City Practitioners Handbook: Circular Food Systems

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About the City Practitioners Handbook

This handbook provides local governments with concrete tools their peers are using to facilitate the transition to circular food systems, from stakeholder engagement to designing effective policies. It draws on experiences from the ICLEI network and its Circular Development pathway, learnings from the ICLEI-RUAF CITYFOOD Network and best practices from the Milan Pact Awards. This publication features experiences from 50 local governments and was designed by ICLEI experts in collaboration with champion cities for the benefit of city practitioners.

“Applying circular economy principles to the food system will ensure that food actively supports natural systems, production is brought closer to where food is eaten, and the concept of waste is eliminated. Through these actions, cities can generate significant environmental, economic, and health benefits worth an estimated USD 2.7 trillion annually by 2050, within and beyond their boundaries. City governments play a key role in transforming the food system but often don’t know where to start. The Practitioners Handbook fills this gap, providing tools and resources to support city officers in transforming their city food system to one that is low-carbon, resilient, and circular.”

– Sarah O’Carroll, Cities Lead, Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Perhaps still counterintuitive, but cities have an important role in driving circularity through urban food policies. Taking a systems approach, connecting stakeholders and using their procurement power and jurisdiction over place-making for urban farming and prevention and management of food waste’. The Handbook fills a gap by providing practical guidance”.

– Martina Otto, Head, Cities Unit & Head of Secretariat, Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction Economy Division, United Nations Environment Programme

The food sector is a substantial contributor to climate change and biodiversity loss. Both challenges can be addressed through circular economy solutions, where we work with and learn from each other, rethink value and make better use of what we already have. Cities have a pivotal role to play in this transition. It is great to see so many concrete examples of what the circular food system transition can look like at the local level and best practices from cities worldwide compiled in one handbook.”.

– Tim Forslund, Circular Economy Specialist, The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra

There is much more to the circular economy than recycling of wastes by city governments and large businesses. The Circular City Actions Framework presented in this handbook is useful to identify a fuller range of opportunities for stimulating a circular economy, and when applied to each stage of the food value chain can help each actor to recognise the unique role they can play in changing the system.”.

– Blake Robinson, Senior Strategist Cities, Circle Economy

Transitioning our linear food systems towards a more circular model is critical for reducing our climate footprint, biodiversity loss and improving water quality, while also delivering enhanced food security and health benefits. This guidebook sets out the key steps urban regions can take to start their journey, offering clear and practical tools for practitioners to apply.”.

– Brian James Shaw, Agrifood Team Lead, Metabolic


  • Who is it for?

    This handbook is designed for local and regional governments working on their food systems circular transition. Local action on food systems can be initiated by different departments, such as environment, health, urban planning, public works or education. To facilitate inter-departmental collaboration, most sections of this handbook have been designed in a presentation-friendly format, allowing them to be used directly in stakeholder outreach materials.

  • What are circular food systems?

    Circular food systems prioritize regenerative production, favor reuse and sharing practices, reduce resource inputs and pollution and ensure resource recovery for future uses. As such, they close resource loops and pursue cross-sectoral synergies (e.g. with water and energy systems) that contribute to the resilience of a territory.

    Adopting a food systems lens means looking at all the elements (environment, people, inputs, processes, infrastructures, institutions, etc.) and activities that relate to the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food and the outputs of these activities, including socio-economic and environmental outcomes. 

    This handbook combines learnings from both the circular economy and food systems approaches and builds on existing work and local good practices to offer practical recommendations for designing circular food systems at the local level that also deliver socio-economic benefits.

  • Why should my city work towards circular food systems?

    The framework of circular food systems offers actionable steps to decrease overall waste production and resource consumption. It also offers various co-benefits:

    Climate action: Circular food systems decrease need for new production, protect carbon sinks and create new sources of sustainable energy (e.g. from waste heat, anaerobic digestion of organic waste).

    Resilience: Circular food systems reduce reliance on scarce resources, support resource efficient infrastructure and diversify the sources of key resource flows such as energy and water.

    Biodiversity protection: Circular food systems reduce waste production and pollution as well as pressure on natural resources.

    Inclusion: Circular food systems  increase access to products and services through the promotion of waste prevention and resource sharing.

    Innovation: Circular food systems create opportunities for local innovations and business opportunities.

Circular Food & Agriculture – Webinar series: Circular Cities in Action

Co-hosted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, this month’s webinar showcased city-led and -supported circular food and agriculture interventions that allow to shift away from the linear model of take-make-waste model in food systems to reduce food loss and waste in a systemic way. This was built on the City Practitioners Handbook: Circular Food Systems, released last year.

Watch the recording here