Compost Connect is an online platform that provides cafés, businesses, and all Australians with easy solutions for their food and packaging waste.
Waste going to landfill is too big a problem for just one company to solve. It will take a collective effort from the consumer, business, and the government. That’s why sustainable food packaging company BioPak is sending out an open invitation to all industry members to be involved with the online platform Compost Connect.
“There is next to no end-of-life solution for food packaging in Australia. The percentage currently recycled or reused is in the single digits – there’s no avoiding the waste crisis. For cafés, this is particularly visible because of the focus on takeaway coffee cups, but it’s reflective of all food packaging,” says Gary Smith, CEO of BioPak.
“At BioPak, we take plants, produce products, use them for a short period of time, then return it to the soil to feed more plants and create more products.
While Gary recognises some “naysayers sit back and comment about the lack of compost systems and infrastructure”, he argues it is the most effective solution for food packaging waste.
“The lack of compost infrastructure, as well as the extremely poor food and beverage packaging recycle rates and infrastructure, should motivate them to find solutions, not motivate them to continue with current poor practices, poor recovery rates, and commentary instead of action,” he says.
“We at BioPak acknowledged there wasn’t enough composting infrastructure, so in 2018 we started to collect the waste from our customers and take it straight to composting facilities. We’ve done that fairly successfully for two or three years, but that was only a solution for BioPak. Our mission is to create a solution for Australia.”
Launched in May, Compost Connect is Australia’s first national composting network, connecting foodservice businesses with industrial composters nationwide. While BioPak founded and sits on the board of Compost Connect, alongside the Australasian Bioplastics Association, the platform operates as a separate not-for-profit service.
“Compost Connect is for everybody. We invite packaging distributors, waste collection services, industrial compost facilities, and businesses that don’t work with us directly to take part and turn this into a single source for all Aussies who want to compost, find compostable packaging, or someone to collect the waste,” Gary says.
Using Compost Connect is simple for a café or food service business. They just enter their postcode on the website homepage and are provided with a list of companies in the area that will collect compostable waste from them. There is also a section for individuals, where people can view the businesses in their area that are signed up to a composting service. They can even find where to buy compost for their own garden.
Gary says the aim of Compost Connect was to break down the barriers preventing many small businesses from making more environmentally friendly choices.
“When it comes to using sustainable food packaging, the perceived cost has been the biggest detractor for small businesses, but it’s reached the point where the difference isn’t that much. Now, the challenge is to debunk the myth that it’s ‘difficult’, because people don’t realise how simple it is to change and how functional the options are,” Gary says.
“If they don’t know how to do it or where to find solutions, Compost Collect provides a business with simple solutions. They can search the platform, find a collection service, and have a compost bin delivered within as little as a day.”
While several options have popped up in the sustainable packaging and takeaway cup space, Gary believes compostable alternatives to be the best fit for the foodservice space.
Reusable options are part of the solution, however lifecycle studies show if all packaging and in particular cups, were composted, the environmental impact is similar.
Gary adds while recyclable cups are made with the best intentions, they are currently not recycled in Australia. If the cup or takeaway container is contaminated with food or milk/coffee residue, it will still be sent to landfill, no matter what bin it is put into.
“The coffee industry is disproportionately targeted when it comes to waste because of the visibility of single-use cups. In reality, it’s the food and organics going to landfill, more so than just the packaging, that truly needs to be diverted. That’s what releases the methane, a massive contributor to climate change and environmental damage” Gary says.
“It shouldn’t even be thought of as ‘waste’ but as an ‘unused resource’. For instance, coffee grinds are incredibly nutrient rich and a great soil food. If a café signs up for a compost bin, where they can divert that coffee waste and throw in their compostable packaging too, they’re doing a massive service for the community. Not only are they stopping waste from going to landfill, they’re producing a high quality compost or soil food, not typical garden waste produced fertiliser.”
Compost Connect already services more than 2200 postcodes, with the aim to expand that to more than 4000. Prior to launch, network trials had already diverted more than 4500 tonnes of organics and packaging from landfill, which was instead processed into nutrient-rich compost in less than 12 weeks. The amount that is set to significantly increase in the next few years.
“Within days of launching, we’ve already seen a massive response from waste, food and packaging industry leaders, local and state governments, and the initiative is endorsed and co-funded by the Federal government’s Product Stewardship Centre of Excellence. They are all complementary and supportive of the platform” Gary says.
“They see its potential to help lead a massive sustainable and behavioural change in Australia. People are more aware of the impact organic waste and single use plastic products have on the environment. The media is putting more emphasis on it and state and local governments are implementing changes to how and if businesses can use single-use packaging. South Australia, Queensland, and the Australian Capital Territory already have laws in place and BioPak is working with the Victorian and New South Wales governments on how they could introduce proposed changes as well. Soon, sustainable packaging won’t be a choice, it will be a requirement.”
Even as consumers step in and governments step up, Gary says it’s the responsibility of the foodservice and coffee industries to create change and help divert their waste from landfill.
“It’s up to individual businesses to step up and process their waste through the right end-of-life options. Compost Connect will show every business that it’s not hard to make a simple change in a short period of time with massive impact,” Gary says.
“We’re getting new partners signing up daily, whether that’s suppliers, waste collectors or composting facilities, allowing us to reach even more of Australia. With more products going to industrial compost, governments will see the need to upgrade, fund, and create more of these facilities, creating new jobs and infrastructure, as opposed to more landfill.”
Neil Perry, renowned chef and owner of Rockpool, Spice Temple, and Rosetta restaurants in Melbourne and Sydney, has signed on as an ambassador of Compost Connect from its inception. He will use the service for his new sustainably-focused restaurant, Margaret, opening in Double Bay, NSW, this June. Neil said in a statement he has grave concerns for the future of Australia and is calling for others in the hospitality sector to take accountability for the waste they bring into the world.
“I’m scared for what the world might look like for my children and children’s children. If we don’t act now, we’re going to end up in a really awful situation. Sadly, it’s unsurprising that the foodservice industry creates so much waste, however, we still have the opportunity to change this if we make transformations now,” Neil said.
“As a country, we need to re-think our processes and start thinking of the bigger picture. We need to work together to address the problem, reduce organic waste, and contribute to achieving a better society for future generations. This initiative is going to change how the foodservice industry operates for the greater good of our country.”
For more information, visit www.compostconnect.org
This article appears in the June 2021 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.