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Economic and environmental efficiency of food redistribution

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Thursday, January 09, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The project will identify drivers of change to and map the UK food redistribution system, assess its economic and environmental efficiency, and design optimal alternative food redistribution systems.

Project background
To reduce food waste along the UK food chain, the excess or surplus food has to be redistributed before it becomes waste, in line with the principles of the food waste hierarchy. Food redistribution may lead to a more effective use of resources and implicit lower waste generated especially if it involves collaboration between multiple agents along the supply chain using different transformative mechanisms and via multiple channels from the more traditional to online collaborative platforms and other ICT-enabled modes. Food redistribution has not only economic and environmental benefits but also food security and social impacts (Falcone and Imbert, 2017). While the recent scientific and grey literature have focused on food redistribution as a means to reduce waste, structured evidence and available data are scarce, mostly based on pockets of information based on discrete case studies, not always representative and as such not comparable.

Research questions
The project aims to answer the following research questions:
1) What is the structure, format and scale of the food redistribution flows between agents at different nodes of the UK food supply chain?
2) What are the drivers and barriers influencing food redistribution flows and the redistribution behaviour of supply chain agents?
3) What is the economic and environmental efficiency of the current food redistribution system?
4) How to design alternative food redistribution systems optimising economic and environmental efficiency?

The project will use a combination of methodological approaches to achieve the specific research objectives.

It is envisaged that data availability will be sparse, potentially inaccurate or inconsistent, and may be sensitive despite some information being available on the large scale redistribution charities and commercial entities operating in the UK. To counteract these data limitations, the research will use a combination of secondary and primary, qualitative and quantitative data to analyse and map the current food redistribution activities in the UK. Data collection will be based on:

(1) a review of secondary sources of information and collection of qualitative and quantitative secondary data. An analytical literature review will be applied to literature on the main aspects of nutrition e.g. nutritional content of redistributed food, and the drivers and barriers influencing food redistribution flows and the redistribution behaviour of supply chain agents;

(2) primary qualitative and quantitative data collection using participatory workshops and in-depth interviews based on semi-structured questionnaires. We will employ a newly developed participatory process from the system dynamics literature called group model building (Rich et al. 2018).

(3) case studies on the nutritional analysis of redistributed food to provide data for the economic and environmental efficiency analysis. The research will include small scale case studies on the nutritional analysis of redistributed food in main cities. The analysis will include an inventory of the nutritional content of redistributed food based on either labelling or secondary estimates from the literature review, an assessment of changes in nutritional content as aligned with governmental healthy eating guidelines, and balance of the redistributed food based on secondary data and primary information collected through interviews with stakeholders at key redistribution stages.

Timetable is presented below:
Year 1: Literature review; secondary data collection; group model building analysis;
Year 2: In-depth interviews; case studies (nutritional analysis);
Year 3: Economic and environmental efficiency analysis; dissertation write up; peer review submissions.

A comprehensive training programme will be provided comprising both specialist scientific training and generic transferable and professional skills. The student will undertake training on (1) systems dynamics tools including design, facilitation and analysis of Group Model Building workshop and (2) efficiency analysis (Data Envelopment Analysis).

The student would ideally have a multidisciplinary background e.g. social science (agricultural or environmental economics) and natural science (ecology, food studies). Desirable skill set would include statistics, econometrics.

Luiza Toma SRUC
Peter Alexander School of GeoSciences
Jennifer Carfrae SRUC


Falcone P.M., Imbert E. (2017) Bringing a Sharing Economy Approach into the Food Sector: The Potential of Food Sharing for Reducing Food Waste. In: Morone P., Papendiek F., Tartiu V. (eds) Food Waste Reduction and Valorisation. Springer, Cham

Rich K.M., Rich, M., Dizyee, K. 2018. Participatory systems approaches for urban and peri-urban agriculture planning: The role of system dynamics and spatial group model building. Agricultural Systems 160, 110-123
Toma, L., March, M., Stott, A.W., Roberts, D. 2013. Environmental Efficiency of Alternative Dairy Systems: A Productive Efficiency Approach. J. Dairy Science 96(11), 7014–7031

How good is research at University of Edinburgh in Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 14.70

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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