A UQAM research team led by Hiên Pham conducted interviews with local stakeholders in Saint-Hyacinthe about the deployment of circularity in the food system. Discover the summary of their work.
Growing awareness of the unsustainability of the food system in industrialized countries is driving many cities and regions to adopt circular economy (CE) practices. From farmers to consumers, everyone wants to take advantage of accelerating technological innovations to increase the amount of food available, ensure healthy and nutritious annual production while reducing the environmental impact of the food system (Lemeilleur et al., 2020). In Quebec, several partnerships have been formed in recent years to develop EC projects at city and regional levels. At the same time, cities have been the playground for many citizens and entrepreneurs, who have initiated circular initiatives in a variety of product niches, technologies, infrastructures and practices (Ntsonde, 2022; Weber et al., 2020).
In this context, we note that studies on CE have largely focused on technical feasibility (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2013; Lucertini and Musco, 2020), material flows (Hamam et al., 2021; Velasco-Muñoz et al., 2021), logistics (Do et al., 2021; Kumar et al, 2023) and economic profitability (Weidner, Yang and Hamm, 2019; Wezel et al., 2020), leaving aside a very important question: what is the contribution of actors and institutional structures to the transition towards a circular economy, particularly in the food sector (Lardon and Loudiyi, 2014)? This research project aims to fill this gap through a qualitative study of the strategies, mechanisms and discourses of a medium-sized city and its region, enabling the deployment of circularity in the food system. Using Saint-Hyacinthe (QC) as a case study, we integrated a literature search with a series of 18 semi-structured interviews with regional food and circular economy actors.
Our results reveal:
- A mismatch between defined and practiced responsibilities in circular economy initiatives for municipal governments. This can be explained by several factors, including a lack of financial and human resources; short-term economic and electoral pressures; and the perceived and experienced complexity of the compartmentalized regulatory framework.
“We could certainly promote them and then enhance their value. Apart from that, we don’t really have much power of influence.” Actor 11
“Yeah, there’s a lot of tattooing, it’s like we’re in the dark, then let’s say we have a problem or an issue there, OK who do we call?” Actor 12
- A narrow vision prevails among CE stakeholders, leaning towards a market-driven solution offering few tangible short-term benefits for cities and their inhabitants. Nevertheless, there is a strong emphasis on collective responsibility and citizen action.
“Deep down, people are encouraging people, citizens, the population to consume local products to keep local industries going so they don’t move elsewhere.” Actor 13
“Because a company still has to think about itself in order to survive, so it can’t finance projects that will necessarily help other companies, unless [it’s] a huge company.” Actor 9
- The advantage of a certain informality to break down compartmentalized strategies at different scales by offering a flexible, inclusive and transparent approach; enabling, in particular, the identification of emerging opportunities, rapid reaction to unforeseen challenges and the integration of local knowledge into decision-making and strategy implementation.
“With the adult education center, we’ve been lucky because there are people inside the institution who believe in it. So they see it as relevant. And they already have an educational mission, so combining it with us, while diversifying their pedagogical activities, is a good thing…” Actor 16
“…what he’s asking for is the democratization of agriculture. It doesn’t even touch on the circular economy, so we as an organization pass it over and explain it in our reporting. We’d have the choice of not doing it there, but since it’s part of what we want to develop, well, we’re integrating it into the projects we’re able to seek out, under another cover let’s say.” Actor 16
In order to formulate recommendations appropriate to the context of our study area, we intend to disseminate the research findings to local stakeholders and discuss with them what they mean for their specific context and needs.