FAO Liaison Office with the Russian Federation

Circular economy hailed as a driver for reducing food loss and waste

Photo: © FAO/Vladimir Mikheev

“Preventing food waste, promoting circular economy” was the focus of a special session, co-organized by FAO and “Messe Düsseldorf Moscow” within the framework of upakovka-2020, one of the top  trade fairs in Russia for processing and packaging machines industry.

A third of all food produced is lost or wasted, which not only does not contribute to food security and nutrition, but also increases the burden on natural resources. Lost or wasted energy used for food production accounts for about 10 percent of the world's total energy consumption, and annual greenhouse gas emissions associated with food losses and food waste reach 3.5 gigatons of CO2 equivalent.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015 at the UN General Assembly, signal the need to change the traditional model of production, operating on the principle of “take, make, dispose”, to a new model – the Circular Economy (CE). This is the process of sustainable use of materials along the entire chain from production to consumption, when all materials are reused or recycled and returned to the production cycle.

A circular economy promotes innovative solutions for living in harmony with nature, providing a social basis for inclusive and sustainable development. Restructuring food systems based on the principles of a circular economy can help solve the global problem of food waste by shortening food supply chains and increasing their efficiency in terms of resource use.

The purpose of the special event devoted to fighting food loss and waste (FLW) at Upakova-2020 was to present local and international business cases and best practices in promoting the principles of circular economy. Speakers focused on the challenges and opportunities of this transition, and reflected on the capacity of business entities in Russia to capitalize on switching to a new, more sustainable model of production across the agri-food chain.

Adopting the CE approach on combatting FLW would “ensure food and nutrition security, economic growth and climate change mitigation”, Myriam Annette, FAO FLW consultant from the Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia, noted. The expert detailed the advantages of the CE concept, namely that it: 

  • Promotes economic growth with an alternative cyclical flow model (closed-loop systems);
  • Encompasses all the activities aimed at reducing, reusing and recycling materials along the food supply chain leading to multiple economic opportunities;
  • Whilst the focus is often on plastic, the circular economy of FLW is also an area with enormous potential to create a positive environmental and social impact;
  • Minimizes waste (including FLW) by transforming it into a new resource that can be used as a new manufacturing input or as a raw material for other purposes, like animal feed.

Meeuwes Brouwer, Agricultural Counsellor, The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Russia, pointed out the key elements of his country’s “National strategy for moving towards a circular economy”. She explained the rationale behind its adoption: “The Netherlands needs to prevent depletion of soil, freshwater supplies and raw materials, halt the decline in biodiversity and fulfil our commitments to the Paris climate agreement.”

“During a recent OECD meeting in Paris a young Dutch female farmer said: “For my grandfather raising the productivity was the issue, for my father it was improving efficiency, for me as a young farmer it is circularity.” This summary of three generations of farmers mirrors the way Dutch agricultural sector has changed during the last half century,” Brouwer stressed.

Explaining “How science and innovation help reduce food losses across the agri-food chain”, Josianne Cloutier, Postharvest Specialist, Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, Netherlands, pinpointed the challenges we all face. “Current system in fresh produce aims to commoditize products by striving to uniformity. Industry is fighting against nature: Try to make commodities with equal size, taste and shelf life,” Cloutier noted. As a result, “Potential of products is not optimally used. Strict quality specifications results in unnecessary losses. Consumers don’t get preferred quality. Farmers get low prices for products not meeting the specs.”

Wageningen Food & Biobased Research teams in collaboration with business develop “a new type of bio-plastic made of patato starch with the right perforation where the quality of the pears are preserved under 2 very different temperatures encountered during the supply chain, Cloutier detailed. In order to increase the circularity of the agricultural system, we also develop a pulpe made of tomato plant which is used to make the packaging in which the tomatoes are sold.”

Maxim Chizhov, Development Director at iFarm, presented vertical farming technologies for cities capable of contributing to shortening food supply chains. Automated vertical farms serve as a tool for promoting city farming and allow growing edible plants in urban areas all year round. The introduction of vertical farms is sustainable farming of a new type. “Green” production does not emit CO2, require much less water than traditional farming, abstains from the use of pesticides, saves space and does not deplete fertile soils.

Anton Gubnitsyn, Head of the Russian Association of electronic communications / Sharing Economy cluster and General Director of the TIAR Center, spoke about the “Role of food sharing services in the circular economy”. These are online services ensuring distribution of food. The focal point of the food sharing services model is the community of users. People post information about available products, their volumes and location, and then arrange for either complimentary or compensated food delivery to those who are interested. The application of the TIAR Center's online platform makes it possible to save 1 million tons of food annually, providing food for 1.3 million people in need.

Anna Sycheva, Head of “Sustainable development”, OPTICOM, presented “Circular Economy in paper packaging for agricultural segment”. The company offers packaging made of formed paper fiber (FPF) noted for several obvious benefits:

  • The alveoli prevent collapse of vegetables and fruits during transportation;
  • FPF lodges prevent damage to lettuce leaves due to the absence of sharp edges;
  • Packaging absorbs excess moisture, extending the shelf life of products;
  • Packaging is biodegradable and can be recycled up to 60 times.

Rudolf Ahn, Founder of the EATME app for selling leftover food from food service establishments (he likes to call it a “food rescue service”), explained how the service helps users save money and restaurants solve the problem of reducing food waste. One of the activities is devoted to promoting the “eco trend” in restaurants, which involves, as Ahn said, “separate garbage collection, replacing disposable tubes with reusable ones, avoiding plastic and working with local farmers.” Following these rules and working with this service becomes a “marker of environmental friendliness” for restaurants.

Galina Gracheva, Editor-in-Chief of Natur Product magazine, spoke about the dissemination or, rather, the infusion of utilitarian information about the usefulness of saving food into the public domain and public consciousness. She stressed, among other things, the need to “implant new eco-habits.” In Russia, the number of volunteer initiatives for saving food has been ballooning. The list of “stores without packaging” and services and apps for selling leftover food at a discount has been growing.

The project “Feed the baby-mammoth”, aimed at recycling food waste, has gained considerable popularity. A truck with the equipment produced by South Korean company GAIA performs grinding, drying and sterilization of the loaded material right on the spot. It can be any kind of organic matter, not just food waste. Vegetables, porridge, bread, eggs, bones from meat and fish, all this is fed into the “belly of the baby-mammoth to become biomass.

28 January 2020, Moscow, Russian Federation

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On the eve of the FAO session at upakovka-2020, Myriam Annette, FAO expert on FLW, made a presentation for students from MGIMO University on the premises of the UN House in Moscow on issues concerning the promotion of circular economy.