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A Sustainable Feast

Griffith University’s addiction to sustainable waste management started with a nibble. They found the flavour enticing and decided to order a second plate. That experience grew their appetite and they are now eating through the menu!

After dabbling with some small-scale food waste solutions three years ago, Griffith will soon be diverting more than 400kg of food waste from landfill on a daily basis across four Queensland campuses - thanks to a group of passionate people who know how to make things happen.

APPETIZER

Early experiments with worm farms and Closed Loop’s domestic composter, CLOey, gave Griffith the satisfying taste for processing food waste onsite…but it left them wanting more. 

After attending an information and demonstration session of a commercial Closed Loop food waste unit at Wandering Cooks in 2014, Griffith decided to take a bigger mouthful. They invested in two small commercial Closed Loop composters (CLO10s) in late 2014 to deal with  food waste produced at the Uni Bar and The Hub on the Nathan campus.

ENTREE (SHARED PLATE)

The results were immediate. In the blink of an eye, 40kg of food waste that was being sent offsite to rot and generate methane in a landfill was being turned into 6kg of fertiliser every weekday…and the hunger grew.

Griffith soon acquired two larger composters - a 60kg/day unit for the Mt Gravatt campus and a 100kg/day unit for the Gold Coast campus, increasing the combined food waste capacity to 200kg/day.

The composters were now servicing seven cafes, dozens of university staff and hundreds of customers. 

"One of the most rewarding things is the way the catering staff have bought into it"

says Jos Lamb, Griffith's Campus Life QA Manager and mastermind of the Griffith food waste solution. 

"A key challenge when we started this venture was whether it would be embraced or rejected by the staff. We can provide the funding, Closed Loop can provide the equipment and training, but without buy-in from the catering staff we can't achieve the desired outcome". 

"We love it!" says Gary, manager of The Hub. "It's easy to use because we don't have to separate this from that - it eats everythingand its really satisfying to see all that food waste going to good use". 

Gina and her team from Café Rossa at the Gold Coast campus had a slightly more challenging role. They were the nominated compost champions for a 100kg/day machine servicing four food and beverage outlets.

“Jos told us it would be simple and a minimal work load, but we weren’t convinced”, says Gina.

“But they helped design and implement a simple food bin exchange system that works for all the outlets. Café staff just drop off their full bucket and pick up an empty. We come out here at the end of the shift and load it up. It only takes a few minutes and the machine hasn’t missed a beat”.

“When they told us it was coming, I thought – yeah, great, one more thing to do! But it has been incredibly easy and it’s satisfying to know something good is coming from all that waste.”

In late 2015 Griffith ordered an additional three units, which will increase their fleet to seven and increase their capacity to 460kg of food waste per day across four campuses. On a five-day/week operating schedule that's nearly 120 tonnes per year or the equivalent of two fully-laden B double semi-trailers. 

Where once that food waste was sent to landfill, generating methane and accelerating climate change2, Griffith is now actively improving the health of our soil through the annual addition of 20 tonnes of locally-produced fertiliser. 

"Until now, staff have been taking the fertiliser to use on their gardens and lawns. Our environmental science department are taking a great interest though and hopefully we will soon be using it to keep the university grounds green and healthy". 

THE MAIN FARE

Food waste is one of the major contributors to the total waste load at most sites. When food waste is removed from the combined waste stream, not only is the total waste load significantly reduced, but the door is widely opened to saving money and increasing recycling rates of other waste streams.

“The primary reason for daily waste collections at communal sites is food waste”, says Brendan Lee, Closed Loop’s Sales & Marketing Manager. “Food waste is a health concern, it smells and it attracts pests. Remove that component and your waste stream becomes much ‘cleaner’, allowing you to look at better ways to recapture the valuable resources being thrown away to landfill.”

The opportunity to improve recycling rates at Griffith is being grabbed with both hands. 

"As our relationship with Closed Loop grew, they started to point out other ways we could improve our waste management on site," says Jos, "but first we had to understand it. How much waste did we have? What was it made up of? Where was it being generated? How much was it costing us?" 

"That's when we decided to do a waste audit". 

Closed Loop conducted a three-day waste audit of Griffith's Nathan Campus in August 2015, where 1.65 tonnes of waste was measured and classified into sixteen different waste streams. 

The audit report broke down waste types by quantity and determined how much each waste type was costing Griffith for disposal. The data was accompanied by existing waste infrastructure analysis and observations of waste managment processes. Potential economic and enviromental improvements were explored and synthesised into a set of economically-justified, evidence-based recommendations. 

"The audit identified actions we could take to reduce our waste costs dramatically, which is obviously an important concern. But perhaps more of a priority is reducing our impact on the planet and future generations”, says Jos.

“Griffith is proud of its reputation as a sustainable university and we have clear commitments in our sustainability charter. The waste audit has provided a roadmap for us to exceed our recycling commitments and set new goals for the future that once seemed unachievable.”

The commitment to waste reduction by the Griffith team hasn’t gone unnoticed. At the 2015 tertiary education Campus Link conference, Griffith took out the Business Leadership Award for its roll out of the Closed Loop systems. 

DESSERT? OR A CHEESE PLATTER PERHAPS?

While the roadmap for increasing recycling rates from 20% to 50% over the next two years is now much clearer, the challenge ahead is to implement the changes necessary to achieve that. While the business case is clear, it will require some structural changes to the current waste management model.

Facilities Managers in a tertiary education environment have a challenging environment as they look to provide infrastructure that meets the demands of students in a competitive academic market-place. While students primarily make choices based on the academic offerings it doesn’t mean their expectations are any less when it comes to the sustainability credentials of a university.

Deft change management skills and communication of waste reduction actions and achievements are paramount to ensuring the campus life offering is consistent with the expectations of students. The Griffith facilities team is looking to achieve this through establishing a mini recycling precinct where resource recovery equipment is housed in an architecturally attractive setting complete with a roof-top vegetable garden that actively demonstrates its closed loop approach.

With accurate data serving as a benchmark, the Griffith facilities team will continue to measure its progress and communicate this to students and staff as they forge their way along the waste reduction trail.

1CLO units won't take non-food items, large meat bones, oyster shells or bulk oil...but will take all other foodstuffs

2The combined greenhouse gas savings of the composters are around 120lt of CO2, roughly equal to the output of twenty-four cars or three garbage trucks for a year. 

Closed Loop services used in this case

  • Waste Audit
  • Organics Recycling
  • Education
  • Communication
  • Analysis and Insights
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