Households in New Zealand waste over 150,000 tonnes of food a year, and an extra 24,366 tonnes are generated by cafés and restaurants. A typical café in a typical city might go through 1500 eggs a week and generate tonnes of coffee grinds each year.
Those eggshells and grinds end up in landfill, buried by nappies, soft plastics, meat trays and everything else we can’t recycle. When food is buried in landfill it decomposes without oxygen, releasing methane, a harmful greenhouse gas that is 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It’s a sad and destructive end to what started out as nutritious food.
But there’s a simple solution. It’s all about closing the loop by saving food waste from landfill and transforming it back into rich, nutrient-dense compost and growing new food, which is then supplied back to the community – often including the people who first generated the waste. Rather than farm to plate, it’s more like farm to plate to farm to plate to farm to plate to farm and so on.
Young Queensland farmers Phil Garozzo and Alice Star have been helping to trailblaze the closed-loop food system in Brisbane, Australia. Their business, Loop Growers, turns café waste into compost, which is used to grow produce on Garozzo and Star’s farm, which is then sold back to the cafés. The idea was sparked a few years ago when Garozzo was working as a barista at a well-known café. He was dismayed by all the food that ended up in the bin and wanted to do something. “The businesses that run in this environment have to be pretty resourceful,” he says. “It wasn’t like I was seeing a whole chicken casserole being thrown out, but all of those offcuts of vegetables, the coffee grinds, the eggshells, it was all just languishing in landfill.”
Garozzo went to the cafe’s chef, Jarrod Huey and soon the compostable waste – including coffee grinds, fresh fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, bread offcuts, scraps off plates, egg cartons, compostable straws and coffee cups – was being separated by staff into colour-coded bins. Separating the waste allowed Garozzo to create a range of resources, from compost to soil conditioner to chicken feed. “Soil is the medium that’s holding the majority of life on the planet, so creating compost like we do is creating life – billions of life forms that then inhabit soil and allow nutrient transfer to plants – that’s a big deal,” says Garozzo.
Initially, the compost was taken to the rooftop garden and used to grow new produce for the café. The idea worked so well that Garozzo ran the idea past his new partner, Star, of creating their own farm to service even more cafés. While the businesses they work with are already like-minded, the pair have seen a knock-on effect in the cafés through the relationships they are building. Not only do they regularly have chefs and staff asking to help on the farm to educate themselves further, the businesses have also become increasingly focused on reducing their waste in all areas – for example, asking suppliers to reduce the packaging they use, and looking for alternatives to non-compostable items such as plastic straws.
In a world where our problems seem to get bigger and more insurmountable, it’s heartening to see that a simple solution can yield big results. Your next meal could have been grown from food that would otherwise be releasing harmful toxins into our environment. It seems a much more fitting end for the food we grow to nourish our bodies and connect us socially – because it’s not the end, but the beginning again. Thanks to these passionate people, food waste is saved and given a chance at reincarnation, converted into new life so the loop can start once again.
The hard facts
- Roughly one-third of the food produced in the world for humans every year – about 1.3 billion tonnes – gets lost or wasted, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation.
- Food losses and waste amounts to roughly US$680 billion in industrialised countries and US$310 billion in developing countries.
- Industrialised and developing countries dissipate roughly the same quantities of food — respectively 670 and 630 million tonnes.
- Fruits, vegies, roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food.