Rachel Marshall; coordinator of Closing Loops project, a trustee of Eggcup and member of Claver Hill Community Food Project.

From this April, I’ll be joining LESS as the project coordinator of Closing Loops – a new climate action project that has emerged from the FoodFutures partnership. Over the next five years we will create community-led approaches to transform waste into a valuable local resource, promote sustainable consumption and support a regenerative, circular food economy in North Lancashire. This is an exciting step for me as I move away from being an academic researcher into a role where I’ll be taking action to create a more healthy, resilient and fair food system.

My recent research has focused on looking at how we can produce food more sustainably. I have a PhD in soil science and initially studied how we can manage soils better for food production. I increasingly found that it was impossible to talk about sustainable food production without understanding more about the economic and social problems in the wider food system.

For instance, one of my projects looked at using anaerobic digestion of food waste to create energy, with any waste material left being returned to fields as fertiliser. Initially I was inspired by the approach as it appeared to be closing loops to return nutrients and carbon to our soils. However, when scaled up and incentivised at an industrial scale this approach can have its own negative consequences – such as excessive use of nutrient rich wastes on soils and increased use of farmland to grow bioenergy crops. It can also be seen as the solution to our food waste problem, where huge amounts of edible food are wasted due to the business models of supermarkets and other large corporations. This wastes all the resources (such as energy) required to produce food. Much of it is tasty and edible- and should be being eaten.

Whilst anaerobic digestion has a part to play in creating more sustainable food and energy systems, my research left me feeling that small-scale and values-led approaches to a circular economy (such as Closing Loops) are needed to deliver benefits for communities, our soils and our ecosystems.

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