Funding source: (former) School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management New Staff Grant, Australian Postgraduate Award Scholarship 

The traditionally linear principles of Australia’s food production processes have contributed significantly to the national economy for more than a century; but at an alarming cost to the environment.

Vast sources of fresh water are diverted from ecosystems to grow crops and livestock. Harvesting, processing, transport, storage, and fertilizer production rely heavily on fossil fuel inputs. Preserving both fresh and processed food products for storage and transportation requires intensive heating and cooling.

Yet, despite the enormous input of scarce materials, in industrialised countries like Australia more than 40% of the food that is produced, processed, stored and transported will be wasted before it reaches the consumer.

Collaborating with the CSIRO and research consultancy Life Cycle Strategies, UQ’s Dr Anthony Halog is studying sustainable alternatives for the Australian food supply chain.

“Continuing with the linear model poses multi-level risks for Australia, as our economic prosperity relies on the security and availability of natural resources, energy, and food to feed our own communities and the world,” said Dr Halog.

“We’re investigating how the principles of industrial ecology and circular economy could improve efficiency in the agri-food industry and reduce the environmental issues it currently creates.

“The research involves analysing the entire supply chain to identify its best and least eco-efficient sub-sectors. Our aim is to develop a series of eco-efficiency performance indicators to help the industry drive its own transformation to sustainable practices.”

Dr Halog’s project seeks to align Australia’s agri-food sector with a circular economy (CE), inspired by biological cycles that optimise the use of resources in a system over time.

This whole-of-systems approach to the analysis will help the researchers understand  how moving away from the ‘make-use-dispose’ model towards one where products and the materials they contain are valued differently, could create a more robust economy with positive social and environmental impacts.