Food waste innovation could unlock the value of organics
A new study released today identifies huge potential within dense urban areas of Australian cities for food and other organic waste to effectively be “mined” for valuable reuse.
Despite progress in reuse and recycling, Australians still send 4 million tonnes of food to landfill each year.
Researchers at the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures, in collaboration with Sydney Water and the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), have looked at the best global innovations in organic waste management to see what else can be done in Australia’s densest urban area, the Pyrmont-Ultimo precinct in Sydney.
The Pyrmont-Ultimo Precinct Scale Organics Management scoping study examines the various layers of organics in an urban setting – from food waste in homes, to grease from cafes and restaurants, and even wastewater passing through sewers. The researchers then mapped a spectrum of solutions to suit the area from international best practice of organic waste management.
The suite of innovative options include vacuum systems collecting food waste in shopping centres, residents in flats taking food waste to centralised pay-as-you-trash depots, and localised anaerobic digestion producing renewable energy and nutrient-rich soil conditioner.
“With Sydney and other major urban centres in Australia growing at such a staggering rate, this study demonstrates that the significant challenges in managing residential and commercial waste and sewerage present enormous opportunities to do things differently. We need to work with households, businesses and utilities to capture the value in our urban food waste now,” said Andrea Turner, lead author and research director at the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures.
Businesses interviewed for the study in the Pyrmont-Ultimo precinct want to take their waste management to a new level to reduce costs and their impact on Sydney’s environment and infrastrucuture.
“Sydney Fish Market is really interested in streamlining the handling of food and organic waste using vacuum systems and generating energy through anaerobic digestion when we move to the new site at Blackwattle Bay in 2021. In addition, we are investigating ways of extracting what is currently treated as organic waste into conversion into a product for its highest and best use,“ said Stephen Groom, Executive Manager, Corporate Services and Company Secretary at Sydney Fish Market.
“We have made significant gains through successful programs like Love Food Hate Waste, however 40 percent of a typical household garbage bin is still made up of food waste. This study highlights new and exciting innovations in managing waste that we can start trialling in cities like Sydney to keep tackling this challenge,” said Amanda Kane, Organics Manager at the NSW EPA.
Importantly, the study goes beyond food waste by considering other organic waste streams, such as sewage managed by Sydney Water that could be combined and treated locally with other organics to create energy and biosolids through anaerobic digestion.
“There is so much opportunity to do more with organics in our cities” said Phil Woods, Energy Lead at Sydney Water. “This new report highlights some of these and how Sydney Water can play a role in making waste a resource”.
An organics summit was convened in September with representatives from state and local government, industry and academia to discuss the findings and innovations.
“The scale of the waste challenge means we need to manage organics differently using a more holistic view,” said Dr Dena Fam, report co-author and research director at the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures. “Only by collaborating and discussing across sectors can we begin to see the whole picture, enable innovation to emerge and facilitate integrated planning.”
Due to the success of the project the NSW EPA, Sydney Water and the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures will convene another organics summit next year to bring together an even broader group of interested parties to share knowledge and discuss opportunities.
Download the report (pdf)
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External Communications Officer
UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures
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