The Virtuous Circle: Connecting Food Security, Packaging, and Sustainable Development

Nov 10, 2017 8:30 AM ET

UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 17 is about partnering to achieve solutions.  It recognizes that our best chance to meet the other 16 SDGs is through collaboration between governments, private sector and civil society based on shared principles and vision.  Collaboration also amplifies our impact, creating value up and down supply chains, throughout complex systems, and in ways that can even come full circle. 

Building the partnership engines that will power the ambitious SDG agenda for 2030 won’t happen overnight.  It will require early movers and innovators, some trial and error, and relentless optimism to pave the road forward.  One collaboration leading the way is The Virtuous Circle project.  It asks: is it possible to reduce food waste, improve childhood nutrition and promote education of environmental sustainability all at the same time?

Coordinated by DuPont in close collaboration with Amcor, FUTURELIFE®, EqualTrade4, Wildlands, RWPA Solutions and Wastebuster among others, The Virtuous Circle project addresses the sustainability of multimaterial multilayer plastic packaging while tackling the broader societal objectives around education and childhood nutrition.  The three pillars of the Virtuous Circle project, launched in October 2016, are:

  1. Feeding undernourished schoolchildren in disadvantaged areas using innovative packaging solutions (the “feeding pillar”).  The first step in the journey was achieved with the delivery of FUTURELIFE® Smart food™ pouches to South African schools. These innovative multilayer film pouches are used to provide drinking water and a nutritious meal in one package that can be easily transported over long distances to remote areas and requires no refrigeration.   
  1. Upcycling the waste packaging into school materials (the “recycling pillar”).  Once used by the school children, the FUTURELIFE® Smart food™ plastic pouches were collected by project partner Wildlands and delivered to RWPA Solutions to be converted into durable and sturdy school desks.
  1. Educating the students about the importance of sustainability and equipping local partners with the tools to maintain a true circular economy approach to nutrition (the “education pillar”).  At the same time, the educational program accompanying this project explains to school children the importance of good nutrition, the need to reduce food waste and conserve precious resources, and the benefits of recycling.

In February 2017, the project achieved an important milestone: the first set of results became available.  To date, nearly 1 million FUTURELIFE® Smart Food™ pouches have been distributed to 27 primary and combined primary schools, seven pre-primary schools, and one orphanage.  To understand the impact of the feeding program on the ground and to adapt it as needed, surveys of teachers from participating schools were carried out.  For the survey, 228 teachers from 18 schools provided first-hand insights into the impact of the feeding program:

  • 99% said that the pouches save time compared to standard school meals
  • 95% found the pouches easy to use
  • 93% of teachers reported that children liked the taste of the meal
  • 86% of children didn’t find it difficult to finish the entire meal

The results of the survey support the benefits of easy-to-store packaging, the importance of robust collection schemes, and the potential to use the dual-compartment pouches for use in other settings, such as humanitarian initiatives. Perhaps more importantly, the results suggest a model like The Virtuous Circle could have relevance in other schools or other countries.  This in turn could extend the initiatives applicability beyond SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) into other areas depending on use and need. 

Achieving the SDGs and the more sustainable future they represent doesn’t just mean all stakeholders have a seat at the table, it requires that they all roll up their sleeves and pitch in where they can.  It also means that we all need to think more about where connections and points of leverage might exist that aren’t always intuitive.  That’s exactly what this initiative does: creates a circle of more than half a dozen partners to tackle food waste, childhood nutrition, and environmental education in a surprising but powerful way.

Learn more about the project by visiting The Virtuous Circle website and about sustainability at DuPont by visiting our website