Grassroots Innovations and the Transition Towards Sustainability: Tackling the Food Waste Challenge

  • Valentina Elena TartiuEmail author
  • Piergiuseppe Morone


The need for innovative approaches to tackle food waste problem is widely recognized, given its tight links with agriculture, food security, trade, energy, deforestation, and climate change challenges. As a matter of fact, an emerging branch of literature is drawing attention to the value of food waste, reporting both technological aspects of food waste valorisation (by means of case studies and/or pilot-scale laboratory experiences), and how such innovative pathways may contribute to the transition towards sustainable production and consumption systems and a more sustainable waste regime. However, little research efforts have been invested so far in relation to the development and diffusion of innovative approaches addressing the food waste problem and the role of grassroots innovations. Thus, our chapter aims at contributing to this strand of literature, by addressing two main issues:
  • how do grassroots movements act and how effective are they in catalysing innovation in the food waste field?

  • what are the specific roles that grassroots innovations may play in the transition towards sustainable production and consumption systems and a more sustainable waste regime?

Our investigation draws on the analysis of several case studies of grassroots innovations from European countries, and builds on the multi-level perspective (MLP) approach.

The specific findings of our study could support decision makers in developing tailored strategies to minimize the amount of food wasted along the supply chain and to unlock the enormous potential of food waste that is being landfilled, and also to instil some further investigations related to this strand of food waste literature.


Food waste Grassroots innovations Transition towards sustainability MLP 



This work was carried out partially under the project “Sustainable path creation for innovative value chains for organic waste products” (SusValueWaste), funded by the Research Programme on Sustainable Innovation in Food and Bio-based Industries (BIONÆR) under the Research Council of Norway.


  1. Avelino F et al (2015) Transitions towards new economies? A transformative social innovation perspective, TRANSIT working paper #3. Retrieved online at
  2. Benford RD, Snow DA (2000) Framing processes and social movements: an overview and assessment. Ann Rev Sociol 26:611–639CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bordieu P (1984) Distinction: a social critique of the judgment of taste, Harvard University Press. Retrieved online at:
  4. Butler Millsaps B (2015) Italian design student creates ‘Agridust,’ uses food scraps and compost for 3D printing, 3D print–the voice of 3D printing technologies. Retrieved online at
  5. Chabanne N (2014) Gueules Cassées: promotion of ugly fruit and vegetables by SOLS & FRUITS, Journal RESOLIS. Retrieved online at
  6. Chiocchia E (2015) Agridust, il materiale biodegradabile ottenuto dagli scarti alimentary, design playground. Retrieved online at
  7. Cicatiello C, Franco S, Pancino B, Blasi E (2016) The value of food waste: an exploratory study on retailing. J Retail Consum Serv 30:96–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Clark JH, Luque R (2013) Valorisation of food residues: waste to wealth using green chemical technologies. Sustain Chem Process 2013. doi: 10.1186/2043-7129-1-10
  9. Curry P (2011) Ecological ethics: an introduction, 2nd edn. Polity Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  10. De Keersmaecker AEK et al (2012) Towards scaling up grassroots innovations in India: a preliminary framework. Retrieved online at
  11. Durrant R (2012) Civil society roles in transition: towards sustainable food? Sustainable lifestyles research group (SLRG). Working paper 02-14, ISSN:2050-4446. Retrieved online at
  12. Evans D, Campbell H, Murcott A (2013) A brief pre-history of food waste and the social sciences. Sociol Rev 60(S2):5–26Google Scholar
  13. Feola G, Butt A (2015) The diffusion of grassroots innovations for sustainability in Italy and Great Britain: an exploratory spatial data analysis. Geogr J 1–18Google Scholar
  14. Feola G, Nunes R (2014) Success and failure of grassroots innovations for addressing climate change: the case of the transition movement. Glob Environ Change 24:232–250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fougier E (2016) Lutte contre le gaspillage alimentaire, tour d’horizon des initiatives. Retrieved online at
  16. FSE Network (2016) Food surplus entrepreneurs. Retrieved online at
  17. Geels FW (2002) Technological transitions as evolutionary reconfiguration processes: a multi-level perspective and a case study. Res Policy 31:1257–1274CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Geels FW (2011) The multi-level perspective on sustainability transitions: Responses to seven criticisms. Environ Innov Societal Transitions 1(1):24–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Geels F, Schot J (2007) Typology of sociotechnical transition pathways. Res Policy 36:399–417CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Grabs J et al (2015) Understanding role models for change: a multilevel analysis of success factors of grassroots initiatives for sustainable consumption. J Cleaner Prod:1–14Google Scholar
  21. GroCycle (2016a), Mushrooms from coffee grounds? Retrieved online at
  22. GroCycle (2016b) GroCycle urban mushroom farm: a model for urban agriculture. Retrieved online at
  23. GroCycle (2016c) GroCycle—about us. Retrieved online at
  24. Gustavsson J et al (2011) Global food losses and food waste: extent, causes and prevention, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Interpack 2011, Rome, Italy. Retrieved online at
  25. Hanson C et al (2015) What’s food loss and waste got to do with climate change? A lot, actually, World Resources Institute. Retrieved online at
  26. Howaldt J, Kopp R, Schwarz M (2013) Social innovations as drivers of social change—Tarde’s disregarded contribution to social innovation theory building, Social Frontiers. Retrieved online at
  27. International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) (2013) Food waste: can grassroots initiatives stop us throwing good food in the bin? Retrieved online at
  28. Ki Lin CS et al (2013) Food waste as a valuable resource for the production of chemicals, materials and fuels. Current situation and global perspective. Energy Environ Sci 6:426–464CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lopolito A, Morone P, Taylor R (2013) Emerging innovation niches: an agent based model. Res Policy 42(6–7):1225–1238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Markard J, Raven R, Truffer B (2012) Sustainability transitions: an emerging field of research and its prospects. Res Policy 41:955–967CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Martin CJ, Upham P, Budd L (2015) Commercial orientation in grassroots social innovation: insights from the sharing economy. Ecol Econ 118:240–251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Martin CJ, Upham P (2015) Grassroots social innovation and the mobilisation of values in collaborative consumption: a conceptual model. J Cleaner Prod:1–10Google Scholar
  33. McCarthy JD, Zald MN (1977) Resource mobilization and social movements: a partial theory. Am J Sociol 82(6):1212–1241CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ministère de l’Environnement, de l’énergie et de la Mer (2016) La lutte contre le gaspillage alimentaire. Retrieved online at
  35. Monaghan A (2009) Conceptual niche management of grassroots innovation for sustainability: the case of body disposal practices in the UK. Technol Forecast Soc Chang 76:1026–1043CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mourad M (2016) Recycling, recovering and preventing “food waste”: competing solutions for food systems sustainability in the United States and France. J Clean Prod 126(2016):461–477CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. O’Donnell TH et al (2015) New sustainable market opportunities for surplus food: a food system- sensitive methodology (FSSM). Food Nutr Sci 6(10):883–892Google Scholar
  38. Orange Fiber (2015) La magia dell’economia circolare. Retrieved online at
  39. Orange Fiber (2016) Concept. Retrieved online at
  40. Ornetzeder M, Rohracher H (2013) Of solar collectors, wind power, and car sharing: comparing and understanding successful cases of grassroots innovations. Global Environ Change (23)5:856–867Google Scholar
  41. Pansera M, Sarkar S (2016) Crafting sustainable development solutions: frugal innovations of grassroots entrepreneurs. Sustainability 8(51):1–25Google Scholar
  42. Peters A (2015) Now you can 3-D-print with food waste, just like you always wanted. Retrieved online at
  43. Phillips C et al (2013) Understanding the sustainability of retail food recovery. PloS One 8(10), Published online 2013 Oct 10. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075530
  44. Pickerill J, Chatterton P (2006) Notes towards autonomous geographies: creation, resistance and self-management as survival tactics. Prog Hum Geogr 30(6):730–746CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Priefer C, Joerissen J, Bræutigam KR (2016) Food waste prevention in Europe—a cause-driven approach to identify the most relevant leverage points for action. Resour Conserv Recycl 109:155–165CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Putnam RD (1995) ‘Bowling alone: America’s declining social capital. J Democracy 6(1):65–78Google Scholar
  47. Raymond ES (1997) The Cathedral and the bazaar. Retrieved online at
  48. RecoFunghi (2016) La sostenibilità, la nostra passione! Retrieved online at
  49. Reynolds CJ, Piantadosi J, Boland J (2015) Rescuing food from the organics waste stream to feed the food insecure: an economic and environmental assessment of Australian food rescue operations using environmentally extended waste input-output analysis. Sustainability 7(4):4707–4726CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rubino M (2014) Orange fiber, vestirsi con gli scarti delle arance. In Italia si può, quando c’è stoffa. Retrieved online at
  51. Seyfang G, Smith A (2007) Grassroots innovations for sustainable development: Towards a new research and policy agenda. Environ Polit 16(4):584–603CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Smith A, Fressoli M, Thomas H (2014) Grassroots innovation movements: challenges and contributions. J Clean Prod 63:114–124CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Smith A et al (2015) Making the most of community energies: Three perspectives on grassroots innovation. Environ Plann A 48(2):407–432CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Schneider F (2013) The evolution of food donation with respect to waste prevention. Waste Manag Special Thematic Issue Urban Min 33(3):755–763Google Scholar
  55. Stirling A (2011) Pluralising progress: from integrative transitions to transformative diversity. J Environ Innov Societal Transit 1(1):82–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Touraine A (2002) The importance of social movements. Soc Mov Stud 1(1):89–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Turnheim B, Geels F (2012) Regime destabilisation as the flipside of energy transitions: lessons from the history of the British coal industry (1913–1997). Energy Policy 50:35–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Vergragt P, Akenji L, Dewick P (2014) Sustainable production, consumption, and livelihoods: global and regional research perspectives. J Clean Prod 63:1–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.TIK, Centre for Technology, Innovation and CultureUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  2. 2.Department of Law and Economics, Unitelma-SapienzaUniversity of RomeRomeItaly

Personalised recommendations