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Circular Economy (CE) is far from being a new concept, and yet it seems to be focusing mostly on waste, whereby products are recycled, repaired or reused rather than thrown away, and waste from one process becomes an input for another. The concept has been invigorated, however, by increasing awareness on sustainability as well as advances in technology. Innovative approaches are key, as is local ownership and the need to take a more comprehensive look at the whole system, and not just the end part.

Hivos’ New Generation for Indonesian Cooking (NGIC) program, a gastronomic campaign to stimulate sustainable food consumption in Indonesia, has been touted as an innovative example of CE practices based on its holistic approach integrating all aspects of the food chain. Hivos collaborated with prominent UK think tank, Chatham House, to deliver a NGIC workshop as a relevant case study for circular economy practice within the food sector. Chatham House is conducting a study that identifies policy priorities and entry points for mainstreaming the concept of CE in developing countries.

Production to waste: the complete cycle

The workshop, held on June 30, 2018 in Jakarta, involved various relevant national stakeholders such as the PRAISE platform (an alliance of global food multinational corporations on packaging and recycling), the Dutch Embassy, Healthy Community Movement (GEMASS), Jakarta City government, Greeneration, and many more. Mr. Nur Adi Wardoyo, Head of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry’s Center for Standardization, who has been supporting NGIC since the start, delivered a keynote speech on Indonesia’s progress with regard to Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP). He reiterated the need for a systemic change, as well as the need for all of us to “….be brave, meet real people, work with real situation SCP-ways, collaborate with stakeholders, and most of all, lead the change.”

Since the theme was on circular economy in the food sector, three frontrunner SMEs presented their case. Each was unique in that they represented one part of the food chain. Starting from the production side, Javara, one of the most prominent local food advocates in the country, presented their sustainable business concept and how to operate it. Some challenges discussed included finding suppliers – 100% local and 50% are organically certified – who also apply sustainable businesses, to be competitive in cost.

Representing the distribution side, was Burgreens, a health food restaurant chain with a social enterprise business model. Its whole menu is 100% plant-based and they have a high standard on health, animal welfare, as well as women and farmer empowerment. They also calculate their social impacts and see these as an integral part of their financial impact.

Parongpong, a waste management company in Bandung, completed the cycle by representing the waste side. The small but innovative enterprise has set an ambitious target to develop the first zero-waste landfill for the city in 2022. Parongpong’s work is not only treating the waste and targeting the amount of waste that is treated, but also provides capacity building for various stakeholders on how to reduce waste.

Everyone must contribute, especially the food sector

As the workshop took place during Ramadan, the participants’ enthusiasm to stay until the end of the day for the World Café session need to be applauded. Workshop participants came to the conclusion that the food sector can and should become the trailblazer of circular economy in Indonesia. It needs an effective campaign that targets consumers and raises their awareness. The role of government is very important and still very much needed. Therefore, it was proposed to have a combination of a top-down and bottom-up approach:

An effective bottom-up approach would involve increased activism from consumers who are aware of and actively demand more than just tasty food, but sustainably produced food from restaurants, retailers, and other food services. Since the start, NGIC’s main objective is a sustainable food (local) system, led by food service providers, from chefs, restaurants and so on. Now, we have realized that it has an even bigger potential contribution to the circular economy implementation in Indonesia.

New Generation of Indonesian Cooking is part of the Sustainable Diets for All program, a 5-year strategic partnership between Hivos and its partner IIED with the Dutch Government to transform the food system and promote sustainable diets. Promoting dietary diversity through consumers’ choice and voice is one of the key strategies that the program seeks to implement.

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Silvana Paath is Regional Advocacy Officer, Hivos Southeast Asia