Recycling your dinner

Published: 23 August 2022
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Since childhood, we’ve been taught that we can’t leave the table until we finish our dinner. As adults, we do our best to make our food last longer, go further and taste better. But sometimes, despite our best efforts, it ends up in the bin. It may be the mouldy carrots at the back of the fridge or perhaps it is half a meal that your kid just wouldn’t eat.

It’s a good thing then that we’re getting better at collecting food and organic waste in Victoria and inventing new ways to recycle it. In fact, over the last 20 years, food and organic waste collection has increased by a massive 388%. Households across the state are getting better at sorting their waste as more food and garden organics bins are rolled out.

But then what? How are we managing this huge increase of organic waste and what can we do with it? New technology, infrastructure and innovation is the answer. Sustainability Victoria is working across government and industry to fast track high-quality infrastructure and market solutions that provide long-term, sustainable improvements to our recycling system. And yes, you can recycle food.

We’re making sure our economy can cope with the recycling boom, from new products to infrastructure to jobs, driving innovation and investment to reshape the world around us with recycled materials.

It’s about more than composting

In western Victoria, a new project, supported by our Recycling Victoria Research and Development Fund, is exploring ways to use food and garden waste to improve the quality of soil and the quality of our crops.

A team led by Steve Dumsday from Terra Nova Ag is working with Professor Roger Armstrong of Agriculture Victoria and Simon Falkiner of Falkiner Ag to develop an integrated recycled organics Sub Soil Amelioration solution that can be easily deployed across a wide range of cropping operations.

So, what is sub soil amelioration? Basically, it’s making the soil beneath the layer of topsoil better.

“Historically, sub soil amelioration has been focused on large-scale cropping operations where the investment and effort are more easily justified,” says Simon Falkiner.

The project hopes to tap into Victoria's improved food and garden waste recovery to transform urban waste into a valuable agricultural resource.

“Our project will focus on increasing the use of food and garden scraps in the organic amendment blend. We’re also exploring the use of machinery that can be more easily deployed across cropping operations of all sizes.”

By developing a solution and distribution method to improve soil quality in medium to high rainfall zones of Victoria, farmers will be able to grow quality grain crops and give you a better loaf of bread at the grocery store.

Turning organic waste to energy

We wouldn’t blame you if you’ve never heard of anaerobic digestion and have no idea how it works. So, let us explain.

Anaerobic digestion converts organic waste into biogas and liquid fertiliser in the absence of oxygen. The process take place in an enclosed shipping container and involves the breakdown of organic material in a sealed vessel called a digester.

The biogas created can be used in place of natural gas for heating and cooling, cooking, space and water heating, drying, and gas turbines. This leaves us less dependent on natural gas.

Over in Ballarat, Gaia EnviroTech are exploring how the anaerobic digestion process can be improved while embracing the increased diversion of food and organic waste from landfill in Victoria.

Not only are they looking at how to expand the commercial potential of the energy produced by the treatment of food waste, they are exploring the commercial potential of ‘digestate’ – the liquid fertiliser that’s produced through anaerobic digestion we mentioned earlier.

“Recycled organic products are not currently being used to their full potential.”
Gaia EnviroTech Business Development Manager, Luke Brennan

“The research we’re doing could allow us to unlock the commercial potential of anaerobic digestion by maximising the value of the system outputs, including energy and digestate. If we understand how to better utilise the energy generated from the system, as either gas, heat or electricity, as well as tailoring digestate for specific industries, we could remove key barriers and increase the uptake of this technology across the agriculture industry,” says Mr. Brennan.

Gaia EnviroTech are aiming to demonstrate a viable processing and treatment system for food and garden organic waste streams, to make anaerobic digestion of organic waste streams a commercially attractive solution for Australasian markets.

Cirque du Soil and RMIT STEM College are researching how to improve existing recycled organic material captured in inner Melbourne to develop a commercial fertiliser © Ben Mcnamara, Bank Australia.

Bringing it home

For those of us living in an urban environment, particularly in homes without a backyard or any outdoor space at all, it can sometimes feel like we can’t contribute to better organic waste recycling. But there are options available to those of us living or working in the city.

Based in Melbourne, Cirque Du Soil are on a mission to reduce and divert organic food waste destined for landfill from inner city Melbourne precincts, processing it locally into high nutrient biodiverse dehydrated fertiliser, and returning it back to regenerate soil in local communities

They work with groups to create a circular waste management system in their building or business, with flexible subscription-based closed loop food waste diversion services.

“Our goal is to make composting and recycling food scraps easier for those who live and work in the city. People often think that you need a lot of space to compost and there's always more than one solution, whether you opt to ‘waste in place’, or install a hybrid of methods, or to simply divert them offsite. With our help you can do it in the smallest of spaces,” says Jean Darling, Founder of the certified social enterprise.

They help remove barriers to composting and co-design waste minimisation strategies. Members of their compost collective are involved in establishing an urban food forest network across balconies, streets, parks and community gardens.

With support from the Victorian Government, Cirque du Soil in partnership with RMIT STEM College are researching how to improve on the existing recycled organic material captured in inner Melbourne to develop a commercial fertiliser made from existing food waste derived residue output.

This research hopes to demonstrate that outputs from rapid food dehydrating technology can contribute toward the regeneration of soil quality, resulting in premium soils with better nutrient quality.

“This research can help in local land rehabilitation by improving soil quality. It can also provide increased urban agricultural yields, once we understand the true nutrient value of the outputs of food recycling machines located across various common building typologies, such as apartments and shopping centres,” explains Jean.

“Basically, we’re talking about reducing the travel radius to create a circular food system with an extremely low carbon footprint, enabling more opportunities to have our food grown closer to home for those living in the cities.”

Finally, this project will provide a ground-breaking evidence base for an entirely closed loop food waste circular economy, where food waste is collected, processed, blended, packaged and distributed in an effective fertiliser form all within a localised urban environment.

Keeping a lid on Victoria’s bin

All the research and development that we’re supporting in this space is helping to develop and create products and processes, increasing market confidence and the demand for recycled materials and products.

The shift to a circular economy means changing how we do business. Global circular economy business leaders are adopting new technologies and business models that increase their competitiveness and productivity.

So next time you don’t manage to get through that meal at home, just know it’s worth your time to put those food scraps in the right bin. You could be helping to grow your next meal.

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