Each month we shine the light on an Event Greening Forum member who is making noteworthy achievements in their event greening efforts. This month we feature Karen Heron, who co-founded and manages Earth Probiotic Recycling Solutions with her husband Gavin.
Q: WHEN AND WHY DID YOU START TO DEVELOP AN AWARENESS ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY – AND A DESIRE TO CHAMPION IT?
A: It all started when Gavin, my partner and husband, bought me a worm farm for my birthday. This was great, and I still have one, but we were still throwing away cooked food, meat, bones and old cheese rinds! I did some research and came across “bokashi” – a composting technique originating from Japan. So we took the leap; Gavin resigned from his job and we launched Earth Probiotic in 2010.
We realised that food waste is a significant waste stream and a major environmental threat. According to the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research), food waste costs the economy upwards of R10-billion per year. So not only is this waste stream an environmental hazard it also has a major economic footprint.
Composting this stream widened our thinking to the importance of soil as a resource that is increasingly threatened and issues around climate change, water pollution and even bio-diversity. Everything comes from soil and thus positively impacting on this resource can have a massive impact on climate change, environment health and also, simply, the way we grow and consume food.
According to the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research), food waste costs the economy upwards of R10-billion per year. So not only is this waste stream an environmental hazard it also has a major economic footprint.
Q: FOR THOSE WHO AREN’T FAMILIAR WITH BOKASHI AS A COMPOSTING METHOD, PLEASE BRIEFLY EXPLAIN WHAT IT IS AND HOW IT WORKS.
A: Bokashi means “fermented organic matter” in Japanese. Bokashi is, in essence, a carrier which has been inoculated with beneficial bacteria and fungi. Earth Bokashi, our version of bokashi, utilises indigenous South African microbes.
For bokashi composting you need an air tight bin and Earth Bokashi. All food waste – including cooked and uncooked meat, dairy, sea food – is added into the bin and layered with Earth Bokashi. The microbes in the mix then activate and ferment the food waste so that it doesn’t rot or smell. After fermentation is complete the matrix, now packed with beneficial microbes, can be safely composted with landscape/garden waste, fed to composting earthworms or simply directly trenched into the soil. Because it has fermented it breaks down very quickly in the soil and adds valuable food waste nutrients back to the soil – feed soil not landfills!
The bokashi system is great for entities producing less than 1,000kg of food waste a month. Once you get to higher volumes the system becomes difficult to manage and bin storage is a challenge. This is why we developed our in-vessel composting machines which can be installed for on-site composting. The largest, the Heron IVC, can process up to 45,000kg of food waste a month. The smaller, which is great for smaller malls, schools, hotels and lodges can process up to 5,000kg a month.
We are very proud that these machines are manufactured in South Africa to our design.
Q: HOW HAVE VENUES – FROM HOTELS, RESTAURANTS, CONFERENCE AND EXHIBITION CENTRES – RESPONDED TO YOUR FOOD WASTE SYSTEM?
A: Very positively. Especially now that we’re 8 years down the line! It took awhile to build the category but now an increasingly number of people are aware of this recycling technology. In the beginning they were always worried that the food waste would rot, smell and attract flies and rats. And consequently were amazed that the contents didn’t rot down as they expected. To be honest, our early customers were risk takers! They stepped into the unknown and took a chance with us.
For most, they find that an on-site composting solution is cost effective and also gives total control over the most pernicious of waste streams – if it’s not collected then there’s rotting and all the other bad stuff we associate with food waste.
Additionally the benefits of this system go beyond the financial and risk aspect and also include reducing kitchen consumable costs and even food costs due to measuring what’s thrown away – it’s only when the food waste is measured do customers realise just how much food is being wasted. Some also save energy as they don’t need to put their waste into a cold room in order to slow down putrefaction and thus reduce the frequency of waste collections.
In the beginning they were always worried that the food waste would rot, smell and attract flies and rats. And consequently were amazed that the contents didn’t rot down as they expected.
Q: ARE YOU ABLE TO HIRE THE BOKASHI SYSTEM OUT FOR EVENTS?
A: Yes. For sure. We have helped with Meetings Africa, working with Scan Display, for the past four years. We firstly estimate waste volumes based on a specific formula and past experience and then provide bins, Earth Bokashi and training to waste staff. We also collect all the bins for off-site composting so the event organiser doesn’t have to worry about this aspect.
This is done at a fixed fee and includes a post event impact report measuring food waste volumes composted and the consequent positive impact on CO2e emissions, and landfill air space savings (landfill airspace is a scarce commodity and becoming even more scarce).
Q: IF YOU COULD WAVE A MAGIC WAND AND CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT THE SA MICE EVENTS INDUSTRY TO MAKE IT MORE SUSTAINABLE, WHAT WOULD THAT ONE THING BE?
A: Obviously that all organic waste should be composted. But really that this needs to include compostable coffee cups and serving containers. Basically get rid of the non-compostable plastic! Get rid of the plastic water bottles!
To find out more about Earth Probiotic, you can view its profile here