The South Island Wine and Food festival in Christchurch has a lot of wine. And a lot of food. Around 10,000 or so people visit each year. So is it possible to divert the food and compostable waste generated back into the food stream somehow?
Kat Ralph-Triebels, Sustainability and Events Manager at Total Waste Solutions in Christchurch believes it is. She is working with Events and Arts Team at the Christchurch City Council on an exciting Council-led trial, CFPE (Composting Food Packaging at Events). Total Waste Solutions operate at closed events which are strictly monitored using largely compostable food packaging with all items sorted on site.
WHAT GOES INTO THAT GREEN BIN?
Kat Ralph-Triebels previously worked in the Events and Arts Team at the Council before her role at Total Waste Solutions.
“The concept began when I figured out you could put a pizza box into your green (compost) bin,” she explains. “And I thought, ‘Well if you can do that why can’t we use similar packaging for our food on site at events?”
The council sourced organic, compostable food packaging products and Living Earth (where the Christchurch green kerbside compost bins end up) agreed to a trial, now in its second phase over an 18 month period, involving 40 plus events.
“We have the three streams out the front like you do at home (green, yellow and red bins for compostable, recyclable and general rubbish) and we waste sort out the back. A team member from the Council Events and Arts Team audited all the food vendors this morning before we opened to make sure they are trading with the right items.”
‘Out the back’ is a large, screened off area, surprisingly spic and span with a neat row of skips along one side. Bins are emptied onto a conveyor belt, and a team of intrepid folks with industrial quality gloves pull out any wrongly sorted items as they pass. An unpleasant job, but the camaraderie is strong and keeps them smiling.
“Sorting the waste is very labour intensive.” says Kat, “We love to engage with the community by using Grant Groups, a scheme where we recruit community groups then pay them a grant payment. These guys today are a rugby team. I’ve also got a marching team and a few dancing groups but I am looking for more because we do have more events coming up.
PUBLIC EDUCATION THE KEY TO CHANGE
Education of the public is by far their biggest challenge. Approaching a bank of familiar coloured bins at an event such as this shouldn’t be a cause for anxiety but many people struggle with the options. Scanning through an extensive list of instructions, they hesitate, dump, then rush away, guilty they may be spotted doing the wrong thing.
Some bins are manned by a Bin Ambassador - a warm and friendly soul in a bright blue apron, gently steering people in the right direction.
“Some people will just put everything in the recycling bin because they don’t want to do the wrong thing and they’re kind of confused by the green bin,” says Kat.
“They think it’s just for food, but the right sorts of packaging can go in there too at these special CFPE participating events. If they’re getting it right at the source, it limits the work required at the back end.
“We’re just hoping that we can start to create some positive change and people can learn from us. Everyone knows where an aluminium can goes, there’s no question. So if we can get to the point where people will just know where to put every item, then we will have done our job.”
Everything is weighed and the diversion percentage is calculated. Their aim is to divert 80% of rubbish away from landfill. During their first trial they diverted 12 tonne of waste and on this, their second trial, they have reached around 52 tonne.
WHERE DOES THE FOOD WASTE GO?
Compostable items go to Living Earth organic composting facility. Without any government regulations for compostable or green packaging anything can be labelled ‘eco-friendly’. It makes it difficult to decipher which items can be used so Living Earth usually won’t take any. But under strict, closed conditions such as a festival there is more control over what items end up in the compost waste stream.
“Every event is different. For example here at the Wine and Food Festival there is a large amount of exhibitor waste. All the exhibitors were given information on what to do with their waste but it’s hard to get them to follow through. It’s just people being lazy.”
Total Waste Solutions supplies the entire infrastructure – skips, wheelie bins etc. With every trial they learn a little more, making a few tweaks here and there, but it’s not a big money maker.
“Every now and then it almost breaks me.” Kat says, stooping to pick up a couple of stray paper napkins, “But I’ve got good friends around me who keep on telling me I’m doing the right thing. And I have two children that I’m trying to change the world for. My son tells me he wants to be a policeman but I am trying to convince him he wants to be an environmental scientist.” She smiles. “And he says, ‘No! I want to be a policeman!’”
I guess you can’t win them all.