Cash (and karmic points) from edible trash? 10 ways Aussie companies are cutting food waste

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Mass collective effort will be required to make a serious dent in the world’s massive food wastage problem - but even a few committed companies, charities and individuals can make a big difference.

Food waste in garbage bins, destined for landfill.
Food waste costs Australians eight to 10 billion dollars a year - but some of us are doing our bit to reduce the rotting pile.
KevinKrejci, Flickr CC, httpswwwflickrcomphotoskevinkrejci_

Consider the first people to organise a 'business-to-people-in-need' food redistribution program. Or the guys from Oregon, USA who developed the LeanPath food waste prevention system that enables restaurants to track (and count the cost of) food waste, prompting owners to take steps to reduce it. Or the community, goverment and NGO campaigns, here and overseas, that have helped to put food wastage on the public agenda and taken steps, however small, towards lessening it.

Already, some forward-thinking Aussie businesses and non-profits are working to reduced food waste around the nation. We offer their examples as food for thought (or preferably, action).

Definitely not as food for landfill.

10 WAYS WE’RE DOING OUR BIT DOWN UNDER TO REDUCE FOOD WASTE

1. Rather than discarding imperfect produce, selling it cheaply

Strict standards regarding appearance, quality, consistency and uniformity imposed by retailers mean farmers often cannot sell second-rate, small and misshapen produce. Every day across Australia, hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fruit and vegetables are dumped due to visual imperfections. An estimated 20 to 40 percent of produce never makes it to market because it fails the ‘aesthetics test’, and around a quarter of the edible food we produce is simply ploughed back into the ground.

Oddly shaped carrots and other misshapen fruit and vegetables are often used as stockfeed or left to rot in paddocks because retailers won't buy them.
Oddly shaped carrots and other 'aesthetically challenged' fruit and vegetables are often used as stockfeed or left to rot in paddocks because retailers won't buy them.
Larry Krause, Flickr CC, httpswwwflickrcomphotosclickclique

in 2013, food-redistribution non-profit SecondBite founder Katy Barfield, concerned about the twin plights of Aussie farmers and aesthetically challenged fresh produce, launched Melbourne-based farm-to-consumer wholesale produce business Spade & Barrow.

The company, in a bid to combat ‘aesthetic’ protocols that see many Australian farmers unable to sell significant portions of their crops, views food “deemed by major retailers as aesthetically imperfect [as] …a valuable, front and centre star”, renaming it ‘Nature’s Grade’ produce. It advocates the ‘direct plough’ approach, whereby producers get to harvest the whole crop regardless of size and shape.

Fresh fruit and vegetables are brought direct from Victorian farmers’ paddocks to Spade & Barrow’s warehouse, where they’re sorted for customers, who get to choose the produce they want – with a mixed-size bag of, say, onions or carrots, offered at prices up to 20 percent cheaper than the wholesale prices for their conventionally sized equivalents. On 03 December 2014, Spade & Barrow officially launched its ‘naked n’ fresh’ range: a discounted array of ‘wonky’ but otherwise fine fresh fruit and veg.

Aussie supermarkets and fresh-produce suppliers are also waking up to this ludicrous state of affairs, and have started selling ‘imperfect’ fruit and vegetables at discounted prices to consumers unconcerned about such superficials.

In September 2014, New South Wales supermarket chain Harris Farm began been offering imperfect fruit and vegetables in all its stores at up to 50 percent less than the price of the ‘regular’ equivalents in a bid to back farmers, reduce waste and offer consumers cheaper fresh produce.

Less than three months later, in December 2014, oddball fruit and veg went national when Woolworths jumped aboard, championing edible but aesthetically challenged fruit and veg through its ‘Odd Bunch’ initiative, launched by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.

2. Turning ‘second-rate’ fruit into healthy, profitable juice  

Produce that fails to meet retailers’ requirements doesn’t have to be left to rot or fed to livestock; it can be processed into value-added products for human consumption, earning extra income. In Central NSW, apple and cherry grower Caernarvon Cherry Co (CCC) is using non-grade-A but perfectly tasty fruit to make pure, high-nutrient cherry juice that it sells into lucrative export markets under the BiteRiot brand.

This handful of cherries is destined for Asia in the form of pure cherry juice: Caernarvon Cherry Co (CCC) has invested in new cherry sorting and grading machinery to ensure consistent quality, using lower-grade cherries to make cherry juice for export.
Caernarvon Cherry Co (CCC) has invested in new cherry sorting and grading machinery to ensure consistent quality, using lower-grade cherries to make cherry juice for export.
Caernarvon Cherry Co

Other growers, such as Ricardoes Tomatoes & Strawberries near Port Macquarie on NSW’s mid-north coast, turn excess produce into jams and juices, chutneys, preserves and more, selling it through restaurants, markets and specialty stores, at the farmgate and online.

Less waste, more profit.

3. Selling the whole cow to quality-hungry Chinese

Australians love their beef – but most of us only want to eat about half the cow. About 46 percent of almost every beast raised in Australia gets turned into other products far less valuable, such as pet food. And along with it go nearly half the resources used to raise those cattle (feed, fertiliser, fuel, transport, slaughtering costs, et cetera).

Now, The Victor Smorgon Group is turning expensive offcuts into export profits with its innovative My Cow In Australia package. Early in 2015, this entrepreneurial offshoot of the Smorgon family’s billion-dollar business began exporting whole cows, slaughtered and vac-packed in Australia, to wealthy Guangdong Chinese concerned about food quality and safety – at an average per kilo price of $82.

Beef cattle such as these are being sold to wealthy Chinese consumers whole via the 'My Cow in Australia' program, an innovative marketing initiative from Australian company The Victor Smorgon Group.
Beef cattle such as these are being sold to wealthy Chinese consumers whole via the 'My Cow in Australia' program, an innovative marketing initiative from Australian company The Victor Smorgon Group.
Helen Rickard/Pikaluk, Flickr CC, httpswwwflickrcomphotospikaluk

Customers must sign up for three years at around $14,500 a year and agree to take an entire carcass: about 175 kilograms of meat a year. In return, they get to visit their chosen steer in Australia, meet the producers, have a hand in how the cow is raised, then bulk-buy the entire beast (getting periodic secure deliveries to save precious freezer space). They also get free access to a ‘My Cow in Australia’ clubhouse where they can entertain their nearest and dearest and get lessons on cooking the perfect steak.

Already, the business is well past the break-even point, managing director Peter Edwards told the Australian Financial Review in mid-March 2015, with more than 200 customers signed up already.

4. Redistributing surplus food to those in need (and keeping tonnes of methane-producing matter out of landfill)

OzHarvest salvages around 56 tonnes of food a week that would otherwise go to landfill and distributes it to 600-plus agencies nationwide. Since its inception in 2004 it has delivered more than 30 million meals to people in need, in the process saving more than 25,000 tonnes of edible food from ending up as methane-emitting landfill.

Fellow second-hand-food salvaging operation SecondBite has established relationships with major retailers (including Coles supermarkets) and local independent stores, markets and general food businesses nationwide, collecting donations of fresh, edible but not saleable food for redistribution to the estimated 1.2 million Australians who are undernourished.

 

Since the SecondBite-Coles partnership was announced in September 2011, Coles has contributed more than 6.5 million kilograms of fresh food– fruit, vegetables and bakery items – to the program that have been turned into 13 million-plus meals nationwide. The supermarket chain has also donated 1.5 million kilograms of fresh food – three million-plus meals – to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

 

By stopping this amount of fresh food going to landfill, SecondBite reckons it has saved 39 million kilograms of CO2 gas emissons (as well as the estimated 481 million litres of embedded water and 39 million kilowatts of energy used in the production of the food ‘rescued’).

In major metropolitan areas, SecondBite collects from stores using refrigerated vans through its Direct Delivery model or via partners including Food Rescue WA, Foodbank NT, Food Barn, Salvation Army NSW and Parramatta Mission. The organisation says it saves “around 2.5 million tonnes of food per annum” from ending up methane-producing landfill, but acknowledges that this represents “only a fraction of the many millions of tonnes that are wasted each year”.

5. Rescuing food from the regions to feed rural folk in need

In 2011, OzHarvest started regional food rescue program REAP. Since then, more than 300 locations across Australia have registered interest in joining the network, and successful REAP chapters now operate in Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Wagga Wagga, Cairns, the Sunshine Coast and Townsville, with start-up groups in Shepparton, Bendigo and Margaret River. Don’t let produce you can’t sell rot: donate it (and gain karmic points). You could also help by setting up a branch in your community or joining an existing one.

SecondBite started its Community Connect™ program as a collection and redistribution model for regional and remote areas of Australia, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Over the 2013 financial year, Community Connect™ organised the redistribution of 1,127,697 kilograms of surplus fresh food from 253 food donors to 192 recipient community groups across regional Australia, saving seven million kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalents), 83.4 million litres of water and more than seven million kilowatts of energy in the process.

6. Converting methane-producing organic waste into ‘clean, green’ energy

Instead of dumping food and organic waste from farms, processing facilities, businesses and homes into rotting produce piles, holding ponds and landfill (where it ferments, producing environmentally damaging methane gas), forward-thinking operators are turning this nutrient-rich waste into eco-friendly fuels.

EarthPower Technologies in Sydney's west bills itself as “Australia's first regional food waste-to-energy facility”. EarthPower takes organic waste from the industrial, commercial and residential sectors – everything from fruit and vegetables to fish, meat, dairy, deli, grocery, bakery and confectionery items to grease-trap waste – that would otherwise go to landfill; sorts it into specific organic waste streams (solid organic waste with maximum inorganic contamination of less than five percent, ‘spade-able sludges’, liquid wastes and selected packaged wastes); then converts it to green energy and nutrient-rich fertiliser. A joint venture between Transpacific Industries Group and Veolia Environmental Services, EarthPower offers businesses big potential savings on waste disposal costs, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and karmic points. In return, it produces clean, green, renewable power that relieves pressure on coal-fired electricity supplies.

 

Oakley Beef Exports recently built a cutting-edge COHRAL™ plant to turn the organic waste from its Queensland abattoir into biogas, an upgrade that Oakey’s parent company Nipponham (NH Foods) estimates will save it millions of dollars in fossil-fuel bills while drastically shrinking its carbon footprint. Win-win.

This gigantic biogas storage dome and covered anaerobic lagoon are part of the new methane conversion plant at Oakey Beef Exports' Queensland abattoir.
This gigantic biogas storage dome and covered anaerobic lagoon are part of the new methane conversion plant at Oakey Beef Exports' Queensland abattoir.
CTS Wastewater

7. Recycling organic waste into high-nutrient fertiliser to grow more food

With help from University of Queensland researchers and Horticulture Innovation Australia (HIA), Brisbane City Council is turning urban residents’ green waste into high-nutrient bio char that’s used as compost for horticultural facilities, orchards and turf growers around the region. From organic waste to fresh new food: full circle.

Meanwhile, in Gundaroo, north of Canberra, Craig Shaw’s organic fertiliser operation VermiFert has become a three-million-strong worm farm, converting food waste from the capital’s eateries into high-grade compost for farmers around New South Wales. In just nine weeks, Shaw’s worms turn food scraps into compost and a liquid fertiliser he dubs ‘worm tea’. The worm farm is producing 16 to 20 cubic metres of high-nutrient compost a year.

Earthworms in compost: worm farms are converting food waste to high-nutrient compost and liquid fertiliser by Vermifert in the Australian Capital Territory.
Three million earthworms are converting food waste to high-nutrient compost and liquid fertiliser by Vermifert in the Australian Capital Territory.
BrotherMagneto, Flickr CC, httpswwwflickrcomphotosbrothermagneto

8. Reducing restaurant food waste: Olive Green’s Café

One Sydney-based café that’s leading the way in the reduction of restaurant food waste is Olive Green’s Café in inner-city Ultimo, which serves sustainably sourced food in portions diners choose, so there are fewer leftovers; avoids over-buying perishables; doesn’t overcater; and minimises waste in the kitchen with smart prep techniques. Any food waste Olive’s does create is recycled as compost for use in the UTS: Institute for Sustainable Futures students’ gardens.

9. Connecting cycling with waste food recycling

Food Rescue Initiative tackles childhood obesity, unhealthy eating and food wastage simultaneously via its roving regional Smoothie Bike program. The program sets up ‘smoothie bikes’ (bicycles fitted with blenders that run on ‘pedal power’). Schoolkids ride the bikes to power the blenders, creating nutritious smoothies from tropical fruit donated by local growers that would otherwise have gone to waste (as more than 50 percent of Queensland’s mangoes do).

Food Rescue Initiative is currently crowd-funding for expansion of the program into schools nationwide. Feel free to donate.

 

Food Know How, a Melbourne-based food-waste reduction program jointly developed by Cultivating Community and inner-suburban council City of Yarra with funding from Metropolitan Waste Management Group and support from numerous other partners, won a United Nations 2014 Sustainability Education Award for its 11-month community campaign. In that time, the program helped 554 participating households, 34 cafés and three offices to avoid and/or recycle food waste via information, seminars and strategies that included worm farming, composting, and transporting surplus food waste from participating cafes to City of Yarra composting hubs and community gardens via logo-d, volunteer-manned Trisled Cargo Tricycles.

Key outcomes of the project included:

  • an average landfill diversion rate of 2.8 tonnes per week of food waste from households, offices and cafes by the program’s end,
  • final greenhouse gas emissions reduction of approximately 4.5 tCO2-e per week,
  • the creation of approximately 100m3 compost, provided as free, high-quality fertiliser to urban community gardens and farms, with an estimated retail value of $28,000.
Melbourne inner-urban council City of Yarra ran a much-lauded community food-waste reduction project known as Food Know How.
Melbourne inner-urban council City of Yarra ran a much-lauded community food-waste reduction project known as Food Know How.
Cultivating Community

10. Raising public awareness

Public awareness campaigns such as the New South Wales Government EPA’s Love Food Hate Waste, Melbourne inner-urban municipality City of Yarra’s Food Know How and the South Australian Government’s Zero Waste SA aim to inform householders and businesses about the what, why and how of food wastage and provide tips, information and services that facilitate food waste reduction.

Non-profits such as FoodWise and Food Alliance also do a great job of raising community awareness about how we squander food and how we can stop doing so.

The idea is that the more we realise what such wastage is costing us, individually, nationally and as a planet, the more motivated we’ll be to change our wasteful ways.

National Leftovers Day, launched in 2009 by not-for-profit organisation DoSomething! encourages Australians to reduce food waste over the festive season and year-round, highlighting the $8 billion worth of food we bin across the nation every year – and the fact that leftovers make up more than a quarter of household trash. DoSomething! estimates that hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of food is wasted over the festive season, a time at which the single biggest item of expenditure for Aussies continues to be food.

In 2014, OzHarvest partnered with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to tackle issues of food and nutrition security and sustainable food systems to produce Think.Eat.Save – Reduce Your Foodprint events across Australia at which top Aussie chefs, politicians and celebrities stood up against food waste, and thousands of free hot meals concocted from surplus produce that had been destined for landfill were served to the public.

OzHarvest volunteers prepare donated food for hungry folk as part of UNEP and FAO's Think.Eat.Save. campaign.
OzHarvest volunteers prepare donated food for hungry folk as part of UNEP and FAO's Think.Eat.Save. campaign.
Think.Eat.Save

Founder and CEO of OzHarvest Ronni Kahn said the campaign aimed to highlight the “disturbing amount” of food wasted in Australia and around the world. “Our modern day challenge is to create a sustainable food culture … where we waste less at all levels of food production, distribution and consumption,” Kahn said.

He’s got a point. Get on board.

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