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3rd Feb 2023

Why accelerate a circular economy food system?

What could a more circular economy food system look like?

Last month, we opened applications for our fourth cohort of the AgFunder GROW Impact Accelerator. The programme offers $100K funding and acceleration support to impact-driven agrifoodtech startups. (Don’t forget to apply by 26 February!)

One of the 6 key impact areas in which we are looking for startups for this year’s cohort is circular economy and waste reduction. But what does this mean in the context of our food supply chains? What could a circular economy food system look like? And why do we believe that it’s essential to building a better food system for the future?

Let’s dive in!

Check out our latest post on another impact area, Food as Medicine!

What is a “circular economy” food system?

A circular economy is a production model that is increasingly being recognised as the path forward for true sustainability. It is widely accepted that a more circular economy food system would have wide-ranging, positive ecological, economic and social impacts.

A circular economy food system would remedy the waste generation inherent in our current linear “take-make-dispose” production model by mimicking a natural system of regeneration. In a circular economy food system, waste does not exist. Within a closed loop system, goods and materials are also able to retain their maximum value, whether through recycling or upcycling.

Why does a circular economy matter for our food systems?

The linear production model that has come to dominate our food systems depletes natural resources and generates disproportionate amounts of harmful waste. As it stands, one-third of all food produced goes to waste along the distribution chain, between farm and fork. When food goes to waste, this also means that all the resources channeled into producing this food, such as water, land, energy, labor and capital, go to waste, especially while people affected by hunger are increasing worldwide. Indeed, the existence of systemic food waste alone undermines the sustainability of our food systems. 

Furthermore, greenhouse gasses generated from decomposing food loss and waste is on par with the world’s third highest GHG emitters by country. Unsurprisingly, less than 2% of the valuable nutrients in food byproducts and waste are currently being recycled.

A circular economy food system can help to manage, reduce and eliminate harmful impacts while ensuring that our food systems are able to feed the growing population

In the upstream agricultural industry, a circular economy model can help to minimise demands on natural resources such as water consumption, close nutrient loops, and reduce nitrate and ammonia pollution that occur through discharges and runoffs. Similarly, in industries further downstream like food distribution, a circular economy model can tackle the problem of food loss and waste through waste valorization, upgrading waste separation and collection, redirecting food and byproducts to other uses, and more.


Breakthroughs in circular economy

Innovation is instrumental to enhancing our existing waste management landscape to effectively cope with existing forms of waste, as well as redesign and reimagine existing forms of production. Indeed, the multifaceted nature of a circular economy transition requires massive linkages across the entire production chain, ranging widely from new usages of biomaterials to improving waste separation and management technologies. 

This means that the sheer applicability of the circular economy model is enormous. The numbers tell the same picture – by reducing waste, stimulating innovation and creating employment, the circular economy model is said to offer a $4.5 trillion economic opportunity

Moreover, a circular economy model can create many more jobs than the current, linear model. In Australia alone, the increasing emphasis on circular waste management systems is predicted to deliver a total value of $66.9 billion by 2025.


Image courtesy ANINA Culinary Art

Circular economy startups we’re inspired by

Yeap, Alumnus of our 2022 cohort of the AgFunder GROW Impact Accelerator, captures waste from industrial side streams to recover proteins that can then be transformed into a complete protein ingredient for food. Simultaneously curbing food waste and creating new sources of alternative proteins, Yeap can serve as an egg, soy, and milk protein replacement as well as a bulk ingredient for manufacturers. 

Tackling the problem of food loss, our 2021 alumnus ANINA Culinary Art produces beautiful edible food laminates out of unwanted ‘ugly’ fresh produce as part of ready-to-cook, nutrient-rich meals.

Why accelerate innovation in waste reduction and circular economy?

Today’s global food production and value chain presents an immense opportunity to implement new solutions and technologies to plug any gap where waste is generated. As innovation proceeds on the ground, new opportunities for waste management and increasing circularity of production chains can be unlocked through technological breakthroughs. In a true circular economy, every natural resource is used to its highest extent

That’s why we’re on the lookout for startups working to implement a circular economy food system throughout all stages of the supply chain for this year’s cohort of the AgFunder GROW Impact Accelerator.

Here’s to building a more circular food system that is sustainable, resilient, and nutritious for all!

Interested to know why we’re accelerating these six impact areas? Keep watching this space!

Are you a circular economy startup?

Apply for the GROW Impact Accelerator Cohort 4 today!

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