We interviewed Auckland Council's Energy & Sustainability Specialist Duncan Munro to find out more about the compost service implementation and longevity of the service and how it helps the Council achieve its ambitious sustainability goals.
Duncan, what triggered Auckland Council's decision to use BioPak products and how does this initiative fit in with your wider strategy around sustainability?
We’ve struggled with the contamination of our recycling in our cafeterias. Our office collections are different from domestic kerbside recycling in that we don’t accept paper in our recycling bins. We have separate bins on our floors specifically for paper. Additionally, we face the same challenges with regard to products people believe are recyclable, but in fact aren’t, for example coffee cups and paper towels in recycling bins.
We had been looking at compostable packaging for some time as a way to make things easier for our staff. Although this would require introducing an extra bin to our cafes most of the products purchased would go into these bins for off-site composting. We were also keen to reduce our use of plastics. We started with simple things like tea and coffee stirrers, but our cafe takeaway packaging was the bigger aim. In addition to moving to compostable cups and containers, we also encourage and incentivise staff to bring their own reusable coffee cups. This entitles them to a 50c discount on a coffee.
Auckland Council has a goal of zero waste to landfill by 2040. This is a goal for the whole region, but it’s also something that Auckland Council needs to deliver through it’s whole business. Specifically for our offices and cafes we had a target of a 30% reduction in waste by 2018 from 2012, and in the draft version of the Waste Management and Minimisation Plan there’s a proposed follow on target of a 60% reduction.
BioPak provided you with compost bins to collect your packaging and compostable 'Gravity Coffee' BioCups. We also worked with you to develop a staff educational video. How effective was the implementation of the compost service and how did your workforce perceive this initiative?
We’ve delivered these bins to five offices around the region. Two in the CBD at Te Wharau o Tamaki Auckland House and 35 Graham Street. One each in Henderson, Orewa, and Manukau.
The coffee cup bins were introduced first with email communication to staff about their use and purpose. We’re currently following up across all of our larger offices with new signage and waste communication. Our signage was about 4-5 years old, so we’ve updated the colours, the message, and have made the signs much more tangible with examples. We used this opportunity to create specific signage for the range of compostable products. As we launch this across new buildings we bring in students to talk to our staff about the new posters, the range of compostable products and what to do with them, and any other questions they might have about waste and recycling in our buildings.
The feedback has been wholly positive. Anecdotally our contamination is decreasing, but we will confirm this with some waste audits after some follow up education in a few weeks.
How does the compost service work and have you faced any challenges – like contamination with non-compostable items?
Our compost service works like any other waste stream collection, with regular weekly picks up and it is very easy to set up. The food and packaging waste is taken to a commercial compost facility and turned in nutrient rich compost in a matter of weeks.
We’ve already expanded our items and re-launched our communications around the cups with our range of compostable packaging.
Contamination doesn’t seem to be much of an issue in our compostables bins. It’s still more of an issue with our recycling and food waste bins. We keep the food waste bins as a separate collection to our compostables as most of our corporate buildings have worm farms.
What advice do you have for other businesses with a focus on sustainability?
Aim high. Coffee cups are a very visible place to start and it resonates with a lot of people. But aim higher and try to tackle plastics right throughout your supply chain.
Strong communication is key. We’ve used email, new signs which are very tangible, and have used students to directly communicate with staff about their options.
BioPak applauds Auckland Council for their environmental efforts, and their support of companies like ours, and our partner network, who are helping us in spreading the word on how to reduce the reliance on plastic and investing in initiatives like composting. If you are interested in composting – visit our BioPak Compost Service website.