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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Assessing the circularity of nutrient flows related to the food system in the Okanagan bioregion, BC Canada

Harder, Robin; Giampietro, Mario; Mullinix, Kent; Smukler, Sean


The "circular bioeconomy" is extensively discussed in science and policy, and its implementation in practice is considered to be a panacea for fixing many current sustainability problems. The circular bioeconomy crucially depends on biological and technical processes capable of recycling nutrients in the right mix, at the right pace, and using only renewable energy. The current lack of circularity of nutrient flows is a critical factor that hampers sustainable food and bioeconomy systems. If we are serious about the sustainability of food and bioeconomy systems, we have to develop more robust tools to study (diagnose) and explore (simulate) the factors determining the circularity of nutrient flows. This paper applies a novel analytical framework to assess the circularity of nutrient flows in modern food systems. This framework can help understand the potentialities of proposed changes in relation to reducing nutrient losses and the dependence on nutrients mined from finite deposits. More specifically, in this paper, we illustrate a quantitative assessment of the flows of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium in a case study - the food system of the Okanagan bioregion in BC Canada. Our study suggests that the proposed approach is effective to inform nutrient management policies in bioregional food systems. In particular, an assessment of the openness of nutrient flows flags the importance of managing organic residuals for comprehensive nutrient recovery and reuse - an activity that is still often systematically neglected due to large feed and food imports and the availability of cheap synthetic fertilizers. This type of analysis is essential if we want to develop effective policies for more sustainable management of nutrients in food and bioeconomy systems.


Food systems; Agriculture; Nutrient flows; Circularity Feed and food trade; System openness

Published in

Resources, Conservation and Recycling
2021, Volume: 174, article number: 105842
Publisher: ELSEVIER

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Environmental Sciences

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