D: Composting Organic Waste

From research completed in my previous blog post, where I underscored effective recycling methods in institutions such as hotels and restaurants, I decided to create an alternative recycling system for my workplace in which the recycling plan could be vastly improved.

As a result of a generally more environmentally conscious world community, plastic bags have been created from biodegradable plastics. These bags can deteriorate when buried in soil. Up until this point, I have only seen this trend at the park where I walk my dog, with doggie bags. I propose that these bags are used within hotels and restaurants for collection of organic waste. This would then allow this waste to be easily incorporated into a composting system. I opted to continue with composting as this is a tried and tested method which yields effective results and could be implemented almost immediately.

In this particular situation, the recycling would have to be performed at an offsite-composting centre. However, this centre would provide the bins in which the organic waste and biodegradable bags would be deposited. This would eliminate either party having to sort through decaying organic matter.

One of alternative methods to a composting centre is using a worm farm that converts organic food waste into usable compost. Whilst, I don’t think this is a viable option for the pub that I work at, it might be something for UTS to consider. With the continuing renovations, it may be possible to incorporate a worm farm model into the basement of one of the buildings. Creating a site-specific space would eliminate a multitude of health and safety concerns.

As suggested above, in large-scale organizations, recycling their organic waste on site could be more cost effective and cut down any transportation of waste required. Whilst this might be viable for an institution such as UTS who could use their compost in both their gardens and for surrounding community initiatives, it wouldn’t be as viable an option for restaurants and hotels. Therefore, in order to encourage these organizations, which produce considerable organic waste to sort and recycle their waste an incentive, would be implemented. Economic incentives are generally the biggest drivers to these types of businesses hence they would receive free promotion on a variety of influential environmental magazines and websites, which is becoming an increasingly popular trend. 

Green Hotelier

Of course, in order to ensure that all of these ideas run smoothly an education process is vital. In the example of a restaurant or hotel, the owner would need to be educated as to the importance of recycling organic matter for this type of initiative to even get off the ground. Subsequently, if this idea was put into place, all staff would need to be educated as how to separate the organic waste and take upmost care in not contaminating bins with organic materials. From experience I know this would be a huge challenge as convenience is obviously a factor currently preventing the development of more organic composting schemes.

 

References:

 Puyuelo, B. Colon, J. Martin, P. Sanchez, A. 2013, ‘Comparison of compostable bags and aerated bins with conventional storage systems to collect the organic fraction of municipal solid waste from homes: A Catalonia case study,’ Waste Management, vol. 33, no. 6, pp. 1381-1389.

Accinelli, C. Sacca, M. Mencarelli, M. Vicari, A. 2012, ‘Deterioration of bioplastic carrier bags in the environment and assessment of a new recycling alternative,’ Chemosphere, vol. 89, pp. 136-143.f

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C: Composting in Hotels and Restaurants

Working in a pub with an overflowing bin room, in which the attempt to separate recyclable paper and regular garbage seems to have largely failed and with bottle bins holding far more than just plastic and glass, I am a direct witness of relatively large-scale wastage. I do acknowledge that some recycling attempts are made, however, the concept of organic waste is largely unconsidered, which has been a theme across my research and daily observations to this point.

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Our bins don’t always look this pretty! 

In considering my lived experience, I conducted further research into what institutions and organisation and managing organic waste effectively. One organisation whose work I was particularly taken by was FERN (Food Establishments Recycling Nutrients). I first came across this organisation when reading an article about World Food Day, in which FERN hosted a brunch at Le Gabriel Hotel in Beirut, where their attendees were invited to dine on the leftovers from the breakfast buffet.

http://ferninternational.org/

This is a Lebanese NGO, which began in 2012. Essentially the group will come into a restaurant or hotel, conduct a waste analysis, train the staff and collect any organic waste. Their goal in helping restaurants and hotels to create zero waste is to close the loop in the agricultural cycle.

When FERN removes the organic waste from Lebanon’s restaurants and hotels it is taken for composting. The idea that composting has the biggest potential in removing materials from the waste stream was supported by Bob Langert, the Director of Environmental Affairs at McDonald’s Corporation (1992).  This statement was made following a trial in which 10 McDonald’s restaurants in the UK separated organic material, which was then transported to a composting facility (Goldstein,1992). This was a largely successful campaign and a similar trial is currently being undertaken at the Sydney Olympic Park and Parramatta North McDonalds restaurants (McDonalds 2016).

As shown by FERN and McDonalds, many hotels and restaurants are willingly embracing these environmental initiatives. This was further supported in a research journal, which interviewed a range of hotels in Cape Town, South Africa. These respondents also indicated that government support would encourage the long-term success of waste management initiatives (Wyngaard & Lange, 2013). The study also underscored the importance of education and training, not only must one learn how to recycle organic matter but they must understand its importance and the long-term benefits. 

Not only does effective organic waste management have a positive effect on the environment but also it begins to answer bigger problems including world hunger. According to a report published by the McKinsey Group, in the developing world, two thirds of harvested food is thrown away. The distribution of food globally is completely warped. With initiatives to recycle natural waste, this may engender more significant consideration of our wastage and begin to consider alternative ways to prevent such vast wastage.

 

This info graphic designed by Michelle Khaill posted on FERN’s website provides tips for reducing waste at home.

  

References:

Alabaster, Olivia. 2012, ‘Leftovers to compost: Hotels eliminate waste’, Tribune Business News (Washington), 17 Oct 2012. 

Goldstein, Nora. 1992, ‘Restaurants Evaluate Composting Option’, BioCycle, vol. 33 no.10 pp.34-37. 

Kennett, Stephen. 2013, ‘In a country where composting isn’t common, social enterprise FERN as come up with a solution’, 2 Degrees, viewed 11 June 2016 <https://www.2degreesnetwork.com/groups/2degrees-community/resources/country-where-composting-isnt-common-social-enterprise-fern-has-come-up-with-solution/>

McDonalds 2016, Macca’s & the Environment, viewed 11 June 2016 <https://mcdonalds.com.au/learn/responsibility/maccas-and-the-environment/initiatives-and-trials>

Wyngaard, A. & Lange R. 2013, ‘The effectiveness of implementing eco initiatives to recycle water and food waste in selected Cape Town hotels’, International Journal of Hospitality Management, vol. 34, pp. 309-316.

B: Research Methods

In undertaking a year abroad, I was required to examine, analyse and research an element of French culture. As analyzing the ways in which people dispose of waste is generally linked to the culture of the individual or groups of individuals I saw some overlap with methodologies I have used in the past.

Interviews

Interviews are often conducted as a powerful way to understand people (Al-Yateem, 2012). The nature of waste is intrinsically linked to people and hence interviews have the ability to further understand the motivations of an individual, potentially revealing the motivations of a larger group.

The nature of the interview process is more labour intensive and therefore fewer responses can be gathered compared to methods such as questionnaires, which do not require the same amount of interaction between viewer and participant. However, the responses may be more or less involved depending on whether the subject is of notable interest within their daily life (Ross, 1974). 

Participant selection has been narrowed down in the past through a willingness of people and organizations to take part in the interviews. As in the experiences of Teske, it is often difficult to reach the leaders within an organization whose responsibilities are the greatest and time the most valued (1997).

 In conducting the interviews themselves I have found it is very important to remain impartial, never arguing or condemning the opinions of the interviewee (Ross, 1974). Although, despite taking a neutral stance, in this type of research, it is always a possibility that the interviewee might withhold information that would reflect poorly on themselves.

 

Observation

Observation is a good way to study a group of people within their native environment and to understand events from their perspective (Baker, 2006). In undertaking observational research there is a lot of concern about ethical problems, as well as validity and reliability issues (2006). In past observational research I put great focus on not omitting data in order to confirm my pre-established beliefs and constantly aimed to prevent my personal bias from altering the investigation (May, 1997).

As a Visual Communication student I have also felt comfortable in incorporating personal photography and film documentation into my observation research. This form of research is often very successful as photography can often aid in showing what is beyond the capacity of the written word (Ross, 1974).


Both observation and visual analysis of the waste disposal at UTS would allow for accurate documentation of the environment and users habits as often these actions are subconscious or as stated previously, might not admit the ways in which they dispose of organic waste.

 

Spanish academics put out a research paper on aggressive behaviour studying the effects of viewing videos of Bullfights on Spanish Children. They used both observation and questionnaire methods to examine determine the psychological effects of viewing bullfights on children 8-12 years old in Madrid from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. They determined that observing violent scenes increases one’s tolerance of displays of aggression and in turn increases an individual’s level of acceptance (Grana, 2004). This research shows that exposure creates acceptance, critical in implementing recycling plans. Additionally, that a variety of research methods yield a more accurate result.

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References:

Al-Yateem, N. 2012, ‘The effect of interview recording on quality of data obtained: a methodological reflection’, Nurse Researcher, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 31-35.

Baker, L. 2006, ‘Observation: A Complex Research Methodin Library Trends, Vol. 55, No.1, pp. 171–189.

 Graña, J,L., Cruzado, J,A., Andreu, J.M., Muñoz-Rivas, M.J., Peña, M.E., Brain, P.F. 2004, ‘Effects of Viewing Videos of Bullfights on Spanish Children’, Aggressive Behaviour, vol. 30, no.1, pp. 16-28.

 May, T. 1997 ‘Participant observation: Perspectives and Practicein Social research: Issues, methods and process, Buckingham, Open University Press, pp. 132-156.

 Ross, R. 1974, ‘Obtaining Original Evidence’, in Research: An Introduction, New York, Barnes and Noble, pp. 74-79.

Teske, N. 1997, ‘Methodology Appendix’ in Political Activists in America: The Identity Construction Model of Political Participation, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK, pp. 152-162. 

A: Cup to Compost

In order to track the organic waste that I personally accumulated over a one-day period, I monitored what foods I consume on an average day. I recorded my food intake, where I generally consume food and the subsequent organic waste.

food intake.jpggjh.jpg

I noted that I generally consume food at home or at work. In both of these environments plastic, glass and paper waste is separated for recycling. However, organic waste is disposed as part of the general waste and therefore ends up in landfill, something that could be easily changed if recycling methods in any given environment were altered.

In analysing the created organic waste, I decided to further investigate the lifecycle of a tea bag that I always dispose of in general waste. I selected the tea bag, as with the small label, staple and string I wasn’t sure if the tea bag is a viable choice for composting. This point was contested widely on many recycling sites and blogs. I ultimately determined that the tea itself and a majority of tea bags are recyclable, the small staple, used in some tea varieties just needing to be removed.

Tea is the most consumed manufactured drink in the world (Chang, 2015). Therefore, despite being comparatively small in size, compared to other organic waste, when recycled correctly they could significantly reduce the amount of organic matter ending up in landfill annually.

In thinking about the tea bag that I created as organic waste, I began to consider its lifecycle:

–       Grown for multiple weeks in countries such as China and India with the appropriate climate.

–       The tea is then harvested and dried.

–       Tea is shipped to a manufacturing warehouse where it is packaged.

–       Tea is shipped 1000s of miles to Australia.

–       After its arrival it is transported to a warehouse.

–       From the warehouse it is transported to a supermarket.

–       Purchased in a supermarket and transported home.

–       Diffused in hot water for a few minutes.

–       Dispose of in the general waste.

Considering the resources expended for me to drink a single bag of tea, I determined that this is something I can easily recycle either by reducing the number of teabags I use and buying loose leaf tea or by recycling the teabags themselves.

 In researching current methods of tea recycling I came across an initiative put into place by Unilever, the world’s largest tea company to tackle the issue of 370,000 tonnes of tea bags being sent to landfill in the UK each year (Unilever, 2013).  Amongst a variety of initiatives to create public awareness, Unilever teamed up with Brentwood Borough and Chelmsford Councils to encourage residents to dispose of their teabags amongst other organic waste in council food waste collections rather than in their general waste (Recycling Guide UK, 2012).

Prior to conducting this campaign, Unilever researched consumer’s knowledge concerning the recycling of tea bags. It showed that “more than 4 in 10 consumers are not aware that it is possible to recycle tea bags, yet more than 8 in 10 might or would consider recycling them if they knew how to go about it” (Unilever, 2013). This indicates that it is often a lack of knowledge that prevents positive recycling habits and which any recycling initiative, education is of paramount importance.

References:

Kaison Chang. 2015, ‘World Tea Production and Trade: Current and Future Development’, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United States, viewed 10 June 2016, <http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4480e.pdf>

Recycling Guide UK. 2012, ‘Unilever Encouraging Tea Bag Recycling’, weblog, viewed 10 June 2016< http://www.recycling-guide.org.uk/blog-unilever-encouraging-tea-bag-recycling.html>

Unilever 2013, From cup to compost: PG tips tackles the issue of tea bag waste with Recyclebank, viewed 10 June 2016 <https://www.unilever.co.uk/news/press-releases/2013/from-cup-to-compost-pg-tips-tackles-the-issue-of-tea-bag-waste-with-recyclebank.html>