The circular economy aims to eliminate waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use and regenerate natural systems. It’s fast becoming apparent that it’s the key to sustaining the health of humans and the environment.
Circular Cafes Project Manager Kim Potter said the Australian commercial and industry sectors generated around 1.9 million tonnes of food waste annually. The Australian food industry accounts for around half of this figure, of which 78% ends up in landfill. *
“There are close to 2000 food businesses in the New South Wales’ Northern Rivers region, employing around 8000 people”, said Kim. “Since we launched one month ago, we already have 50 businesses taking part in the program – all wanting the guidance and support needed to confidently enter the circular economy.”
The Circular Cafes Project aims to divert 726 tonnes of food waste from landfill before December 2021. In eco-talk, that’s equivalent to the weight of about six Blue Whales.
“The Circular Cafes team supports businesses to take action and kick some serious goals”, said Kim.
“We help them deal with the tough topics: single use items; cup swap programs; food donation; and bioplastics. Additional outcomes will include capacity building across supply chains and businesses, and demand for improved services from councils and commercial waste providers.”
Kim said the project would also identify the different waste streams from cafes and restaurants, and come up with local solutions to keep valuable resources circulating at their highest use for as long as possible.
Farm & Co owner Michele Stephens has built a business based on integrity and sustainability and is a ‘zero waste’ cafe. Any food that’s not sold throughout the day is fed to her chickens and pigs, whilst the worms take care of the rest.
“It’s always been important to me that we recognise that the linear approach won’t work; creating waste is just not sustainable”, said Michele. “We see ourselves as caretakers of this space and intend to leave it in a better condition than how we found it.”
Michele said she was excited to be part of the Circular Cafes project and reviewing business operations with “fresh eyes”.
“An outcome from the first visit was recognising we could reduce the amount of general waste bins as we no longer need them. This will save us money.”
Another business already benefiting from the program is Shiny Brew. Karen Meadowcroft has already been making sustainable changes, including chipping in with other local cafes to purchase a stock of Huskee reusable cups. This way the customer can take their cup with them and use it again at any of the other participating business.
“One idea that we’ve already implemented is using Tetra Packs as cup trays”, said Karen. “The customers love this and bring the trays back to be used again!”
She also loves the Food Organics Garden Organics (FOGO) service delivered as part of the Circular Cafes program to divert food waste from landfill and into the council compost program.
““The Circular Cafes team supports businesses to take action and kick some serious goals.” “
Kim Potter said the team at Circular Cafes was heartened by the enthusiastic and motivated response when visiting the business community.
“We walk the talk”, she added. “Our team shirts are made of reclaimed cotton and the logo can be unstitched down the track. And the food separate bins we provide to businesses are second-hand buckets that used to contain body butter.”
Circular Cafes is an initiative of North East Waste, which collaborates with seven partner councils. Together they facilitate, develop and support circular economy activities across the Northern Rivers.
“Today, there’s less focus on dealing with the end life of resources and more on waste avoidance, innovation and connecting business with resources, knowledge and know-how”, said Kim.
“We want to significantly reduce the amount of commercial and industrial waste going to landfill by steering everyone towards a circular economy framework. “I just know this powerful collective of local businesses will influence how business is done and inspire so many others to do the same.”
Tarra Martel, the Resource Recovery Education Officer at Tweed Shire Council, praised the Circular Cafes initiative.
“Every single person adds a valuable layer to this journey”, said Tara. “The business owners…the staff…they have such heart. That is the force at work here. It makes them open to try new ideas. Customers feel this and want to be around an authentic place.”
Circular Cafes has been funded by the EPA as part of a Bin Trim grant and is a Waste Less Recycle More initiative funded from the waste levy.
*These statistics were calculated using data from the NSW Government ‘Food Waste Avoidance Benchmark Study’; the National Waste Report 2010 by the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage, and the Arts; and ‘A study into commercial & industrial (C&I) waste and recycling in Australia by industry division’ by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.