Anyone running a food business would be familiar with the scenario – copious amounts of food going in the bin every day, then trucked off to landfill. It’s costly for the owner and is also a significant contributor to climate change – but there are simple solutions that don’t cost the earth.
Food waste is a significant portion of the total business waste sent to landfill in Australia every year. In the past, food waste was difficult to recycle for several reasons, including:
- high transport costs due to food waste being very heavy
- lack of available infrastructure and equipment to process food waste
- businesses and employees not being comfortable recycling food waste
What’s the problem with landfill?
One of the major issues of sending food waste to landfill is that, when starved of oxygen, organic material decomposes anaerobically and releases large amounts of methane – a greenhouse gas with 30x the global warming potential of CO2.
Without intensive management and advanced methane capturing infrastructure in place, landfills simply release this methane into the atmosphere.
What are some cost-effective, sustainable alternatives?
Currently there are two major categories of organic waste processing facilities in Australia:
- Composting facilities operate under the same principles as at-home composts, although on a much larger scale. Organic waste is broken down in the presence of oxygen – thereby releasing very little, if any, methane – to produce high quality compost.
- Anaerobic digestion facilities are designed to capture the methane that is released during decomposition to spin turbines and generate clean electricity.
These processing facilities now operate with tipping fees much cheaper than landfill, making them an environmentally sustainable and cost-effective way for food businesses to handle their food recycling.
The majority of waste service providers have a regular organics collection service. Food businesses can request bins from their provider (either directly, or through a building manager), which allows all food waste and other organic material to be collected for recycling.
–– Through the NSW EPA’s Bin Trim program, Edge Environment has worked with Westfield Sydney – Pitt Street Mall and Westfield Eastgardens to engage food retailers and improve source-separated organics through the malls’ existing organics collection.
The revolutionary Bio-EZ ‘Waste to Water Waste’ food digester (pictured right) works on the principle that waste should be dealt with at its source. Organic waste is placed into the machine and mixed with enzymes, which help ‘digest’ the food in a similar way to a human stomach. The waste turns into a nutrient-dense water, which is suitable for entry into the public sewer system.
–– The Swillhouse Group in Sydney recently applied for a 50% EPA Bintrim rebate to purchase a Bio-EZ machine to divert food waste from its Restaurant Hubert on Bligh St.
The Pulpmaster turns food waste to pulp and transfers it to a specially designed holding tank. Tankers then vacuum the pulp from the holding tank and transport it to EarthPower, where it is converted to high quality fertiliser and on-sold.
–– Hornsby RSL successfully applied for a rebate and will be installing a Pulpmaster to divert its organic waste from landfill. The RSL is expected to save about 144.3 tonnes of organic waste from landfill each year.
Commercial worm farms
Commercial worm farms can process large amounts (approx. 20 litres/day) of organic waste at the source and are ideal solutions for schools and universities, restaurants and cafes, green grocers and supermarkets. Processing waste with a worm farm is simple, effective and requires only a small amount of time to maintain a healthy system.
–– The Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club received an EPA rebate to purchase a Worm Habitat Grand from Worms Down Under. Edge’s Bin Trim team assisted with the application and the club is now diverting 5.25 tonnes of organic waste from landfill per year, while using the resulting high quality fertiliser on its 17 hectares of land. Read more on RPAYC’S case study in Sustainability Matters Magazine.