Urban food waste management and circular economy

With 70 percent of food worldwide being consumed in cities, food waste management and circularity are key entry points towards a sustainable urban agrifood systems agenda

Jamie Morrison GAIN

The Mediterranean region today is threatened by natural resource scarcity, food import dependency, and current trade market instability due to global crises that affect food security. Production of food is increasingly associated with significant environmental impacts such as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, increased pressure on land use, and water and energy consumption. These impacts are further amplified by high levels of food loss and waste (FLW) across supply chains all the way to the consumption stage.

These challenges can be mitigated however by a better approach to food waste management through the creation of a circular economy. A circular economy approach to food waste management would enable entities to recognize and maintain the value and utility of food products, nutrients, and resources for as long as possible, minimizing resource use and upcycling food waste and by-products. Union of Municipalities of Türkiye: food waste awareness and upcycling link to levers

Much food waste occurs in cities where 70 percent1, 2 of the population in the Mediterranean lives. Thanks to these urbanization trends across the Mediterranean, cities have a leading role in shaping food policies around demand and consumption. Food waste management is a key entry point for local governments to integrate agrifood systems into local plans and actions. Cities can also act as hubs of innovation and connectivity transforming food by-products into more valuable materials. The importance of cities was recognized in the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) in September 2021 when the Urban Food Systems Coalition was established with the aim of raising the voice of cities and local governments in global fora and fostering linkages between national and subnational governments. Milan’s pioneering Food Waste Hubs link to levers

Fostering multistakeholder approaches is paramount to synergize and set up a collaborative ecosystem among a multiplicity of local stakeholders. Synergies between local governments, civil society, research centres, the private sector, international organizations, and investors are key in the implementation of effective actions for a transition to a circular economy. Food Bank Albania leads a network to fight hunger and poverty link to levers

To improve on current food waste management and to promote the concept of the circular economy, education, information, and knowledge sharing at local and national levels is important. City-to-city exchanges and twinning are proving effective to enable the transfer of knowledge, experiences, and best practices at all levels to promote their replication. Much waste occurs at the wholesale level as well, and organizations that can reach these markets are already leading initiatives to foster coordination, learning from cross-city exchanges, and more can be encouraged to do so. City-to-city cooperation for sustainable urban agrifood systems link to levers Wholesale markets: a key player in food waste management link to levers

For this circularity transition to happen, there needs to be an increase in investments and a leveraging of innovations in infrastructures and waste upcycling, coupled with the valorization of traditional practices for food preservation. For example, food waste can be used to produce bioenergy and other bioproducts, including biofertilizers and animal feed, eliminating the need to landfill it, therefore reducing pollution and GHG emissions. The use of renewable energies in food chains in urban and peri-urban agrifood systems is of key importance as well, ensuring access to energy at all stages of the chain on the one hand, and contributing to reducing food losses on the other.

Food waste management and creating a circular economy for upcycling have a key role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Target 12.3 to, by 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains. The SFS-MED Platform is supporting Mediterranean countries in finding strategic levers for agrifood systems transformation and linking actors from several sectors to cooperate for more sustainable, efficient, inclusive, and resilient agrifood systems.