Charlie and the Circular Economy

Referencing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory may seem a novel way to begin an article about the circular economy, but Dahl’s classic children’s adventure can be read as a cautionary tale for us all. Just as Charlie and co experience a series of catastrophes as a result of their treatment of Wonka’s factory, so we’re beginning to realise the environmental cost of using resources unsustainably.

To help tackle climate change the world needs an urgent and radical step change in how we use resources. We need to be more resource efficient as part of our efforts to control humanity’s impact on the planet.

In Europe, G7 nations recently pledged to develop “resource efficient” policies as part of “…broader strategies to promote sustainable materials management and material-cycle societies.” The European Commission has opened consultation on the new circular economy package, which it will publish later this year, and ahead of November’s climate talks Pope Francis used his papal encyclical to speak about the need to consider our impact on the environment.

The world is seeking solutions to huge environmental problems. We could be seen to be taking part in a global race to find new ‘golden tickets’. These are the sparks of imagination and innovation that can help balance the demands we put on the planet; ways to re-model how we use resources.

One area of change is through adopting a more circular economy, at the heart of which is resource efficiency. Working in collaboration, sharing knowledge and action around resource efficiency can make a huge difference; take the case of food.

Food supplies are fragile and easily disrupted, and resource efficiency offers the opportunity to make these more sustainable.

In the UK we currently import around 40 per cent of our food, a figure that has been increasing for the last decade as a proportion of what we consume. By 2025 it’s estimated we’ll need an additional four million tonnes to feed our population. This would require an area the size of Wales to produce. However, at the same time we are throwing away food which required a similar area to produce.

Production and consumption of food and drink accounts for 20 per cent of our territorial greenhouse gas emissions in the UK.

The present situation then is unsustainable, and we urgently need to change how we produce, transport, sell and consume food.

WRAP believes it’s possible to halve avoidable UK household food waste by 2025. We believe the UK can be a global leader in making food systems operate sustainably, and lead a resource revolution for sustainable consumption.

We’ve set out how we see this being achievable in our plan for 2015-20 Resource Revolution: Creating the Future at the heart of which is re-writing the story of food through three new ‘R’s.

We need to Re-invent how food products are designed, sourced and processed to reduce their impact throughout the product lifecycle. We need to Re-think our relationship with food, helping consumers get more value from food and waste less. And we need to Re-define what is possible in getting best value from unavoidable food waste.

By the end of the decade we want to help more people eat well and waste less. We want to work with businesses to reduce resource risks and the impact of food and drink products across their lifecycle, and increase redistribution. Ultimately, we aim to reduce carbon, water and material waste through resource efficiency because the reality is, in just 35 years, food demand is predicted to rise by 60 per cent.

Governments here and abroad are keen to tackle food waste and reduce the environmental impact of food. By 2030, the UN wants to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition. In the circular economy we have an opportunity to help achieve this, and a golden ticket to a much happier ending for us all.

Dr. Richard Swannell is director of sustainable food systems at WRAP




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