In Australia, food waste makes up a quarter of total household solid waste. Globally, food waste accounts for an estimated 6 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions - around a quarter of all emissions from food production, according to Our World in Data.
This is likely higher as this estimate only captures losses in the supply chain and discarded food from retailers and consumers, not on-farm losses from production and harvest.
The Circularity Gap Report estimates the global economy was only 8.6 per cent circular in 2020 and this had actually fallen from 9.1 per cent two years earlier. It proposes a roadmap of interventions that could reduce emissions by 39 per cent and resource extraction by 28 per cent.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation outlines three principles for a transition to a circular economy:
- Eliminate waste and pollution: reusable alternatives to single-use plastics, renewable energy.
- Keep products and materials in use: design products for longevity and components for reuse and remanufacturing.
- Regenerate natural systems: return organic matter to the soil, replace pesticides with natural pest management.
How do we get there?
In Australia, the National Waste Policy adopts some circular economy principles and aims to reduce total waste generated in Australia by 10 per cent per person by 2030 and increase the use of recycled content by governments and industry. Importantly, it also aims to make comprehensive, economy-wide and timely data publicly available to support better consumer, investment and policy decisions.
The CSIRO has developed a circular economy roadmap for plastics, glass, paper and tyres as the export of this waste is phased out. At the state level, in the past few years New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia have adopted circular economy policies.
Looking outside Australia, while China was one of the earliest to introduce circular economy policies, it has struggled to implement them. But having learnt from these experiences, the Chinese Government recently released its Development Plan for the Circular Economy under its 14th Five Year Plan which sets targets for reducing resource, energy and water intensity and increasing recycling and reuse of materials, including construction waste.
The European Green Deal aims for zero net emissions by 2050 and to decouple economic growth from resource use. To achieve this, the European Commission has adopted a Circular Economy Action Plan. Among other objectives, it aims to make sustainable products the norm in the EU and focus on resource-intensive sectors where the potential for circularity is high, including electronics and information, communications and technology (ICT), batteries and vehicles, packaging, plastics, textiles, construction and buildings, food, water and nutrients.
The City of Amsterdam is even more ambitious. Its Circular Strategy aims to halve the use of new raw materials by 2025 and achieve full circularity by 2050. Some examples of action points include increasing urban agriculture, improving collection and separation of discarded textiles, electronics, furniture and plastics for reuse, repair and upcycling, and ensuring new urban development and public space designs incorporate the use of sustainable materials.
While circular economy policies are generally focused at the country or city/region level, they also need to be aligned with trade policies. For example, the design and management of circular products need to take into account global supply chains while the value of secondary raw materials, waste and scrap for recovery and goods for reuse or remanufacture could be increased through international trade.
Catherine Birch and Adelaide Timbrell are Senior Economists at ANZ