One company’s trash can be another company’s treasure. That’s the idea behind the research that Western University’s Ivey School of Business is conducting in collaboration with Our Food Future. 

Associate professor Jury Gualandris and post-doctoral fellow Dr. Sourabh Jain identified the most common examples of how businesses are exchanging surplus materials and by-products to create economic and environmental benefits. They also looked at current gaps, barriers, and ways to facilitate these synergies. “In a nutshell, our study unveils how the structure of circular systems affect their economic and environmental impacts,” says Gualandris. 

It wasn’t simple. The Ivey researchers couldn’t find any datasets of circular systems in general, let alone circular systems dealing with food loss and waste (FLW). So, they set out to build one from scratch. Once they identified companies using these synergies, the next challenge was convincing them to share the details in order to shed light on best practices. 

Through perseverance, the researchers created Canada’s first repository of business-to-business FLW repurposing exchanges. They also made it available online through an interactive map, which they continue to expand. (Businesses that want to be listed can fill out this survey.)

Now, Gualandris and his team are analyzing their data. This includes identifying operational and organizational enablers that businesses should consider before embarking in the journey towards circularity. They also aim to tease apart the anatomy of circular systems, understand what scale maximizes their benefits, and identify how government policies could facilitate their success. 

Currently, they are performing a quantitative life cycle assessment, looking at how different processing options for different types of food waste can cut carbon emissions. As a result, they’ll help generate the insights businesses need to advance powerful circular solutions that mitigate climate change.