Deakin Uni converts food waste into fertiliser

SUBSCRIBE to our fortnightly e-newsletter to receive more stories  like this. Fresh produce plucked from the kitchen garden at Deakin Uni's Waurn Ponds Estate; food waste generated by the Estate's kitchens is now converted to high-grade fertiliser.

A recently-completed trial by researchers at Victoria’s Deakin University took the food waste from one of the university’s corporate hospitality facilities and turned it into high-grade fertiliser, saving an estimated 12 tonnes of eco-unfriendly food waste from landfill a year.

The three-month food-waste processing trial, a collaboration with CSIRO, the City of Greater Geelong and the Geelong Manufacturing Council, involved collecting and converting the food waste produced by the university’s  Waurn Ponds Estate, which operates a restaurant and hosts conferences and catered functions regularly.

According to Deakin organisational sustainability manager Emma Connan, the Estate typically generates more than 24 tonnes of organic waste a year – that’s around 460 kilograms every week.

Using the Closed Loop CLO-30 system, the Deakin University researchers were able to divert more than 245kg of organic waste weekly from landfill, instead converting it into high-grade fertiliser

Waurn Ponds Estate kitchen garden.
Waurn Ponds Estate kitchen garden.
Deakin University/Waurn Ponds Estate

How does the Closed Loop CLO-30 system work?

The Closed Loop CLO-30 system converts organic waste to high-grade fertiliser rapidly and simply: simply pour food and organic waste into the machine and it employs controlled temperatures, agitation, airflow and an organic starter material to decompose and pasteurise the waste, turning it into dry compost in just 24 hours.

The output is a soil conditioner or fertiliser that’s rich in essential plant nutrients nitrogen and phosphorous. It is suitable for applying to established garden plants and could also be integrated into soil a week or two prior to planting, Connan said

“What you’re left with is a beautiful, rich, dry soil conditioner, which is then used on the Estate’s organic kitchen garden,” she said.

Connan noted that the waste-conversion process also significantly reduced the level of greenhouse gas emissions that would otherwise have been emitted by the Estate’s rotting organic waste by up to eight tonnes a year – even after accounting for the energy consumption and emissions created by operating the CLO-30 technology.

“Greenhouse gas emissions from food waste can be a huge problem,” she said.

“Research shows that food waste can produce 21 times more greenhouse gas emissions in landfill compared to rubbish and hard waste.”

Picking fresh produce from the Estate's kitchen garden, now fertilised with converted food waste from the restaurant and function centre.
Picking fresh produce from the Estate's kitchen garden, now fertilised with converted food waste from the restaurant and function centre.
Deakin University/Waurn Ponds Estate

What next?

Following the successful three-month trial, Waurn Ponds Estate has committed to using the system full-time going forward.

Deakin will now review the case for implementing the system across its four campuses and 19 food sites, said Connan, possibly starting the rollout with “a precinct-scale trial” at the University’s Burwood campus in suburban Melbourne.

“It’s very simple technology to use and the process of involving all of our food sites sounds simple, but one of the issues to overcome with expanding the operation is going to be transporting food waste, which involves quite a lot of OHS considerations and regulations,” Connan said.

If implemented Deakin-wide, however, the conversion system could save hundreds of tonnes of food waste a year from winding up in landfill.

The university is committed to taking a leadership role in the crucial areas of sustainability and environmental responsibility, she added.

“As Deakin University prepares and educates the next generation, we also have a responsibility to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to mitigate our impact on the environment for those future generations.

“Reducing waste and improving sustainability is such a hot topic at the moment, and food waste can play a big role in that,” Connan said.

Deakin’s successful organic-waste conversion trial saw the university shortlisted for the 2017 Green Gown Awards Australasia, to be announced on 2 November 2017 by Australasian Campuses Towards Sustainability

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