By: Vivienne Pearson
Many Byron Shire food businesses are getting their hands dirty to reduce their impact on the environment.
Waste. Rubbish. Refuse. Litter. Maybe not the ideal topic to read about over lunch, but an important one.
At home many of us are now used to the three-bin system – recycling, green waste and landfill. We all (one hopes) do what we can to minimise our contribution to the third category. And we all (one hopes) are adapting our recycling practices to meet the well-marketed Dirty Dozen guidelines.
But what about businesses; are they as mindful of waste minimisation as we are at home? The good news is that many food businesses in Byron Shire are getting their hands dirty to ensure that this is the case.
I spoke with several – The Beach Hotel, Byron Bay Brewery, Beach Byron Bay and Brookfarm* – to find out what they are doing to keep waste out of landfill.
Food waste is obviously a prime issue for food businesses. Food waste is created during food preparation and at the very end, when we don’t eat everything that is put on our plate.
The Beach Byron Bay (formerly the Beach Café) tackles both time points. Green waste (food that is spoiled during preparation or parts of vegetables that aren’t used) is given to local farmers for pig and chicken feed. Some of these farmers are also suppliers to The Beach, meaning that removing the waste doesn’t even involve an extra vehicle trip. Co-owner and managing director Ben Kirkwood personally helps ensure that no green waste goes to landfill. ‘I have six chickens, so I take as much home as I can,’ Ben says.
Leftover food comes in two categories. The first, that which is edible but simply not sold by the end of a day, is donated to the Liberation Larder, based at the Byron Community Centre.
The other category – what is left on a customer’s plate – is the focus of a recent change of practice at Beach Byron Bay. Ben explains: ‘Years ago “doggy bags” were common, but then the practice was clamped down on owing to food-hygiene issues’. He is referring to cases where customers would take home leftover food, leave it out on their kitchen bench overnight and then sue the restaurant when they, unsurprisingly, got sick from eating it the next day.
Ben explains that a simple change allowed this practice to recommence: ‘Now we have a sticker that advises the consumer that they are responsible for the handling of the food’. This is a win-win solution; food businesses have less waste to deal with, and customers are able to enjoy every morsel of the food they have paid for.
Prior to mid-last year, all the food waste generated by The Beach Hotel went straight to landfill. Enter Luke McConell, owner and founder of Revolve Your World, who started with with the hotel to change that. ‘Food waste was up to 50 per cent by weight of the Beach Hotel’s waste,’ says Luke. ‘We created a system for separation of food waste.’
It sounds easy but food waste is a complex problem for food businesses. The high rate of decomposition means that it needs to be dealt with in a very timely manner and it can contaminate waste that could otherwise be recycled.
Recycling was another major focus for the Beach Hotel’s complete re-do of their waste-management system. The change has been dramatic, with figures basically flipped. ‘We’ve increased our recycling rate from less than 10 per cent to more than 90 per cent,’ says general manager Elke van Haandel, who is understandably proud of this major turnaround.
Elke gives full credit for the change to Revolve Your World, a Byron-based startup company, that has been hands-on in the fullest sense of the word. ‘They literally go through our bins to refine the sorting,’ she says of the nuts and bolts involved in their change of practice.
She also gives credit to her staff. ‘It was a big culture shift,’ she explains. ‘We’re all environmentally conscious, living in this area but, even so, we’ve needed to do a lot of work with staff, helping them understand the environmental impact even though the new system may make it harder for them in their day-to-day job.’
One of the challenges for The Beach Hotel was implementing the changes within the normal running of the business. The Byron Bay Brewery had the advantage of being able to implement the best waste-management systems possible right from the start of their operation under new owner Lion.
Venue manager Adam Keane was impressed at the level of recycling available to businesses as well as homes in this region, as compared to his experience in Queensland. ‘We were amazed at the amount of things we could recycle,’ he says.
Education and training are key for all businesses. ‘Polystyrene boxes are bulky items that often end up in landfill bins, but polystyrene is actually one of the easiest materials to recycle,’ says Luke of Revolve Your World.
Minimising the creation of waste requiring landfill is another part of the equation. Beach Byron Bay do this by having biodegradable (starch-based) takeaway cutlery and by returning styrofoam and waxed-cardboard boxes to suppliers so they can be reused.
It is not just direct-service hospitality businesses that are focusing on waste reduction. Brookfarm, manufacturer of macadamia-based breakfasts, oils and snacks, have an ambitious goal: to be a zero-waste business. ‘It’s perceived as aspirational but it is a practical and achievable goal,’ says Will Brook, Brookfarm’s general manager, stressing that ‘zero waste’ means no waste going to landfill (rather than the more hardcore definition of no waste created at all). Brookfarm are considering other environmental effects, such as road trips taken to carry waste. ‘We purchased a bailer, which allows us to bale up cardboard and plastic recyclables. This means it takes less space and therefore fewer pickup trips.’
Though they strive to eliminate processes that involve waste, food waste is an inevitable part of a business who pride themselves on high quality and top food safety standards. Brookfarm have developed a product, called Lucky Dip, a blend of the starts and ends of batch runs, that is donated to the Liberation Larder.
One of the ‘hardest nuts to crack’ in Brookfarm’s mission to reach zero waste are personal-use items such as hairnets and gloves. ‘These will be more challenging but we are 100 per cent more confident that we will find a solution,’ says Will.
Brookfarm’s philosophy is that implementing sustainability well should result in a financial and efficiency advantage. But is this always the case? What is the economic impact for a business of improving their waste management?
Working with service provider Richmond Waste, Byron Bay Brewery undertook an economic analysis of their systems, which showed that, to their surprise, the more complex waste system resulted economic savings.
The Beach Hotel’s dramatic changes though have come at a financial cost. ‘It is more expensive at the moment, as well as more labour intensive,’ says Elke, though she adds that this will not be the case forever. ‘Now that we’ve nailed it, the costs are set to reduce,’ says Luke of Revolve Your World.
The main driver of change, however, is not economic but environmental. Ben, of Beach Byron Bay, sums up the predominant motivation of all the businesses I spoke to: ‘Simply put, we do it to be a good corporate citizen’.
* All the Bs are coincidental – I promise that I didn’t just open the food business phone book at B! There are also many other food businesses in the area doing great work at not wasting waste.
Luke McConnell from Revolve Your World and Wayne Van Haandel from the Beach Hotel – supplied by North East Waste
As well as waste businesses such as Revolve Your World and Richmond Waste (who instigated a commercial organics recycling service in October 2016 in response to customer requests), other organisations work in the background to provide help to businesses wanting to follow the examples shown in this story.
North East Waste, which services all seven northern rivers councils, run their own programs as well as rolling out state government programs, such as Bintrim. Adam Keane from Byron Bay Brewery, which are part of Bintrim, can’t recommend consulting Kim Potter from NE Waste highly enough: ‘Using Kim doesn’t cost you a cent. I’d recommend it to any business large or small.’
Northern Rivers Food, whose membership is made up of ‘gate to plate’ food businesses, has a focus this year on sustainability, including workshops that are open to anyone to attend. ‘Our members look to work together to share resources,’ says executive officer Anne Briggs. ‘It’s all about looking for collaboration to find solutions.’
NE Waste: www.newaste.com.au
Dirty Dozen Recycling Guide: www.byron.nsw.gov.au/the-dirty-dozen-12-rules-for-your-yellow-recycling-bin – Byron Shire Council