Less Excuses, More Solutions

Over the past three posts, I have researched various strategies for waste management including a range of methods for data collection, data analysis, changing perceptions and understanding existing systems and industries. Along with this, I have given two examples of positive outcomes of carefully considered organic waste management which, alongside environmental obligations, has also brought financial benefits to the organisations willing to seek alternative solutions. In this post I will develop and propose an alternative organic waste management system to rival that of the current Woolworths system.


Woolworths currently process organic waste through the Earth Power system which comprises of processing waste and moving it to a facility to eventually be used for generating electricity; which, in turn, generates enough electricity to power around  145 houses per year.

Although this is a successful outcome for Woolworths, there will still be a variety of positive ways that the company can handle their organic waste. One interesting alternative would be to process and utilise their organic waste on site. Many Woolworths facilities have plant life in the car-park and surrounding areas which would benefit greatly from a constant supply of rich soil compost. Furthermore, the plant life would contribute to a positive brand image given the Woolworths tag line (the fresh food people) where having booming gardens before you enter the store.

woolworths plantsImage 1 – Showing ideal woolworths store aesthetic including gardens.

This solution would require a closed system on each site comprising of collection, processing, storage and maintenance infrastructure. This would not be un-achievable and more than likely reduce costs in various areas such as landfill fees and garden upkeep. The overall system would be based off a residential composting cycle, scaled up to deal with the mass quantities of organic waste produced by a major supermarket chain.

Collection Points – This could be as simple as plastic tubs to immediately contain the food scraps in a clean container.

Processing – This could be designed with consideration to the plastic tubs. A modular approach could be used where each tub was stacked in a way that eventually (15-20 tubs) would form their own compost tower. The tower, without any additions, could begin the composting cycle with new tubs added to the top and completed tubs taken from the bottom. A date stamp would need to be considered at this stage to keep track of the time required for compost to break down.

Storage – I believe with this approach, the storage would be inherent in the design. There may be multiple towers to cope with demand and this could be scaled up and down to mirror Woolworths occasional boom in sales (Christmas and Easter). An oversupply of processed compost could be given, or sold to the community.

Maintenance – This system would require careful management from an employee, ideally employed to oversee the entire organic waste system from management of tub towers, time stamping, cleaning and restocking tubs and spreading the produced soil to necessary gardens. This position would most likely struggle to fill a full time schedule, even with mass quantities, and therefore may be suitable as part of the tasks allocated to the site landscaper.

modular compostImage 2 – Example of residential modular compost system.


Woolworths have an opportunity to process and utilise organic waste on site. This closed system would significantly reduce the overall management required to deal with externally processed organic waste largely due to eliminating logistic requirements. The system would benefit the look and appeal of the Woolworths stores by providing excellent plant life in car parks as well as demonstrating smart alternatives not unlike the methods used by the farmers that provide Woolworths with produce.






Image 1 – Illawarra Mercury, Parking to double for Wollongong Woolies, viewed on 14 June 2016, <http://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/1273857/parking-to-double-for-wollongong-woolies/>.


Image 2 – Susana Forum, Toilet paper C:N ratio (carbon to nitrogen ratio) for composting processes, viewed on 14 June 2016, <http://m.forum.susana.org/forum/categories/70-composting-processes/7272-toilet-paper-cn-ratio-carbon-to-nitrogen-ratio-for-composting-processes>.

Aggressive Progression

My previous post discussed the critical importance and value of quality data. In this post I will be conducting a critical review of existing organic waste management from two major sources; Woolworths and the Sydney Fish Markets. Both businesses have their specific needs in regards to collection, movement, processing and removal of organic waste.


Woolworths are one of the main grocery providers in Australia. This inevitably will generate an enormous amount of organic waste from each of their stores. In addition to this, the value of reducing their waste can significantly impact the business not only from a community perspective but also from a cost point of view. “Waste audits undertaken at a selection of our stores and distribution centres over the last year show that a large proportion of the waste that we send to landfill is organic material that could be used for another purpose. Around 56 percent of the waste from supermarkets and 28 percent from distribution centres (by weight) could be diverted to a beneficial end use” (Woolworths Limited 2015).

This encourages Woolworths to find alternative ways of dealing with organic waste and possibly turing waste into a valuable resource: ” Since November 2006, over 4,860 tonnes of organic waste from our supermarkets has been processed at EarthPower, generating 1,230 MWh or enough renewable energy to power around 145 houses.” (Woolworths Limited 2015).

woolworths waste

Image 1 – Pie chart showing total waste by category.

Sydney Fish Markets are another large business that produces immense quantities of organic waste. In fact they produce 13,000 tonnes of seafood product per year (Sydney Fish Market Annual Report 2015). This, in turn, generates substantial quantities of organic waste which would drastically impact their bottom line if it was simply sent to landfill. Fortunately, fish waste can be converted into a valuable by-product. “Hydrolysed fish waste can be composted with rock phosphate to form an organic/biological solidphosphate fertiliser. To enable this, relationships need to be formed between seafood industry and fertiliser manufacturers” (Knuckey 2002). Which raises an important point; who are the resulting parties relied upon for the management system to function correctly.

sydney fish marketImage 2 – High volume of seafood product sold at Sydney Fish Markets.

Key parties in large scale waste management systems may include equipment providers, logistics providers and waste processors. However, vital contributors to organic waste management solutions could include manufacturers of product that need your by-product. Depending on the situation, the organic waste may not be waste at all and, in fact, ‘produce’. I’m sure oil companies don’t refer to virgin polymer moulding material as ‘waste’!


To sum up, it would be of great value to recognise existing organic waste (produce) management solutions so as developments can be made in light of a proven system. This strategy can also help to facilitate development progress by way of reduced investment risk, which in most cases, will be a major hurdle to overcome. However, unproven systems should always be considered for the benefit of innovation in the field. For this reason, my next post will investigate an alternate ways to manage organic waste for one of the stated businesses.






Knuckey 2002, Utilisation of seafood processing waste – challenges and opportunities, p, viewed 14 June 2016, <http://www.fishwell.com.au/app_cmslib/media/lib/0908/m454_v1_soil_knuckeyi%20final.pdf&gt;.

Sydney Fish Market 2015, Annual Report 2015, p. 33, viewed 11 June 2016, <http://www.sydneyfishmarket.com.au/Portals/0/SFM_2015%20ANNUAL%20REPORT_WEB.pdf&gt;.

Woolworths Limited 2015, Doing the Right Thing, Sustainability Strategy 2007 – 2015, p. 26, viewed 14 June 2015, <http://www.woolworthslimited.com.au/icms_docs/130514_Doing_the_Right_Thing.pdf&gt;.

Woolworths Limited 2015, Doing the Right Thing, Sustainability Strategy 2007 – 2015, p. 27, viewed 14 June 2015, <http://www.woolworthslimited.com.au/icms_docs/130514_Doing_the_Right_Thing.pdf&gt;.



Image 1 – Woolworths Limited 2015, Doing the Right Thing, Sustainability Strategy 2007 – 2015, p. 26, viewed 14 June 2015, <http://www.woolworthslimited.com.au/icms_docs/130514_Doing_the_Right_Thing.pdf&gt;.

Image 2 – Sydney Fish Market 2015, The Christmas Catch!, Dailymail Australia, Getty Images, Viewed on 14 June 2016, <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3369807/Sydney-Fish-Market-gears-36-hour-trading-marathon.html>.

Data Deconstruction

My last post talked about the significant importance of material separation at waste collection points. A focused approach on waste separation, while reducing general waste and improving quality of recycled materials, can also result substantial cost reductions. This is due to the expensive waste processing costs which are inevitably passed onto the consumer. Less processing = less cost. Although waste separation may be a suitable solution in the researched setting, it may not be the right solution in the real world where many unseen factors contribute to the way a society handles waste.

In this post, I will talk about the research and data analysis methods used in my study and highlight where these methods may need further development in order to successfully translate into conceptualised solutions.


Before deciding on an appropriate research method, we should have a complete understanding of the waste management services available to us regardless of popularity or effectiveness. My household waste research is limited to landfill which, although common, considerably understates the entirety of the industry. The waste industry, with the help of much-needed government funding for grants and innovation in the field, is a complex network of competing businesses including equipment hire and sales, logistics, planning, processing and brokerage of all things. Yes, in industrial settings, waste management companies such as Veolia, Sita, Cleanaway and ReSource will compete to remove waste (for a cost) and pass onto landfill (for a slightly lower cost). Ahh, capitalism. Because of this complexity, a well-considered solution should take into account the comprehensive array of potential avenues available to us. An example of commercial waste management services can be seen in the video on the front page of the ReSource website (ReSource Environmental Solutions 2012).


Image 1 – Artistic parody of throwing money away.

My household research was also limiting in regards to data collection and analysis. The waste produced by a single person over the period of 24 hours will generate a considerably small sample size when data can only reflect output waste over that particular day. For example, my data did not show a milk carton in my waste. Analysis of this would suggest that I do not drink milk at all, which is untrue. Additional to this, the products in my personal waste reflect only what resides in my household. Many other items of my daily consumption contribute to landfill such as the coffee grinds from my coffee which, in this case, the waste would be the responsibility of the coffee shop where it was purchased. This is in contrast to a high-rise office setting where the coffee could potentially be produced and consumed within the one waste management system. In short, small sample data collection can produce information that is largely irrelevant on a mass scale.

It is also important to recognise the type of waste produced as certain materials require completely different management strategies. In some cases, the waste may need to be processed on site before being moved and in other cases, waste can be converted into usable material on site without the need for external processing, excluding it from landfill altogether. This can be commonly seen in organic waste management, where large buildings can separate and successfully utilise compost produced by a closed system. It is also not surprising to see organic materials as one of the highest contributors to household waste. “Around 50% of household waste and 30% of all waste we throw away is organic” (Environmental Protection Authority 2016).


Image 2 – Valuable soil can easily be produced from organic waste.


To conclude, we can see that there is a complex landscape within the waste industry which requires careful consideration before attempting to conceptualise a solution. Following this post, I would like to explore the possibilities of organic waste management and how we can tackle the perceptions of the past.





Environmental Protection Authority 2016, Organic Waste, viewed on 14 June 2016, <http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/waste/organic-waste.htm>.

Resource Environmental Solutions 2012, why we are different, videorecording, viewed 14 June 2016, <http://www.wastemanagement.com.au/>.



Image 1 – Inciyildirim 2014, Recycle Organic Waste, WordPress, viewed on 14 June 2016, <https://inciyil17.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/recycle-organic-waste/>.

Image 2 – Roots SA 2011, Media buying is not for the faint hearted, viewed on 14 June 2016, <http://rootssa.com/blog/media-buying-is-not-for-the-fainthearted>.

Separation Anxiety

Out of sight and out of mind. The past solution to our growing waste woes has been to sweep it under the rug (or in this case landfill). That’s until we have to hand over money to the person that owns the hole. Furthermore to this expensive pollution justifier, the fees increase annually as we become more environmentally conscious as a society and implement tougher constraints to encourage sustainable living. Ultimately, we want to be filling holes with less and less waste but how can we possibly do this?


Firstly, let’s consider the statistics. According to the New South Wales EPA, “An average NSW household generated 5.1 kg of recyclable materials, 5.3 kg of organic waste and 11.7 kg of residual waste per week” (NSW Environment Protection Authority 2016). This equates to the total household waste of 22.1kg per week, every week, for 52 weeks per year and multiplied by the 8 million households we have in Australia! And let’s not forget that this data does not include commercial and industrial waste!

Secondly, let’s make sure this data is correct. The figures seem to be outlandishly high. However, we can roughly confirm the numbers by simply collecting, categorising and weighing our own waste and comparing it to the data published by the EPA. I live in a household of four people (three males and one female between the ages of 22 – 31). For this task, I was able to separate and collect bin waste produced by myself within 24hrs. The waste was then categorised into three types (general, recyclable and organic), multiplied by four people as well as seven days and compared with the data from the EPA survey.

POST A - Waste Data Graphic

Image 1 – Timeline recording of each item thrown in the bin.

Several interesting conclusions can be drawn from the data. However, the one element that stood out to me was the alarming amount of recyclable material I threw into the general waste bin. This included paper, cardboard, plastics and a large amount of organic material.

This data prompted me to reflect on why I would throw away highly recyclable materials. The answer was mostly due to a single item containing multiple materials which need separation. For example tea bags, which contain four common materials: tea, paper filter, cotton string and cardboard. At least three of these materials can be removed from my overall waste. However, it would take time to separate them which justifies my decision to throw the whole tea bag into the general waste bin.


Image 2 – Combined image showing all items disposed of grouped by area.

An interesting study conducted by the European Commission on Environment outlines the importance of waste separation at the point of collection and identified that: “Countries that have introduced mandatory separate collection of certain municipal waste fractions, e.g. waste paper, in addition to packaging waste, or mandatory separate collection of bio-waste, have high municipal waste recycling levels” (European Commission on Environment 2016).


In conclusion, we can see that although most people would endeavour to separate general waste from recyclable waste, a more thorough isolation of materials would significantly benefit not only the reduction of general waste but also greatly improve the quality of recyclable materials. Following this post, I will conduct research into how we can develop waste collection points that encourage material separation in our homes, industries and commercial institutions.




European Commission on Environment 2016, 2015 Assessment of separate collection schemes in the 28 capitals of the EU, p. 28, viewed 13 June 2106, <http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/studies/pdf/Separate%20collection_Final%20Report.pdf>.

NSW Environmental Protection Authority 2016, 2012-2013 NSW Local Government Waste and Resource Recovery Data Repot, EPA, p. 28, viewed 13 June 2016,  <http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/resources/warrlocal/140432-lg-data-1213.pdf>.


All images produced by the author