WastePlant: a sustainable hub to turn organic waste into healthy food.
We interviewed founder and inventor Andrew Hayim De Vries, CEO of WastePlant, about his food waste undertakings in Byron Bay, New South Wales. WastePlant is a food garden facility that provides sustainable solutions for food waste problems: they tackle food waste through composting and soil regeneration, provide better access to local and healthy food, and foster and educate communities through their incredible GardenShips. Furthermore, the facilities capture carbon and collect water. WastePlant is truly an example of circular economy.
Mr Hayim De Vries, what are according to you, the greatest problems of the global food cycle?
The majority of food waste, amounting to trillions of tonnes a year, currently goes to landfill. As a result, we're missing the crucial, cyclical waste process found in nature. In nature nothing is wasted - everything feeds something else. But instead of recycling food waste to produce new food, what we're left with is soil pollution and degradation, aquifer contamination, acidification of oceans and river systems, and increased air toxicity! It's a progressively disastrous situation. The amount of packaging and waste created by industrial food production increases from year to year, and this only exacerbates the expanding landfill problem.
How exactly is food waste managed by WastePlant?
In my opinion and experience, the best way to reverse the waste problem is through using simple and effective solutions. In the case of food waste - diverting it from landfill and composting it to build incredibly fertile soil. Feeding the soil which feeds us - it's a full circle. WastePlant is on a mission to create resilient and reliable local food solutions for communities all over the world. We do this through our community composting garden systems, Gardenships, which work to divert and utilise food and green waste, improve food access, and connect and educate people.
Are Australians in general aware of food and environmental problems?
The general awareness of environmental problems in Australia is gradually increasing, but is still not as prominent as it should be. With recent factors such as COVID, I feel that the issue of sustainability and recycling has been pushed even further into the background - and that's a big concern, considering time is of the essence! Byron Bay is becoming more globally renowned for its social and environmental focusses - but I can tell you, as a local to the area, the level of compliance and implementation is still far behind where it could be. That is indicative of most of Australia - sad, but true. We always need more action and more collaboration!
How is your project being received by local communities in Byron Bay?
We've had overwhelmingly positive support from our locals - we wouldn't be here without them. It is very likely that our first community system will be installed in Lismore, a city which neighbours Byron Bay. It's a Council with a strong focus on community and on regenerative systems for waste. To add to that - we have had a high level interest and support for WastePlant from many regions around Australia and internationally, and I'm particularly encouraged by the fact that we currently have engagement with a number of Australian universities and a number of Councils.
For Australia in particular, with its history of severe soil degradation, how can WastePlant help restore soils and productivity?
You're right - these issues have been a huge challenge for our country. And still, Australians, to a greater degree, are still unaware of the extent of the tragedy of soil degradation and salinisation within our country - a continual threat to our fertile, food bearing soil, our produce, and our drinking water. WastePlant's Gardenships up-cycle food and carbon waste in a very safe and efficient manner, with a primary goal to rebuild fertility and microbial health in soil - for future food production. Our team are big believers that education is a key piece of the puzzle for solving such large issues, and so our focus and value within WastePlant is heavily focussed around education in every aspect of our solutions. Gardenships are hands-on, experiential education platforms, helping to expand practical knowledge and improve current practises. They are designed for engaging and educating communities - be it public space, a community centre, a school or university, or a prison.
The Gardenships also produce a range of quality byproducts, such as worm juice and castings, which can be harvested and used to rebuild soil in other places - be it at homes or within the wider community. So the good work doesn't stop within the one garden.
The Gardenships are reminiscent of a modern Ark of Noah, full of healthy living soil and organisms, on which our survival depends. What makes Gardenships unique?
Haha, I like the analogy! An ark on a mission!
Gardenships bundle a number of key functions into one neat garden design. We're diverting and composting food and green waste, we're building soil, we're growing nutrient-rich organic produce, we're creating byproducts to expand this great work elsewhere, and we're educating people - all in the one interactive, community centric space. Not to mention it's a great solution for shade and water harvesting too. Because it is self-contained, it's also capable of being off-grid in terms of water and power, and could be situated in a dense community space, remote location, rooftop or school playground.
Is the idea of the Gardenship something that can be exported and implemented elsewhere? Wouldn't it be great to see this happen at the scale of villages, towns and even in cities everywhere in the world?
The systems are designed to be modular and flat-packed, which simplifies installation, keeps it cost-effective, and allows us to scale the solutions to smaller or larger applications. We're also in the early stages of diversifying our designs to suit a range of different locations, climates and socio-economic communities - but our focus is on using locally sourced and fabricated materials instead of importing and exporting (which is only adding to the carbon footprint we're working hard to reduce). Across the board, we're very mindful of our product life-cycle and in using more sustainable materials, for example, we're currently exploring the use of hemp fibre sleepers as opposed to timber, and we're constantly challenging our design thinking.
And last but not least, what made you start such an ambitious project?
Founding WastePlant was a natural evolution of my 40+ years of travelling the world as an artist and designer, and learning from a wide range of communities and cultures. As well as being driven by an unwavering desire to design more sustainably, to upcycle and to be more environmentally innovative.
And on a personal note, I am dyslexic and while this creates a multitude of issues, it does have its advantages. Dyslexics generally view things three-dimensionally. In my personal life, that has enabled me to visualize and design my ideas, bringing them to fruition. That includes the idea of Wasteplant and the Gardenships where I feel I was able to efficiently and effectively bring the concept together to create something very unique as an example as Wasteplant.
WastePlant is an amalgamation of decades of devising and building very simple waste solutions, which can be easily implemented in a variety of communities around the world. How we deal with our waste over the next few decades will really define the future of our Earth home.
So, let's do better!
Thank you so much for sharing this enlightening information with us, Andrew! We look forward to see WastePlant facilities and GardenShips popping up around the world!
Want to learn more? Listen to Andrew on "Let's Talk Farm to Fork" of the PostHarvest Podcast on Spotify.
Learn more about soil salinization in Australia and elsewhere, on GondwanaTalks online magazine. In 2021, the Food and Agriculture Organization has raised awareness of salt-affected soils and has dedicated World Soil Day (5 Dec) to this problem, as 8% of land surface is currently affected by salt, threatening global food security.
Images: used with permission from A. Hayim De Vries.
WastePlant, byron bay, australia, soil salinization in australia, food waste problems, global food cycle, gardenships, what are gardenships, compost, sustainable food garden, modern Ark of Noah
Interview taken by Kathelijne Bonne, geologist and soil scientist.
Good Climate News is an initiative by the Bonne sisters from Belgium: Elisabeth, Helena and Kathelijne. "We believe in the power of good news".
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