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some cups going into a bin iwth a circular hole
Compostable cups going into a designated bin that will ensure they actually get to the correct facility (Photo: Supplied)

BusinessJuly 19, 2018

A new citywide compost service is taking on Auckland’s coffee drinkers

some cups going into a bin iwth a circular hole
Compostable cups going into a designated bin that will ensure they actually get to the correct facility (Photo: Supplied)

Almost 30% of organic waste goes straight to landfill, sparking two leading businesses in the composting sector – Innocent Packaging and We Compost – to team up and launch The Full Package, the first citywide compost collection of its kind in New Zealand.

On December 31, 2017, China decided that enough was enough. Sick of being the world’s throwaway dumpster, it officially banned almost all foreign waste from coming into the country, sending the world into frenzy as countries scrambled to find elsewhere to toss their trash.

In New Zealand, we send around $21 million worth of waste to China every year, waste that’ll now have to find somewhere else to go. In the meantime, stockpiles of trash have been building across the country in areas like Grey, Buller, the West Coast and Thames-Coromandel. At the Huntly Transfer Station, stockpiles of recycling have remained unmoved for over a year, creating a sight akin to “the slums of Mumbai”.

In the long term, New Zealand will attempt to become a circular economy where the lifecycle of all materials are maximised, optimised and reutilised. But in the short term, bit-part players like small business owners and waste conscious consumers have sought to minimise their own roles in fueling the problem. For example, cafes and restaurants have turned to compostable alternatives for their takeaway solutions which, unlike single-use plastic containers, are designed to divert waste away from landfill, degrading back into the earth’s ecosystem over time.

Except, almost 30% of it goes to landfill anyway, with a mixture of consumer confusion (not knowing a coffee cup was degradable) and poor facilities (compost sites rejecting coffee cups due to plastic-coated lids) to blame.

Plant-based packaging (Photo: Facebook/Innocent Packaging)

To offset some of that unnecessary waste, two leading Kiwi startups – plant-based packaging company Innocent Packaging and compost collection service We Compost – have teamed up to bring composting further into the everyday mainstream, launching The Full Package earlier this week. As the first city-wide compost collection of its kind in New Zealand, The Full Package collects both public food waste and compostable packaging from cardboard sorting bins placed across Auckland Central.

“When I started Innocent Packaging more than four years ago, one of the biggest questions I got asked was ‘How do I compost it?’ Since then, I’ve always recommended that our customers use We Compost,” recalls Tony Small, who founded Innocent Packaging back in 2013. “But the challenge is that our products are takeaway. People get a coffee or a sandwich and they take it away from the premises, so it’s hard to get that packaging back to the right location.”

“So when We Compost founder Steve Rickerby and I were having a beer one night, we talked about how great it would be to have an organics collection around the city. Eventually, we just thought ‘Well, nothing’s happening with the council and the government at the moment (Auckland Council’s food waste collection remains limited to households in Papakura), so why don’t we just do it?”

The Full Package bins outside the Espresso Workshop in Britomart and Kokako in Grey Lynn (Photos: Supplied)

Currently, there are 50 Full Package bins placed across Auckland Central, which can be found outside cafes such as Kokako in Grey Lynn, Orphan’s Kitchen in Ponsonby, Crave in Morningside, Espresso Workshop in Britomart, Goodness Gracious in Eden Terrace, Winona Forever in Parnell, and EightThirty on Karangahape Road. With the two companies covering the cost of the bins and bin liners, the initiative is free for cafes – they simply have to dispose of the bag when it fills up. We Compost then collects the bag along with the cafe’s other organic scraps and take it to Envirofert, a commercial composting facility near Tuakau. The finished product will then be returned to local growers to help feed the soil, produce food, and close off the waste stream loop.

The trial period for The Full Package is set to last around eight weeks, mainly due to the fact the bins are made from compostable cardboard which, over time, will degrade themselves. “They’re essentially a pop-up, [but] if it goes well, then we’re going to apply for some waste management funding,” says Small.

“We’d love to see 500 or a 1,000 of these bins throughout [the whole of] Auckland. That would just take a bit of funding because between Innocent and WeCompost we’ve got the network, but we just need some funds. I’d love to see if we can get the Method Recycling team involved. They produce really elegant but solid bins that can withstand the weather patterns of Auckland.”

The Full Package bin outside Goodness Gracious on New North Road (Photo: Facebook/Innocent Packaging)

In an ideal world, disposable products – whether they’re plant-based or plastic – wouldn’t have to be used at all. But takeaway culture isn’t going away anytime soon, and positive incentives for people to use their own containers, such as a 50 cent discount for getting coffee in a KeepCup, can only go so far.

On the flipside, there are punitive measures, such as the 25 pence ‘latte levy’ that was proposed (and later scrapped) in Britain earlier in the year, which isn’t dissimilar to the approach many supermarkets take by charging five or 10 cents for a single-use plastic bag. But in the words of Isaac Newton: every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and taxing something like disposable coffee cups, Small warns, comes with costs.

“In the UK they put the 5 pence levy on plastic bags and they saw an 80% reduction, which is awesome. [But] the difference between supermarkets and cafes is that supermarkets tend to be owned by big corporations that have a lot of money and they tend to have minute monopolies. Cafes, on the other hand, are run by mum and dads and young couples who don’t have huge fronts,” he says.

“[If we implement a levy], I think we’ll absolutely see a reduction in coffee cups. But we’ll probably also see a reduction in coffee drinking. Some supermarkets have actually seen a decrease in spending because people only buy what they can carry, so it’s affecting spending habits. If we put a levy on coffee cups, I think we’re going to have a negative impact on business and that’s not sustainable in the long term for anyone.”

“I think we’ve just got to be careful. It’s easy to tax everything but at the same time, you’ve just got to think what effect it will have – it’ll have an effect somewhere.”

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