Assessing environmental implications of circular economy in the agri-food sector by integrating circularity in LCA

Main Presenter: Anna Luthin 

Co-Authors: Firdaus Nabil Al Barwani Marzia Traverso

The shift from a linear to a circular economy (CE) is aimed at reducing environmental impacts and saving natural resources. A growth in population, the resulting increase in food demand, and high levels of wasted food throughout the entire food value chain require a transition within the sector. Introducing circular economy strategies in the agri-food sector thus seems important and, above all, necessary to achieve sustainability goals such as reduction of food wastage and environmental impacts in general. The use of indicators to track progress and identify areas for action is a critical component for the transition of businesses, regions, and countries to a circular model. Hence, the aim of the study was to identify relevant CE indicators applicable at various geographical levels (micro-meso-macro) to assess the circular performance of a transition to a circular system in the agri-food sector via an extensive literature research. However, even though CE is crucial for sustainable performance, not all circularity activities are automatically more sustainable as some trade-offs may occur. In the position paper of the Life Cycle Initiative, Peña et al. (2021) stated the importance of combining CE and life cycle approaches to avoid burden shifting. Thus, the second aim of the study was to examine the role of life cycle assessment (LCA) in circularity assessment and how both methods can be combined. The overreaching goal is to identify the best practice that helps decision makers to develop and implement sustainable CE strategies to efficiently reduce environmental impacts. Findings indicate the only use of CE indicators is insufficient to assess and evaluate circularity strategies but combining it with LCA ensures an increase in environmental performance of CE concepts. Moreover, it appears that micro-level indicators are most applicable in agri-food sector and more in line with life cycle methodologies. Many scholars expressed the need to understand more the development of CE principles, strategies, and indicators. At the conference, suitable CE indicators for integration in LCA at different stages of the agri-food sector at different spatial levels will be proposed.

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