food to soil

Making landfill into organic goodness

This is by far our best eco story yet!

A couple of our recent articles have highlighted some of the steps we have taken as a business to reduce our negative impact on the environment. In this story I would like to reveal one of the biggest improvements we have made to our waste handling/minimization procedures.

Food waste – it’s a huge issue

The official government estimates for food waste in Australia in 2020 was 7.3 million tonnes or just under 300kg per person per year. In addition to that almost twice that amount of organic material also ends up in landfill every year.

As a food business we generate large volumes of organic waste. Some of this is unfortunately food waste which comprises things like production mistakes, damaged products, unconsumed food left by diners and unsold products at the end of the day that we can’t give to charity. We always do our best to minimize this for financial reasons as much as environmental and social reasons but it is still an inevitable factor that a business such as ours has to deal with. In addition to this there is the organic material left from food and coffee production. This is things like coffee grounds and fruit and vegetable peels and off cuts, etc.

food wasteLandfill and food waste – it ain’t a pretty picture

It is this organic material that adds weight, volume and cost to our mixed waste rubbish removal. It also increases the chance of pests and odours in our bins and waste area. More importantly this material in landfill creates further problems. I always had this mental image of food waste in a landfill breaking down and becoming compost but the reality is the oxygen starved pile of landfill doesn’t permit positive microbial activity. Instead food waste in landfill decomposes slowly producing methane that is a gas with 20 times the global warming capacity of carbon dioxide. This slow toxic decomposition also produces leachates that contaminate ground water. If the organic material could be separated and processed properly it wouldn’t be a problem but that’s not what happens. The organic waste remains in the garbage bags we use to dispose of it, these bags also filled with other waste materials then go to landfill where they are compressed in massive pits creating the oxygen starved, toxic environment mentioned previously.

granulated food wasteFortunately, there are solutions to help reduce food-waste

After over a decade of throwing away hundreds of kilos of organic waste every week we stumbled across commercial food waste machines. They have been around for years but are not widely promoted and we simply didn’t realize they were an option for a business our size. There are basically two types, the dehydrators and the composters. The dehydrators pulverize the material and cooks it down with constant airflow and agitation. The end result is a fine granular material with an 80% reduction in weight and volume over a ten hour period. The composters on the other hand are a larger machine that work slower using live cultures, gentle agitation to aerate and time to result in a more traditional compost over a 6 to 7 day period.

Say hello to our dehydrator…

These machines are a considerable investment. They come in different sizes ranging from the unit we purchased to massive units used by large facilities like, hospitals, shopping centres and university campuses.  Our machine came with a price tag of over 50k and while we were crunching the numbers to see if we could afford it we came across a wonderful initiative by the state government through the Department of Industry, Planning and the Environment where they offered a 50% rebate on the machine once it was operational and could demonstrate it was able to achieve the landfill reduction criteria. This government incentive tipped the scales for us and we purchased the machine mid 2019, taking delivery and having it commissioned in January 2020.

The machine we opted for was a dehydrator from an Australian company called Ecoguardians. It allows us to convert over 50 kilo’s of organic waste material into ten kilos of granular material that can then be dug into the soil or added to compost to break down much quicker than the raw scraps. Another huge bonus is that the machine can also handle our wooden cutlery and sugar cane food containers that we have mentioned in previous blogs.

Flowers blooming from our food waste!

bunch of flowersWe still generate 10 to 15 kilo’s of granular organic waste per day and this adds up. Fortunately one of our neighboring business operators (Tristan from Bike Minded) lives in nearby Hartley where his wife Celine operates an organic flower farm ‘Floral By Nature’ Celine and Tristan are able to utilize our organic waste to improve their soils and nourish their plants, fitting nicely with their ethos of a chemical free, sustainable business.

Our reduction of waste to landfill since we have had the machine installed has been over 20 tonnes and counting and the machine is on target to pay for itself in four years due to the reduction in our commercial waste removal costs. The machine is a 3 phase electric machine that draws significant power to operate (though less than any one of our three ovens) however we had a sizable solar power system installed at the same time that more than off-sets the machines’ consumption.

food scrapsEver wondered what that ‘odd’ smell was?

The dehydration process emits a strong odour that varies with the composition of the food waste, it is generally neither an attractive or offensive smell. With a balanced mix of material, it can vary between the smell of coffee grounds to something like a fruit cake baking – however, if the mix contains a lot of citrus peel (as it often does) it can become quite pungent. The unit operates in the garbage area just outside the toilets and we have had quite a few comments in some of the reviews where people remarked that the toilets were nice and clean but had an ‘odd‘ smell.  If anyone has ever wondered…………this is why!