Each year, an estimated 1/3 of all food produced, which is worth around $1 trillion – ends up rotting in the bins of consumers and retailers . This is a tremendous waste of the Earth’s precious resources that we cannot afford, especially when considering that since 2016 we have been using more resources than what the planet can sustainably give us. Additionally, high levels of methane gas and CO2 are generated by food rotting in landfill, which are dangerous greenhouse gases that exacerbate the process of global warming .
In my life, inappropriate food disposal manifests very strongly at Monash University, where I am a student. I've seen first-hand a shocking amount of wasted food in landfill but also a large amount of food, used takeaway containers and cutlery contaminating recycling bins. My first step will be improving the circular economy of waste at Monash University.
Inappropriate waste disposal is due to a few factors, one of which is called "wish cycling" . People, in the hope of doing the right thing, throw everything that "might" be recyclable into the recycling bin. If everything is placed into the recycling bin, it can doom all the bin's contents to landfill, which is exactly the opposite of what was intended. “Wish cycling” is probably due to confusion around the many sorting rules when it comes to recycling and waste disposal. Sometimes one product's packing has to be separated a few different ways, e.g. soft outer plastic packaging is sorted into one bin and the hard plastic, that sometimes physically holds the crackers or fruit, goes into the standard recycling bin.
Around half the 1470 people surveyed by Sustainability Victoria in July 2018 said they had placed an incorrect item in the recycling bin in the previous month . A key lack of understanding of proper recycling underpins this problem so, to make Monash University's waste process more circular, my First Step will consist of the following:
Step 1. Changing all food packaging in Monash restaurants to paper-based takeaway containers.
Step 2. Introducing a third bin, which is a composting bin. This will be strictly for food that cannot be finished (scraps), but also for food-contaminated containers. Because they are paper based they can be thrown, along with the food scraps into this bin.
Step 3. The contents of this bin will be composted, which can be used on Monash University's gardens or sent to farmers, depending on whether the composting can be performed onsite or at an offsite facility.
This strategy exploits the key fact that people know which waste is organic and eliminates any need for sorting containers from food. Both the leftover food and paper-based container can go into the same bin, which simplifies the waste disposal process. Additionally, it also decreases the contamination of the recycling bin with NON-recyclable food products and containers, decreasing the chance of the whole bin's contents being doomed to landfill.
The downstream positive effects of this strategy are the following:
a. Less food is rotting in landfill, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
b. More food waste enters a circular economy, being recycled as compost to produce more food.
c. There is less contamination of standard recycling which increases its chance of being recycled into new products.
All three benefits involve improving Monash University’s circular economy of waste.
Step 2 is comparable and inspired by the FOGO (Food Organics, Garden Organics) system, which is being rolled out by councils across Victoria, with much success. So this strategy is definitely effective and achievable for Monash University. A spokesperson said that the "average contamination of 2.2 per cent FOGO is compared to 10 per cent average contamination rate in kerbside recycling. The reason for this is simple, people know what organics is and what it isn’t. That is not true for kerbside container recycling. There are so many different arrangements, labels etc that people get confused with yellow top bin systems. FOGO on the other hand is simple and people seem to care” .
It is also feasible, Monash University is already developing a composting system, whereby food waste is sent to a commercial compost facility where it is turned into a “nutrient rich compost” . So, implementing this strategy can be integrated with existing innovations and schemes at Monash University as opposed to starting entirely from scratch.
This strategy can be developed during semester 2 2021, and implemented during semester 1 2022. If the strategy is successful during this semester it can become a permanent strategy, but it can also potentially be scaled up to different universities around Victoria.
Finally, we can align this strategy with a specific economic target. Nationally we recycle 56 per cent of materials generated. The target that has been endorsed by the federal, state, territory governments and local councils for the year 2030 is 80% recycling of all materials generated. FOGO is already helping contribute to this target, we can align Monash University’s first 'green' step with this target too .
1. UN Sustainable development goals, 12 ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-consumption-production/
2. Alignment with goal 12: ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
3. Alignment with goal 13: take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
5. Sustainability Victoria
6. “From FOGO is driving real reform in Australia”, by Mike Ritchie published in insidewaste on Oct 29, 2020. https://www.insidewaste.com.au/index.php/2020/10/29/fogo-is-driving-real-reform-in-australia/
8. “From FOGO is driving real reform in Australia”, by Mike Ritchie published in insidewaste on Oct 29, 2020. https://www.insidewaste.com.au/index.php/2020/10/29/fogo-is-driving-real-reform-in-australia/