Meet the Sisters Who’ve Shaken Up Waste Management for an Entire Shopping Precinct

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What business wouldn’t want to save the world… and some coin?

Food scraps in a kitchen binThe waste hierarchy of “take, make, use and dispose” has a little dust on it, so two sisters from the Sunshine Coast are pioneering a new model – a ‘circular’ one – where resources are kept in use (and out of the bin) for as long as possible. Taking cues from sustainability practices at Google and Apple, Ashleigh and Jaine Morris have rolled out The Circular Experiment across 45 businesses on their local Ocean Street in the CBD, where 70 per cent of waste was needlessly winding up in landfill – including a weekly 500kg dump of coffee waste.

“We partnered with a local disability charity to collect the spent grounds and use them on their farm as a soil supplement,” says Jaine. “The initial value we saw was obviously from diverting the coffee grounds from landfill – where they produce methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide – but a surprising, and even more important, benefit has been the interaction between the two. Young disabled trainees now have the opportunity to engage with business owners, staff and their customers, and both parties have provided feedback that this interaction is a highlight of their day.”

With National Recycling Week just around the corner, we caught up with the pair and found out how small businesses can reduce their waste – and their bills.

How can implementing circular economy principles cut costs for a small business? 

Food waste is certainly an opportunity for hospitality businesses to make enormous environmental and economic savings. To deal with this issue, you need to work together with your neighbouring businesses – economies of scale really make a difference. Talk to your local council and try to find an end user for the valuable resource of food and organic waste. If you were able to remove food and organics from your general waste bin, you would be able to reduce your bin size by 35 per cent, potentially saving yourself thousands of dollars a year in waste charges.

What are the simplest changes a small business can make?

First up, we’d suggest that businesses understand their waste costs. This might just blow your socks off. You will be paying waste charges from your local council and often this figure is in the thousands of dollars, depending on the amount of waste you produce. Next up, if you’re feeling particularly motivated it’s a brilliant idea to actually work out just how much and what type of waste you produce. By conducting a waste audit, you will be aware of what you produce, thereby enabling you to reduce, divert and manage your waste appropriately.

What role can technology play here?

We’ve recently teamed up with a brilliant energy-monitoring device company and are trialling a device in a business on our street to track their electricity consumption in real time. We are aiming for a 40 per cent reduction – [so] tech is saving this small business serious money. Other examples of tech being used in the circular economy small-business scene is smart sensors for waste and water, asset-sharing platforms, an ‘internet of things’ device for stock management and machine learning.

How are well-meaning businesses damaging the environment without realising it?

One word: biodegradable. Don’t get us wrong, biodegradable products are bloody fantastic when they are appropriately managed at the end of their life – and by this, we mean commercial composting. When biodegradable products are disposed of and sent to a regular landfill, they are just as bad as food waste, producing methane, which is 30 times worse for our lovely planet than carbon dioxide. We applaud businesses who try and do the right thing and we genuinely know how confusing it can be out there, but make sure if you are using biodegradable products that you also have an appropriate endpoint for these containers.

We would love to hear your thoughts