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A man and a girl are shopping in a supermarket. The man is leaning down to choose an item of food. The girl is sticking out her tongue in concentration and holding a list.

Food for thought – 4 ways to drive a more circular food system in London

Last month was London’s sixth annual Circular Economy Week – an action-packed week with around 80 events showcasing the work being done in London and other global cities to combat the climate emergency by shifting to a more circular economy.

If you don’t know what ‘circular economy’ means, it’s simply a different way of using ‘stuff’. In a circular economy we make stuff well, we waste as little of it as possible, we keep it in use – circulating – for as long as possible rather than throwing it away, and we regenerate rather than deplete our natural resources.

Take food: in a more circular economy, we’d be eating healthier and lower-carbon food which has been grown in a way that regenerates nature; we’d waste much less of it; and in those situations where food waste is unavoidable (e.g. orange peels or coffee grounds), we’d create something valuable from it to keep it circulating.

The great thing is that by shifting to this different way of designing and using ‘stuff’, we can combat the climate emergency and drive down carbon emissions. The opportunity for reducing emissions in London by changing our relationship with food is particularly significant.

Food in London is responsible for 10% of the city’s consumption-based carbon footprint – that’s more than the emissions associated with the use of all cars in the city. The food we consume in the capital has such a big carbon footprint because of the kinds of food we eat, how and where that food is produced, and the amount of it that we waste.

ReLondon’s Food Footprint report has mapped the flows of food across London, and shows us that:

  • A third of the food produced to supply London is lost or wasted, two thirds of which is edible;
  • Animal products represent a quarter of food consumed by London’s households (in tonnes), yet are responsible for half of London households’ consumption-based emissions; 
  • Almost all (99%) food consumed in London is imported, with local farming and production accounting for just 1% of the city’s food supply; 
  • London could see a reduction in food-related consumption-based emissions by 31% a year by shifting towards a more circular economy for food, where food loss and waste is reduced and where diets are healthier and more sustainable.

ReLondon has been working together with the Mayor of London, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, London Councils, and community-based organisation Sustain to seize this opportunity.

Over the past three years, we’ve taken a number of bold and strategic steps to support Londoners, London’s local authorities and London’s small businesses to reduce food waste, create value from food waste and eat more healthy, low carbon and sustainably produced food.  

This ambitious food programme, named ‘The Food Flagship Initiative, is not only helping London transition towards a lower carbon circular economy for food, but is also inspiring other cities globally to consider how action on food can help them achieve their zero carbon ambitions.

Get involved

We want you to get involved too! Whether you’re a Londoner, a council officer or a small business owner, we’re calling on you to join us in a collective effort to create a city where everyone enjoys healthy and sustainable food that is sustainably produced, and never wasted. Find out how:

  1.  Londoners: Find tasty plant-rich recipes, learn how to make your food go further and save some cash at
  2.  London local authorities: Sign London’s Food Purchasing Commitment to reduce the environmental impact of the food you purchase across council services, deliver against your net zero and consumption-based emissions targets, and ensure value for money for your contracts. The London boroughs of Hackney, Hounslow, Lambeth and Newham have already signed London’s Food Purchasing Commitment, with more in process.
  3.  London circular start-ups and early-stage businesses: Apply for grants of up to £15,000 by 13th November to scale your reach and operations, if your business model: reduces food waste and food loss; creates value from food waste or surplus; or provides access to locally grown, sustainable food.
  4.  London’s small hospitality and food businesses: Apply for free, interactive training from ReLondon to find ways to make your business more resilient through circularity – open to any café, restaurant, take-away, deli or other small food business across London, with opportunities to apply for grants early next year to bring your ideas to life.

Rachel Shairp is the Food Lead at ReLondon. Contact Rachel here.

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