and stable, compared to today’s standards. Food was often kept for longer or reused for later meals. However, as times have changed, the world population is growing and more people are moving to live in the cities, the amounts of waste levels have been steadily increasing. The high proportion of the food that flows into cities is processed or consumed in a way that creates organic waste in the form of discarded food, by-products or sewage, endangering human health and leads to a loss in biodiversity. Cities, as core population, innovation and development centres, bear the responsibility to minimise food waste as they have the resources and infrastructure to do it. The rising population leads to a greater demand for food and higher consumption rates in cities, which our current model for managing food no longer fits. Every action is needed to minimize food waste.
“Cities, as core population, innovation and development centres, bear the responsibility to minimise food waste as they have the resources and infrastructure to do it.”
This contribution could start by supporting local food systems as they have strong potential for increased environmental sustainability through nutrient cycling and waste reduction. Local food is not only fresher, but more regenerative and balanced, as it combines local and seasonal elements in short-supply chains – reducing storage and transportation, while providing better demand-supply balance. Strengthening localized food systems is a significant contribution to food waste prevention, food security and sustainability.
Austrian Startups That Embrace Food Circularity
deli*MAT, led by Karsten Michael Drohsel and Irene Lucas, is a start-up that produces solar vending machines, which are placed throughout Vienna as street furniture, and stocked with products from small local food producers. “The daily experience of poor local supply with high-quality and healthy products from small producers made us rethink. Especially local and regional food providers are particularly close to our hearts, i.e. smaller neighborhood shops that have/have had a particularly difficult time surviving during the corona pandemic. We want to encourage local and national consumers to develop sustainable and social awareness and to support local providers and their shops in their everyday lives.” The project is framed by a comprehensive educational program, which Karsten and Irene are currently developing and doing in Sandleitenhof (16. district).
If you are a busy person that likes to eat healthy, fresh, sustainable and varied food from your region try Fine Food For Busy People and get your meal delivered straight to your office.
“Main sources of food waste in Austria are agriculture, supermarkets and households. Our contribution to reducing food waste is portioned food and intelligent forecast AI models that enables us to learn taste patterns of offices. This enables us to minimize out of stock and overstock,” commented Stephan Haymerle, the founder of the venture. All food that is not sold is donated as portioned food to charity organizations. Kantines will throw away a ton of food every day to avoid going out of stock – we use every dish for our customers or charity.”
If you like it sweet, you might like to support the regional organic honey seller Bienen-Retter Honig (behind which stands a large team of Marian Aschenbrenner, Nalini Basedow, Sophia Rut, Christiane Aschauer, and Martin Manyet) that puts their sales back into maintaining the organic honey production, as well as the protection of wild bees.
Another way to contribute to food waste reduction is to give food a second chance like the start-up 2nd chance cereal does. Sarah Lechner and Michael Berger produce granola made from unsold bread to reduce land use, water consumption, emissions and improve food availability by reducing food waste.
“It all started one afternoon in late 2019,” reminiscence Sarah and Berger .Sitting together with our son Luca, playing a game naming food made from cereal, he claimed that cereals are made from bread, which was obviously not true at that time. Later that day a long forgotten line came up to our minds. Vienna is disposing as much bread as Graz consumes. Several months later we launched 2nd chance cereals in the Austrian market. The Granola is currently handmade in the 10. district of Vienna, while the bread comes from the bakery Geier.”
The Future of Circular Food Systems
Startups such as the aforementioned, are enhancing the current management of food and are working towards implementing resilient food systems, leading the way towards a change at the local/regional level. If we make use of food waste as a resource to grow food and understand it as a precious asset, we can cut costs, prevent energy loss and reduce the carbon footprint. Circular economy models show us how our current systems can become regenerative and more efficient, now we just have to apply those to innovate, to create a prosperous and optimistic outlook.