Enacting a Circular Economy: A multi-sited ethnography on food waste practices in Finnish supermarkets, households and biogas plants

Tutkimustuotos: VäitöskirjaCollection of Articles


This article-based dissertation employs a practice-based approach to examine how food waste and the circular economy (CE) are enacted in three nodal points of the food consumption process: Finnish supermarkets, households and biogas plants. In Finnish and EU policies, reducing consumer and retail food waste as well as more efficient utilisation of biowaste are considered essential components of the transition towards a CE in the food system. The CE can be considered, among other things, a policy, business model and vision. The ultimate goal of the CE transition is to depart from the current unsustainable linear economic model, which is primarily based on resource exploitation. This dissertation utilises a multi-sited ethnographic approach to examine how the CE of food waste is enacted and complicated in concrete everyday practices in the observed environments.

This dissertation is positioned at the intersection of social scientific waste studies and research concerning the CE. The majority of previous research on CE has focused, for example, on industrial processes, policy enactment of the CE and business model design. The systemic and societal shift that the CE transition requires is not often highlighted in this literature. However, a growing body of social scientific research has started to call for a critical confrontation of the CE concept and underlining the importance of examining the everyday efforts that the CE transition requires.

This thesis follows the journey that food undergoes in the final phases of the food chain, highlighting the possibilities and challenges of transforming food waste and related practices circular. The thesis frames the CE transition as a societal process that is both enacted in and complicated by concrete, hands-on everyday practices. The study is based on a multi-sited ethnography conducted in Finland. The research data comprise ethnographic fieldwork in a supermarket and two biogas plants. In addition, interviews were conducted with managers and experts working in the biogas sector. To study household practices, food waste diaries were collected from Finnish households. Furthermore, the study utilises fieldnotes from leftover cooking workshops organised in collaboration with the Finnish Martha Organization and Wastebusters research group. The data were collected between 2018 and 2021.

The thesis contributes to the fields of social scientific waste studies and research on the CE. It makes an empirical contribution to social scientific waste studies by ethnographically following the changing ways of dealing with and relating to food waste at the final stages of the food consumption process. In doing so, it brings out how food waste is enacted differently in socio-material practices at different sites, thus showing the different realities and meanings that waste may have. Further, the dissertation contributes to research on the CE by highlighting how food waste is circulated in practice at different sites, which types of leakages and disruptions this process entails and how the CE is enacted differently in these situated practices. Overall, this study shows that there is no CE without the everyday practices that always enact both waste and the CE differently depending on the situation, and that the everyday practices of circulating and reducing food waste do not offer complete mastery over waste materials.
ISBN (elektroninen)978-952-03-2923-5
TilaJulkaistu - 2023
OKM-julkaisutyyppiG5 Artikkeliväitöskirja


NimiTampere University Dissertations - Tampereen yliopiston väitöskirjat
ISSN (painettu)2489-9860
ISSN (elektroninen)2490-0028


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