Circular Economy is the shape for food and farming sectors?

Featuring Richard Wadman | 24th September, 2018

As we have commented on in previous blog posts, food waste is a significant concern.  One of the developments in this area is the ‘circular economy’.  It is great to see Exeter University take a lead in this area and to see a number of prominent South West businesses engaged with their research.

Transforming from linear to circular

As reported in the Western Morning News, the food and farming industry injects over £1bn into the UK economy, but faces turbulent times; one of the tensions coming from the industry being under pressure to maintain growth in production whilst reducing environmental impact.

This tension stems from a feeling that the targets of growth and reduced environmental impact are mutually exclusive. This is in part arguably the result of the dominant approach in this sector being a linear one; where we dispose of any resources felt to be ‘waste’ in that production process.

Research from the University of Exeter suggests it is time to transform this linear approach to a circular one: in what is referred to as a circular economy (CE).

CE not only recognises the importance of reducing waste to protect our environment and resources, but highlights that waste may actually be a valuable resource.  As one article put it: “CE is all about moving away from the prevailing linear approach of ‘take-make-dispose’ and towards a more regenerative system where ‘waste’—be it excess materials, water or energy—is recognised as something of value to be reused within a business – or exchanged with others.”

Economic benefits

The research from the University of Exeter indicates that adopting a collaborative CE approach with other businesses can build business networks, support local industry, and ultimately save and make you money. It has been estimated that a widespread CE approach could generate a net economic benefit of €1.8 trillion (£1.61 trillion) across Europe in the next 12 years.

The research indicates that small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the South West can benefit in the long term by adopting a CE approach, rather than the historical linear, cost-down approach. By collaborating in waste reduction, SMEs can build strong networks between customers, suppliers, and other businesses, which in turn can promote a stronger economy.

More details/ further information

The following website carries details of the Exeter University research project which explores “how SMEs in the food and beverage manufacturing industry (FBMI) in the South West of England can move towards the CE, the benefits of the transition and what helps or hinders progress”.

On 12 September 2018 the initial results of the project were presented and discussed at the All-Party Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group (APSRG) at Portcullis House in Westminster. This event was billed as bringing “together members of the project team, local industry representatives from Devon & Cornwall, as well as Members of Parliament to field questions around the project outcomes and future directions for regional food and farming policy.” I would like to think details of the discussion will be shared / made available via APSRG in due course, but I could not see anything at the time of writing this blog post.

However, on Friday 21 September 2018, Exeter University will be sharing with various local businesses attending the South West Business Council’s next conference ‘From Farm to Fork; the future of food and drink in the South West’.

And apparently, the University of Exeter Business School are always looking out for new firms large and small to work with, so please do get in touch with them if you would like to know more.

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