City Practitioners Handbook: Circular Food Systems

Monday, 29 March, 2021

City Practitioners Handbook: Circular Food Systems

by ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability

This handbook provides local governments with concrete tools their peers are using to facilitate the transition to circular food systems, from stakeholder engagement to designing effective policies. It draws on experiences from the ICLEI network and its Circular Development pathway, learnings from the ICLEI-RUAF CITYFOOD Network and best practices from the Milan Pact Awards. This publication features experiences from 50 local governments and was designed by ICLEI experts in collaboration with champion cities for the benefit of city practitioners.

Who is it for?

This handbook is designed for local and regional governments working on their food systems circular transition. Local action on food systems can be initiated by different departments, such as environment, health, urban planning, public works or education. To facilitate inter-departmental collaboration, most sections of this handbook have been designed in a presentation-friendly format, allowing them to be used directly in stakeholder outreach materials.

What are circular food systems?

Circular food systems prioritize regenerative production, favor reuse and sharing practices, reduce resource inputs and pollution and ensure resource recovery for future uses. As such, they close resource loops and pursue cross-sectoral synergies (e.g. with water and energy systems) that contribute to the resilience of a territory.

Adopting a food systems lens means looking at all the elements (environment, people, inputs, processes, infrastructures, institutions, etc.) and activities that relate to the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food and the outputs of these activities, including socio-economic and environmental outcomes. 

This handbook combines learnings from both the circular economy and food systems approaches and builds on existing work and local good practices to offer practical recommendations for designing circular food systems at the local level that also deliver socio-economic benefits.

Why should my city work towards circular food systems?

The framework of circular food systems offers actionable steps to decrease overall waste production and resource consumption. It also offers various co-benefits:

Climate action: Circular food systems decrease need for new production, protect carbon sinks and create new sources of sustainable energy (e.g. from waste heat, anaerobic digestion of organic waste).

Resilience: Circular food systems reduce reliance on scarce resources, support resource efficient infrastructure and diversify the sources of key resource flows such as energy and water.

Biodiversity protection: Circular food systems reduce waste production and pollution as well as pressure on natural resources.

Inclusion: Circular food systems  increase access to products and services through the promotion of waste prevention and resource sharing.

Innovation: Circular food systems create opportunities for local innovations and business opportunities.

Download the full handbook here

Retrieved from