Produce Opportunities In A Circular Economy

Nic Jooste, European Market

Originally printed in the April 2018 issue of Produce Business.

There is an age-old saying in The Netherlands‭: ‬‘Van een stuiver een dubbeltje maken‭.‬’‭ ‬Literally translated‭, ‬this means turning a nickel into a dime‭. ‬What a wonderful comparison with the concept of the circular economy‭. ‬To create double the value out of something that initially has very little‭ (‬or no‭) ‬value‭.

The Netherlands is a unique country‭. ‬It is small‭ (‬16,040‭ ‬square miles compared with the United States’‭ ‬3.8‭ ‬million square miles‭). ‬55‭ ‬percent of the country lies below sea level‭. ‬Yet‭ ‬‘the Dutchies’‭ ‬achieve some amazing feats‭. ‬For instance‭, ‬The Netherlands is the second largest agricultural exporter in the world‭. ‬In 2015‭, ‬agricultural exports from The Netherlands amounted to‭ $‬99.9‭ ‬billion‭, ‬putting it in second place to the United States‭. ‬

The Netherlands has an intense involvement in sustainability‭. ‬The past years have seen an amazing rise in Dutch projects relating to the circular economy‭, ‬an industrial model designed to get the most from initial resources before recovering and regenerating remaining materials to minimize waste‭, ‬as opposed to a‭ ‬“take‭, ‬make and dispose of”‭ economy‭. ‬Researchers estimate the circular economy in the Netherlands has a potential market value of‭ $‬89.7‭ ‬billion per year and will encompass 54,000‭ ‬jobs by 2023‭. ‬An increasing number of companies in the Dutch food and agri sector are exploring the opportunities offered by the circular economy‭. ‬Minimizing value destruction is key‭, ‬with the focus on less raw material consumption‭, ‬less waste and a more cost-effective way of working‭. ‬Consulting firm McKinsey‭ ‬&‭ ‬Company‭ (‬New York‭) ‬estimates the circular economy in Europe will generate‭ $‬2.2‭ ‬trillion by 2030‭, ‬provided the European Union makes maximum use of technological developments‭.

Minimizing value‭ ‬destruction is key‭, ‬with the focus on less raw material consumption‭, ‬less waste and a more cost-effective way of working‭.

Currently‭, ‬much of our waste ends up on a garbage dump or in an incinerator‭. ‬In a circular economy‭, ‬these waste products become‭ ‬raw materials and are reused‭. ‬To achieve this fresh thinking must be brought about by a‭ ‬‘smarter’‭ ‬mindset‭. ‬With The Netherlands’‭ ‬position as a leading horticultural nation‭, ‬this seems a logical place to start‭, ‬as vegetable products‭ (‬raw materials‭) ‬are the‭ ‬basis of a circular economy‭. ‬I predict new products made from recycled raw materials‭, ‬using sustainable packaging material‭, ‬will‭ ‬become a major player in the field of sustainability‭. ‬Here are some examples of the Dutch‭ ‬‘can do’‭ ‬approach to convince you‭:

  • A process to turn biological waste from the mushroom production process into compost‭, ‬fuel and sustainable heat‭ (‬and thus saving‭ ‬millions of cubic meters of natural gas each year‭) ‬has been developed by a mushroom grower that produces five million kilograms‭ ‬of mushrooms annually‭. ‬The cultivation residue of these mushrooms‭ (‬the so-called champost‭) ‬is converted into heat and valuable‭ ‬manure for the farm‭. ‬The result is the company supplies its own mushroom farm with heat‭, ‬allowing the consumption of one million‭ ‬cubic meters of natural gas to be replaced annually‭.
  • Suzanne Kreischer and Mark Kulsdom created the Dutch Weed Burger‭. ‬They didn’t just want their burgers to be a vegan alternative to meat‭; ‬they wanted to encourage people to rethink their consumption habits‭ ‬through the promotion of a food source that’s at the bottom of the food chain‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬organic and sustainable seaweed‭. ‬These nutrition-packed burgers are organic‭, ‬vegan‭, ‬kosher‭, ‬halal and most importantly‭, ‬delicious‭. ‬Other tasty streetfood favorites include Seawharma and The Dutch Weed Dog‭. ‬Kreischer‭: ‬‘Meat as a source of protein is no longer sustainable toward the ecological system‭. ‬The demand for proteins is growing‭, ‬but the Earth remains the same size‭. ‬Whilst beans and other plant-based products are good sources of protein‭, ‬you still need agricultural‭ ‬land and fresh water to grow them‭. ‬Seaweed‭, ‬on the other hand‭, ‬is grown and harvested in the sea‭.‬’
  • Jan Willem Bosman Jansen‭, ‬director of Dutch company GRO‭, ‬stumbled upon the idea to grow oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds when‭ ‬he visited Zimbabwe some years ago‭. ‬There‭, ‬he saw mushrooms being grown on residual waste from a coffee plantation to provide children in a home with food‭. ‬Today‭, ‬Jansen grows oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds‭, ‬and produces‭ ‬‘Henri’s Oyster Mushroom Soup‭.‬’‭ ‬The soup is served in various Dutch catering establishments‭, ‬which in turn supply the coffee grounds that the oyster mushrooms‭ ‬grow on‭. ‬Soup is delivered to the restaurants‭, ‬coffee grounds are collected‭, ‬oyster mushrooms are grown on the coffee grounds‭, ‬harvested and soup is again made‭. ‬It is a perfect example of a circular process‭.

A circular economy must be feasible in the business environment and must also be in line with the wishes of consumers‭. ‬A number‭ ‬of key actions are needed to arrive at this‭. ‬Intensive cooperation between entrepreneurs‭, ‬researchers‭, ‬consumers and government‭ ‬must be created‭. ‬Poor regulations must be abolished‭. ‬A stimulating policy from the government is necessary‭, ‬focusing on training‭ ‬and investing in research and knowledge development‭, ‬encouraging entrepreneurs to become involved‭. ‬

Bottom line‭? ‬You can make the circular economy as difficult or as easy as you like‭. ‬All it requires is creativity and the drive‭ ‬to make it work‭.

Nic Jooste is director of corporate communications‭, ‬marketing and corporate social responsibility of Cool Fresh International in‭ ‬The Netherlands‭. ‬The company is involved in an international circular economy project‭, ‬which will see collaboration between fresh produce partners from different continents‭.