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Improving the sustainability of food supply chains through circular economy practices – a qualitative mapping approach

Luciano Batista (Aston Business School, Birmingham, UK)
Manoj Dora (Brunel Business School, Uxbridge, UK)
Jose Arturo Garza-Reyes (Centre for Supply Chain Improvement, University of Derby, Derby, UK)
Vikas Kumar (Bristol Business School, University of the West of England Bristol, Bristol, UK)

Management of Environmental Quality

ISSN: 1477-7835

Article publication date: 30 April 2021

Issue publication date: 22 June 2021




The purpose of this paper is to present a methodological approach to support qualitative analysis of waste flows in food supply chains. The methodological framework introduced allows the identification of circular food waste flows that can maximise the sustainability of food supply chains.


Following a qualitative approach, circular economy perspectives are combined with core industrial ecology concepts in the specification of a standardised analytical method to map food waste flows and industrial synergies across a supply chain.


The mapped waste flows and industrial linkages depict two time-related scenarios: (1) current scenarios showing the status quo of existing food waste flows, and (2) future scenarios pointing out circular flows along the supply chain. The future scenarios inform potential alternatives to take waste flows up the food waste hierarchy.

Research limitations/implications

The qualitative approach does not allow generalisations of findings out of the scope of the study. The framework is intended for providing focussed analysis, case by case. Future research involving mixed methods where quantitative approaches complement the qualitative perspectives of the framework would expand the analytical perspective.


The framework provides a relatively low-cost and pragmatic method to identify alternatives to minimise landfill disposals and improve the sustainability of food supply chains. Its phased methodology and standardised outcomes serve as a referential basis to inform not only comparative analysis, but also policymaking and strategic decisions aimed at transforming linear food supply chains into circular economy ecosystems.



The authors gratefully acknowledge the support provided the British Academy/Leverhulme Grant, Reference No: SG160072.


Batista, L., Dora, M., Garza-Reyes, J.A. and Kumar, V. (2021), "Improving the sustainability of food supply chains through circular economy practices – a qualitative mapping approach", Management of Environmental Quality, Vol. 32 No. 4, pp. 752-767.



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