Yesterday’s food leftovers are generally not pretty. And dumped on a landfill they are even less appealing – rotting, smelling and covered in maggots. So it’s no surprise that people don’t like thinking about landfills; they are unsightly things that no one wants to live close to. They also create methane gas, an environmental hazard that future generations will have to deal with, and they occupy increasingly scarce urban land.
As a result, many people and companies are working towards a ‘zero waste to landfill’ goal, but the reality is that landfills are with us for the foreseeable future.
About two-thirds of landfill waste contains biodegradable organic matter from households, business and industry. While it does degrade faster than other forms of waste, plastic for example, it releases methane gas as it degrades. As a potent greenhouse gas, methane traps up to 20 times more heat in the atmosphere compared with carbon dioxide.
Rising landfill costs and looming legislation forbidding the dumping of organic waste is spurring innovation around other ways of using this waste. Biodigesters and incinerators are options that have gained some traction, but they have limitations. In this midst, a local company called Earth Probiotic has implemented a different and novel solution.
On-site organic waste composting
It offers an on-site food waste composting solution that munches through the output of a small domestic household as easily as it does through the industrial volumes put out by food courts or wholesale produce markets.
Instead of dumping it in a landfill, Earth Probiotic takes the food waste – anything from leftover meat, chicken carcasses, buns, pizza or even soup – and ferments it using a combination of nitrogen and carbon (which neutralises odour) over a 30-day period.
The result is a rich ‘hot compost’ that is one-tenth of the original volume, is very high in active microbes and can be fed into an ordinary compost heap to accelerate the composting process. The reduction of waste which needs to be removed from the site in the form of compost contributes to lowering the carbon footprint of waste removal.
The company was founded in 2010 by Karen Heron who was looking for a solution to food waste and had been experimenting with composting solutions and worm farms. But while these work well with plant matter, they cannot handle food that is not plant-based. Heron began experimenting with probiotics which, when mixed with food waste, accelerate the composting process without contributing to greenhouse gas production.
Household and industrial solution
The result is Earth Probiotic, which today sells small-scale as well as industrial-sized solutions to households and companies in SA and neighbouring countries.
The industrial business developed as demand grew for a more rugged solution. “By this stage, Karen’s husband Gavin had given up his job to work in the business; they invited me to join them in developing an industrial solution, Earth Probiotic Industrial,” recalls Peter Surgey, Nampak chairman and former Barloworld director. Other shareholders include the Life Green Group (owner of Lifestyle Home Garden; represented by director Oscar Lockwood), former Nampak director Stephen Conradie, and founders Karen and Gavin Heron.
The industrial solution can chomp through 40 to 160 tons of waste material a month, depending on unit size. The by-product, ‘hot compost’, being given away for free. At this point everything that is produced is collected by Lifestyle Home Garden, where it is added to their own compost, to accelerate the process.
The Peermont Group, owner of Emperors Palace, is a client, as is the Liberty Group, which has installed a plant at Eastgate Shopping Centre and plans to install a bigger one at Sandton City.
The company is working to provide a solution for FruitSpot (part of the Massmart stable) which has a 150 ton a month waste problem that can be solved. Apart from the benefit of diverting waste from landfill and creating a valuable by-product, the solution is less expensive than waste removal to landfill and eliminates 250kgs of methane per ton processed. This is good for the environment and provides the customer with carbon credits.
The business model enables clients to either buy or rent the system, with all of the maintenance and technical support provided by Earth Probiotic. For clients, aside from the carbon savings, the solution helps to reduce the costs incurred by dumping on landfill sites. These costs, along with carbon taxes, will only increase.
Now going into its ninth year, Earth Probiotic is profitable, with good cash flow, and carries no debt.
Who said there is no value in waste?