A community solution to food waste

09 November 2016 | News

This year the City of Melbourne installed a new recycling machine that heat treats 2.5 tonnes of food scraps a week and turns it into a reusable product that is used on the city’s parks and gardens.  

The compost made from businesses in the Degraves Street area returns nutrients to the soil and helps save water, and while it costs $300,000 a year to run, 1,280 tonnes of useful material is diverted from landfills.

With commercial levels of food production in restaurants, shopping centre food courts or in food processing operation close to the source, it’s one of a number of ways forward. 

At the other end of the spectrum, a Gippsland group has taken a low-tech approach to getting the volume of resources it needs while reducing the volume of food that goes to the tip each year.  

Relying on people power, the Churchill Community Garden Group is working with businesses in the local shopping centre to get a regular supply of food for its worm farms

Latrobe City Council provided compost bins which have been turned into the worm farms.

The scraps are fed to the worms and the mini-munchers work their way through up to 50 kilograms of food waste each week.

Their castings (poo) are put on to the community gardens to nourish the crops.

“The support from council to kick things off, and the encouragement from the local businesses has been great,” Sheina Renton from the group says.

“But our real success was having passionate volunteers who maintain a reliable service to the local businesses.” 

James Love who runs the Vintage Chill café says the project has been great for the community.

“It’s good for the environment and the pickups (of food scraps) are reliable. The group has been so good to work with,” James said. 

James’ cafe has separate buckets for coffee grinds and food, and receives some of the fresh garden produce back, from the garden plots.

“We always try and do the right thing with our recycling of cardboard, plastic and metals.”

“This is great because we can also recycle our food waste,” he said. 

Sustainability Victoria CEO Stan Krpan said Churchill’s experience showed the mutual benefits of bringing together businesses needing to get rid of a waste product with a group that can use it. 

“The Churchill Community Garden is doing a great job. Its work can be replicated anywhere, with modifications to meet local needs,” Mr Krpan said.

“The winners here aren’t just the gardeners and local businesses, but the wider community because the amount of waste going to landfill is reduced.”

“What’s worked here is having a reliable resource and collection regime, and a system that is well-managed.”

 “This is a great project that has shown that with some organisation, great things can be achieved.”

“The City of Melbourne’s approach could also be used by shopping centres with large food courts or large commercial food preparation operations,” he said.

Community gardens can be found around Victoria and many are near cafes and restaurants which could be a resource for composting bins or worm farms.   

Tips on how to get more from your community garden:

• If sourcing scraps for compost or worm farms from businesses, be reliable. A roster for pickups helps the supplier and gardener.
• Worms need management so they don’t overheat in summer or aren’t fed too much much in winter when they slow down.
• Local sponsors like the council or businesses might be able to supply equipment free or for a discount price.
• Reward those who help.