Food waste has adverse outcomes for land use, food insecurity, and climate change and has become a challenge for many urban and rural areas globally (Ribeiro et al., 2018; Warshawsky, 2015; Senanayake et al., 2021; Moggi & Dameri, 2021). Contrary to previous models, the circular economy values food waste as valuable instead of a cost to be minimized (Perey et al., 2018).
Governments, civil society organizations (CSOs), and businesses have developed policies and programs to increase awareness and lower food waste at every stage of the food supply change. Grassroots movements and CSOs have become influential institutions to activate change and reduce food waste. Given their growing role, we need to learn more about their effectiveness and the business models grassroots movements and CSOs apply during this activation (Warshawsky, 2015).
This study aims to explore the stakeholder involvement and the collaborations that facilitated a local initiative's progress to a circular ecosystem at the national level, characterized by a co-designed circular business model with a broad range of stakeholders. In doing so, the study adopts a perspective of business models in which value creation happens with and for stakeholders (Freudenreich et al., 2020).
In particular, the study investigates the implementation of the collaborative food waste reduction initiative in Türkiye’s three cities: Istanbul, Mersin, and Adana. By comparing and contrasting how value is created for society in these cities, it aims to uncover the challenges of their collaborations. Mobilization of the food supply chain actors, including industry stakeholders (producers, distributors, wholesalers, and retailers), consumers, and regulatory agencies, is necessary for initiating and sustaining a circular ecosystem (Bhattacharya & Fayezi, 2021). The study draws from the literature on new sustainable business models, sustainable food supply chains, and stakeholder management theory, examining a nationwide collaborative initiative that reuses and recycles food waste in Türkiye.
A local chef and entrepreneur initiate the "Soil-to-Soil Biodegradable Waste Management" project (Eris et al., 2022). Waste management is purposefully chosen as a case because of its broad stakeholder involvement, high visibility, and rapid geographic expansion and growth to a national scale.
Beginning in April 2021, the waste management project was applied by Improving Life CSO in Diyarbakır, collaborating with Kayapınar Municipality. Since June 2021, the initiative has expanded to include 52 municipalities at the national level (e.g., Kocaeli, Mersin, and Istanbul) with the help of 3500 volunteers. The initiative involves reusing and recovering food at farmers' markets and festivals and recycling food waste via composting. The rescued food is used in several ways, e.g., distributed to needy families, and the local farmers use the compost.
Source: Adapted from Hatipoglu & Inelmen (2022)
This study employs a longitudinal methodology, including website, social media, and WhatsApp messages content analysis, followed by a field study and semi-structured stakeholder interviews over two years (2022-2023). The content analysis aimed to document the initiative's evolution, identify the stakeholders and beneficiaries, and list a set of activities that the stakeholders performed. The field study and interviews allow for uncovering the collaborating partners’ involvement in the initiative.
Food waste and loss happen at every step of the food supply chain. This study focuses on the ‘Market” stage of the supply chain, in which an exchange between the producer/trader and the consumer takes place (at food markets and other food outlets) (Figure 1). To prevent and reduce food waste, the conceptual model suggests that all actors in the food chain have a role to play, including farmers/traders, food processors, wholesalers and retailers, and ultimately, consumers. Mobilizing these food supply chain actors is necessary for initiating and sustaining a circular ecosystem (Bhattacharya & Fayezi, 2021).
In the business model of the initiative, the stakeholders are both recipients and co-creators of value, as depicted in the conceptual model. The first level of analysis points out that the initiative aims to tackle the pressing issues of poverty-hunger, access to food, food shortage, sustainable farming, and efficient water use. The analysis also yields a list of the stakeholders. It exemplifies the increasing numbers of volunteers and municipalities joining the initiative, the increasing media coverage, the shift in project outcomes from purely environmental to social and environmental, and the lack of systematic impact measurement.
Source: Author’s own
An inquiry commissioned by the European Union reminds us that evaluating food waste prevention interventions is still early (Caldeira et al., 2019). Moreover, there are few studies on grassroots initiatives committed to reducing food loss and waste (Mariam et al., 2020); therefore, scholars suggest that we need more studies demonstrating the effectiveness of food waste initiatives (Chauhan et al., 2021; Goossens et al., 2019; Huang et al., 2021).
Table 1 summarizes the value created with and for stakeholders. The results confirm that value is created collaboratively in this initiative. For example, farmers provide their food waste, but they receive compost for their farms. Likewise, restaurants receive recovered food free of charge but then provide free meals for university students. Furthermore, value is created beyond the initial aims of the initiative. For example, school children receive ecological education, or volunteer university students take credits as part of their courses. Finally, the initiative has expanded the food recovery from the “Market” stage to the “Consumer” (Figure 1) by involving young consumers in bringing their household food waste to the composting centers. In summary, the new business model employed by Improving Life CSO provides solutions to resolve the issue of “waste as a burden” and creates different types of value for stakeholders at different levels (e.g., micro, meso, macro levels). Value is defined differently by each stakeholder group.
The second level of analysis examines the involvement of stakeholders and collaborations in the waste management initiative. The initiative has to grow, and the number of beneficiaries should expand to make a valuable contribution to social and environmental goals (Ciulli et al., 2022). To grow and drive the transformation toward circularity, collective action and collaborations among multiple stakeholders is needed (Pedersen et al., 2021). The Improving Life CSO collaborated with multiple actors from the government (central and local), the market, and civil society (Figure 2). Some of the aims of the collaborations can be listed as knowledge exchange (universities), resource acquisition and infrastructure (municipalities and businesses), permits (central government agencies), and diversification of value creation (restaurants). Scaling of the initiative geographically and at a national level was also a strong aim of these collaborations.
Source: Author’s own
However, the analysis also finds several challenges, if left unresolved, will risk the initiative's expansion. Firstly, the resources, the kind, and size of the produce that can be recycled and reused, the actors' commitment, and the governance models differ among each district. It is challenging to find and manage volunteers in every district. Secondly, there are tensions between the municipalities ruled by the opposition party and the main political party, as well as a known alliance of the chef with the main political party, which results in the rejection of the initiative by some municipalities, despite its benefits (Figure 2). Lastly, there needs to be scientific impact measurement in the initiative. The indicators only go up to the number of districts collaborating, tonnes of food waste recycled, and the number of volunteers. Impact measurement is vital for moving on but will stay a challenge until the administrators of the initiative understand the imperative to measure.
Both urban and rural stakeholders should have the transformative capacity to activate change to become more sustainable (Wolfram, 2016). The attempts in this study to examine and discuss stakeholders’ involvement in the circular business model of a collaborative initiative will contribute to our understanding of new business models in food waste management (Desiderio et al., 2022; Senanayake et al., 2021). We know that what is not measured or evaluated is also not managed. Complete information on the initiative's effectiveness would make the impacts visible at various levels and improve future action design by the partners and policymakers.
New business models, stakeholder theory, food waste management, SDG 12.
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