Food Circularity

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Forty percent of the food we grow is lost or wasted each year. Globally, food loss and waste (FLW) is responsible for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions, producing profound implications for climate, ecosystems, and society.i At the same time, rates of food insecurity continue to skyrocket. In 2022, nearly 828 million people faced acute food insecurity, an increase of more than 60% since 2019.ii These numbers are only expected to grow as climate change continues.

The current food system is linear and was organized to achieve economies of scale and low prices, with waste seen as a tolerated end product. But opportunities exist to disrupt this linear model—and reverse its negative outcomes—by introducing circularity into food cultivation and production. Circularity considers the entire life cycle of food, including its societal and environmental costs, and supports alternative models for waste prevention and upcycling.

FLW investments can yield significant financial, social, and environmental returns. For example, investing $14 billion annually for 10 years into US food waste solutions could return $73 billion in annual net financial benefits and generate significant environmental gains, such as reducing food waste by 45 million tons, eliminating 75 million metric tons of GHG, and saving 4 trillion gallons of water – in addition to recovering 4 billion meals each year.iii Yet, to date, FLW startups have had difficulty scaling with traditional investment capital as funders in the space are mainly driven by current consumer trends and seek fast-growth companies with high margin potential. This financing hurdle has made it hard for the sector to grow. 

WWF Impact invests in early-stage innovations that directly address food waste, food loss, waste-to-feed, and sustainable food packaging to promote circular and resilient systems in developed and developing markets. Reducing food waste and loss will decrease agricultural expansion and redirect surplus food to benefit food insecure communities. Bringing impact investing to such innovations can significantly advance the circular food economy, as these innovations take what has traditionally been considered “waste” and generate new products, services, and profitability from the discard nutrients and resources. This includes companies focused on upcycling and byproduct valorization, in which surplus or discarded food is recovered to create and sell new products. Similarly, companies might take surplus food that was previously directed towards the landfill or left in fields and produce feed that can be used in livestock, pet, and poultry supply chains.

  • 0 ©WWF-US / Rebecca Drobis

    WWF Impact supports innovations that offer tangible solutions for reclaiming and repurposing FLW, such as those operating in the following areas:

    • Collection & aggregation systems
    • Measurement technologies
    • Processing & upcycling food loss and waste
    • Reuse models
    • Food redistribution
    • Alternative animal feed

i. World Wildlife Fund. “We’re losing 40% of the food we produce. Here’s how to stop food waste.” 19 Aug 2021.

ii. World Food Programme. “A Global Food Crisis.” 2022.

iii. ReFED. "Food waste is a solvable problem - here's how to do it." 2022. ReFED Capital Tracker. 2022