Eva Schouten

Moving towards a circular food system: The Terrace presents at the Erasmus Food Lab

On the 26th of November The Terrace consultants Eva Schouten and Luca Goossens visited the Erasmus Food Lab in Rotterdam to give a talk on circularity and specifically a circular food system.

About the Erasmus Food Lab
The Erasmus Food Lab aims to set an example of sustainable food culture, bringing consumers, researchers, cooks and food entrepreneurs, and professionals together. At the Food Lab you find everything needed to accelerate (local) food transition: information and guidance for sustainable strategies, an organic vegetable garden, a collection point for local produce from farmers in the area, a  great spacious kitchen and many, many dedicated students that want to drive positive change.

Getting serious about food
When the delicious vegan dishes were ready to be served, we facilitated a session about key strategies for closing the loop in our broken food system. Creating urgency for the matter isn’t hard with facts that speak for themselves:

  • Currently, the agrifood industry is responsible for almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions globally
  • 1/3rd of our food is currently wasted
  • 24 million slices of bread are tossed out each day in the U.K. alone
  • In cities, less than 2% of the valuable biological nutrients in food by-products and organic waste is composted or otherwise valorized
  • At current consumption levels, we will run out of known phosphorus reserves in around 80 years, which forms the basis of the fertilisers used widely in agriculture

The solution hierarchy
Luckily, there are serious opportunities out there for turning the tide around. After all, the world’s best dishes were made from food leftovers, Pot au feu is made of waste vegetables, bouillabaisse is the fish that’s damaged or bruised or unmarketable for the moment. However, we didn’t come to talk about recipes – we are sustainability consultants not chefs. We presented the best ways to turn food waste into value based on the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy and ages old circular farming methods like using manure as a fertilizer, functioning as phosphorous too. Food waste can for instance be used as animal feed, an initiative already widely applied in Japan, the feed is known to be rich in lactobacillus bacteria, which eliminates the need for antibiotics, and farmers save 50 percent of the cost of regular feed.

For the circular economy local communities are key
Cities across the world have a unique opportunity to spark a transformation towards a circular economy for food, given that 80% of all food is expected to be consumed in cities by 2050, as stated Ellen McArthur in their Cities and Circular Economy for Food report. Cities can, in connection with local farmers, spark the transition towards a circular economy. Creating a circular economy requires an industrial-scale response, but this can be complemented by a community-based response and associated physical infrastructure, such as maker-spaces, labs, community technology workshops and any other community-based forms, more about this in this insightful blog.  We left the event hopeful as the energy and amount of initiatives already initiated at the Erasmus Food Lab clearly show that they are well on their way to become such an accelerator for circularity. We hope to have provided them with some inspiration to take along on their journey!