The limits of linear consumption
In order to satisfy the needs and lifestyles of the world’s population, we are placing too much pressure on the natural ecosystems, they don’t have time to regenerate the resources we need. This model of uncontrolled exploitation of resources has not only eroded the natural stocks of raw materials, but is also irreversibly changing the natural equilibria.
What should we do to reverse this trend?
We must aim for a circular model to create a regenerative system in which the goods we produce remain in the economic cycle for as long as possible without losing their value. The circular economy aims to eliminate the concept of waste – products are designed for a cycle of deconstruction and disassembly at the end of life. In this perspective, even the concept of recycling becomes obsolete and it should only be adopted when materials definitively lose their functionalities.
Applying these principles in the real value chains allows to minimise material, energy and labour inputs, reducing the dependence of our economy on raw materials and non-renewable sources.
How does it work the circular economy?
Two definitions are essential to describe the Circular Economy framework:
- Biological material cycle: represented in green cycles on the left side of the diagram – are those materials that can safely re-enter into natural world, once they have passed through one or more use cycles, where they will biodegrade over time, returning the embedded nutrients to the environment.
- Technical material cycle: represented in blue on the right hand side – cannot re-enter into natural world. These materials, such as metals, plastics, and synthetic chemicals, must continuously cycle through the system so that their value can be captured and recaptured. These two cycles must never overlap. In order to avoid contamination and pollution it is necessary that technical materials do not enter into biosphere and to ensure the renewability of biological nutrients we must be able to separate them from the technical materials and return them to the biological cycle. The butterfly diagram proposed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, attempts to describe these concepts proposing how an ideal circular economic system should work.
The agri-food sector more than any other shows the impacts and contradictions of the linear model, with tremendous pressure on the mechanisms that regulate the health of natural and social systems.
Food production, from agriculture to industry, is responsible for crossing four of the nine planetary boundaries – climate change, biodiversity loss, land use change and alteration of the nitrogen and phosphorus nutrient cycle – thresholds beyond which global balances are irreversibly compromised (Gerten, 2020).
Is it possible to transform the system and produce enough food for everyone without destroyin g the natural capital?
It is essential to rethink the entire production system, from the farming to the processing industry, from the way we everyday shop to our diet. We have a powerful and efficient ally to develop a Circular agri-food system – all we need is to analyze and try to emulate the nature. Indeed, in the natural systems, waste always becomes a source of energy and matter for another organism (Pauli, 2020). As a matter of fact “biomimicry” can help us to transform the problem of agri-food residues into an opportunity to develop new sources of bio-materials with many and different applications, originated by efficient and sustainable processes.
Moreover, we need new approaches – interconnected supply chains and industrial symbiosis are able to extract the maximum value from resources at every stage of the supply chain. The by-products and waste from one industrial process become raw materials for another, avoiding the extraction of raw materials and all the embedded impacts. The residual organic matter must be transformed into soil conditioner and organic fertiliser in order to nourish the soil, closing the loop and keeping natural ecosystems healthy.
By combining our experience in the responsible management of agro-forestry supply chains and the enhancement of the ecosystem services offered by natural areas, we want to contribute to triggering these new circular processes.
Through our innovative approach, which has always been our hallmark, we are focusing on the technological transfer of innovative solutions for the agri-waste exploitation, connecting the research with the agro-industrial actors willing to take part in the circular revolution.