Commercial Food Industry Should Prepare for Circular Economy

The calls for dramatic regulatory changes addressing food and other organic waste are echoing across
international and domestic markets. Commercial food companies from producers, post-harvest
handling and storage operators, processors and manufacturers, distributers and retailers will have
obligations under the coming circular economy regimes to both recapture the resource value from food
waste and to prevent its landfill disposal. The time for the food industry to provide input into these
changes, both globally and locally, is now.

World Economic Forum Focus on Food Waste

A new report from the World Economic Forum’s Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE),
entitled
Cities and Circular Economy for Food highlights the coming role that commercial food
companies may be compelled to play within urban environments as part of global public-private efforts
to build a circular economy for food. Like similar programmatic initiatives for other product streams,
such as plastics and textiles, there is a clear call from PACE for radical cooperation within industry and
among other food industry stakeholders:

Realizing the vision at scale will require a global systems-level change effort that is cross-value
chain, spans public and private sectors, and complements existing initiatives. This effort will need to mobilize unprecedented collaboration between food brands, producers, retailers, city
governments, waste managers, and other urban food actors.

As seen in other product areas, the first movers within industry are effectively defining the parameters
around which compliance with resource recovery laws must ultimately be achieved for all industry
stakeholders.

Organics Plan Expanded to the Industrial, Commercial and Institutional (IC&I) Sectors

More locally, similar changes are occurring in Ontario, Canada, home to North America’s first circular
economy law adopting private sector individual producer responsibility. The
Made-in-Ontario
Environment Plan
expressly envisions forming a coalition of stakeholders, including municipalities,
business and the waste industry, to set the right conditions for implementing a provincial food waste
ban along with a legally-mandated slate of diversion measures – truly shades of PACE policy as law.

The desire on all sides is for an organics ban to be accompanied by the necessary regulatory and policy
measures to ensure its success. That said, the IC&I food sectors have little or no direct involvement in
waste diversion and so running value recapture operations for their food and organic waste will appear
daunting.

IC&I Volumes Pivotal in Driving Infrastructure

The plan to include the IC&I sector in organics and food waste diversion obligations isn’t merely a
measure of even-handedness. More critically, the municipal sector needs the IC&I sector to supplement
residential volumes with commercial waste. Only with the combined “feedstock” do certain
infrastructure projects, such as the growth of locally-based composting, anaerobic digestion or other
processes to create high value soil amendments, likely become attractive to the financial community.

With critical mass, it is hoped, will come critical investment.

“Resource Recovery” For Food / Organics Coming

The commercial food industry in the province need only look at the government’s circular economy
initiatives in other product areas to understand the investment in infrastructure to divert food waste will
come, directly or indirectly, from the food industry itself.

Under Ontario’s Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act, it’s anticipated that food imported/sold in the province will trigger corresponding obligations for secondary market uses for unused food, its waste
and other organics. How those diversion equivalencies developed for other products, such as tires and
electronics, can be applied for the “resource recovery” of commercial food waste remains to be seen.

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That dramatic changes are coming in the management of food waste is without doubt. As to how
industry will organize itself to comply with Ontario’s circular economy law while minimizing market
disruptions among competitors and the industry as a whole is just one question which remains
unanswered. As also urged by PACE globally, industry-public sector demonstration projects provide a
good start, creating opportunities to identify project models which will make a circular economy for
food viable for all stakeholders.

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For further information, please contact Jonathan Cocker:
jonathan.cocker@bakermckenzie.com
416-865-6908

Jonathan D. Cocker heads the Firm’s Environmental Practice Group in Canada and is an active member of firm Global Consumer Goods & Retail and Energy, Mining and Infrastructure groups. Mr. Cocker provides advice and representation to multinational companies on a variety of environment, health and safety matters, including product content, dangerous goods transportation, GHS, regulated wastes, consumer product and food safety, extended producer responsibilities and contaminated lands matters. He appears before both EHS tribunals and civil courts across Canada. Mr. Cocker is a frequent speaker and writer on EHS matters, an active participant on EHS issues in a number of national and international industry associations and the recent author of the first edition of The Environment and Climate Change Law Review (Canada chapter) and the upcoming Encyclopedia of Environmental Law (Chemicals chapter).