Opinion | Waste not, want not – In praise of the circular economy

In other words, there are good career paths open to young people in the sector.

There are environmental benefits as well. “Smart” tractors with high precision GPS systems can apply fertilizer and other inputs much more precisely than older systems.

This will allow farmers to produce more food with fewer inputs and reduce waste.

It is even possible that in the future we will use waste heat and carbon dioxide from industrial manufacturing plants, along with composted municipal waste, in order to produce protein in the form of algae or insects.

Similarly, sensors on everything from waste disposal systems through to food processing plants will allow us to monitor the things we are throwing out and wasting in real time.

When such a fine-grained assessment of waste flows is combined with robotic sorting facilities, we will know when, what and how much we are wasting and this should create opportunities for novel businesses to emerge that make use of products currently being tossed away.

It is because of these opportunities that the two authors of this article are excited by the recent Our Food Future initiative that was the City of Guelph and the County of Wellington’s submission to the Government of Canada’s $10 Million “Smart Cities Challenge.”

The goal of Our Food Future is to create what is known as a circular economy for food in southwestern Ontario.

The logic is simple. Today’s food system, and the economy in general, is based on a take-make-dispose model that is inherently linear: Resources that come from the natural environment have a brief stay as consumer goods in the economy and then end up as waste. Nature, by contrast, operates in cycles where the waste of one generation becomes the resource of the next.

In Our Food Future, we worked with the City of Guelph, Wellington County, and an interdisciplinary group of stakeholders that included representatives from the University of Guelph, Conestoga College, NGOs, government agencies, businesses, industry groups etc. to articulate a vision for the region that would lead to a 50 per cent reduction in food insecurity, the prevention and reduction of wasted food, as well as the creation of jobs and economic opportunity by adopting a circular approach to food.

As academics, it is been an exciting process.

Typically, academics are accused of staying in the ivory tower and being overly focused on esoteric research with little social impact.

But in the Smart Cities program, we have a wonderful example of how we can break down institutional boundaries and work together toward a common good.

And in doing so, we’ve had the opportunity to draw from the university’s academic expertise on topics such as the determinants of healthy eating, why food waste occurs, and advances in food processing to create a vision for a future where our goals to create economic opportunities, environmental sustainability and social equity are synergistically met.

We will find out if the Our Food Future proposal is successful in mid-May.

Regardless of the outcome, however, the process of writing the proposal, and bringing ideas of the circular economy into discussions around how municipalities, postsecondary institutions, private business and civil society can work together has been intoxicating.

Win or lose, we have a template for how to foster multi-stakeholder collaboration that shall persist for years to come.

Evan Fraser is the director and Canada research chair of the Arrell Food Institute and Kate Parizeau is associate professor of the Arrell Food Institute and Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics at the University of Guelph.

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