By Russell Soderlund
Waste interviews with the managers of four packing sheds in South Australia has shed light on how they can reduce waste to improve business efficiencies.
The South Australian government agency Zero Waste SA aims to help individuals and businesses improve their recycling and waste avoidance practices in an effort to cut the State’s waste by 35 per cent by 2020.
APAL approached Zero Waste SA to suggest they review waste in packing sheds to help identify ways the apple and pear industry could contribute to saving waste and, importantly, improve their efficiencies and profitability. Zero Waste SA took up the challenge and I interviewed Andrew Hutcheon, Principal Advisor – Industry Sustainability from Zero Waste SA, to find out what he learnt.
During April and May of 2015, Andrew conducted interviews with four Adelaide Hills packing sheds. The participants were carefully chosen by Susie Green, CEO of the Apple and Pear Growers Association of South Australia, to give a profile of the different types of packing shed waste streams the industry produces. The enterprises interviewed were:
- Lenswood Coldstores Co-operative Society – as a large packing shed
- Ceravolo Orchards / Ashton Valley Fresh – a large packing shed with a juicing operation
- Flavell Fruit Sales – a medium-sized packing shed
- Chamberlain Orchards – a pear packer and pear cider maker
Industry has good ‘green’ credentials
Andrew’s role involves interacting with many types of businesses, ranging from hospitality to food processors to animal production and his first impression of the fruit industry is that it has good ‘green’ credentials. This relates to the fact that fruit production is a natural process with growers keen to maintain soil quality and nutrient content, where irrigation efficiencies are routinely practised, and where Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is now the industry ‘norm’ rather than the exception.
According to Andrew, the industry is lean on waste in general. Material usage is small, use of renewable energy is increasing, the industry uses Re-usable Plastic Crates (as well as cardboard containers) and much of the hard waste produced (e.g. cardboard) is recyclable. The industry doesn’t have a big waste footprint compared to other industry types.
“The average punter is not aware of this industry’s green credentials,” says Andrew. “They don’t know about the targeted use of chemicals in an IPM system, use of Re-usable Plastic Crates, the increasing use of solar energy and the minimal waste generated by the industry.
“Marketing research tells us that 20-25 per cent of consumers seek products with green credentials when making purchasing decisions – yet I don’t hear about this for apples and pears.”
Some unique opportunities
Waste apples and pears are high in fructose and as such could be the feedstock for biogas production – to replace LPG, to produce electricity, or to heat/cool and purify water via multi-generation units. Obviously this requires a continuous waste stream while the gas is needed, but it would be interesting to look at the economics of biogas production compared to juicing. Biogas feedstocks also include any putrescible waste (solid organic waste) input so there may be cross-industry collaborative opportunities for example via a local/central biogas facility.
Recycling and reselling
Many packing sheds have a waste bin that all sorts of waste is dumped into for removal. Andrew has two comments about these.
Firstly, like electricity tariffs, waste bin contracts need careful scrutiny. One of the traps is that some contracts have ‘auto rollover’ clauses. The bin is always provided but there is little scrutiny of the cost. Andrew suggested that APAL (with help from Zero Waste SA) develop a fact sheet setting out the areas to check for such contracts – this fact sheet has now been completed and is available on APAL’s website.
Secondly, bins aggregate many types of waste so that it is more difficult to extract recyclable/saleable waste from the general waste stream. In the fruit packing sheds that Andrew visited the best example of this was with cardboard waste. As the cardboard waste from each packing shed can be substantial, there is an opportunity for regional recycling programs for cardboard. Even if this operation was only breakeven, it is still better use of the waste than it just going to landfill.
Another area Andrew was interested in was energy efficiency. He was able to see the impact of APAL’s ‘Watts in Your Business’ program in the packing sheds he visited. However, he did come up with a different slant on energy purchases to the ones already identified. This was contract energy brokering – packing sheds of a region coming together to collectively purchase energy. There are companies who do this type of brokering and Andrew advises that again there are traps for inexperienced players. These relate to the types of commissions received by the broker. His preference is for brokers who receive a fixed up-front fee, rather than brokers who receive trailing commissions. As APAL found in the ‘Watts in Your Business’ program, the Demand Charge is a key issue with energy brokering between large users.
Two of the packers Andrew visited (Ceravolo and Chamberlain) were juice manufacturers. Andrew wondered about the nutrient and phyto-nutrient content of the pulp left after juice extraction. To this end, Zero Waste SA has commissioned the South Australian Research and Development Institute to look for the presence of high value nutrients in these pulps. The initial study is a desktop approach to see what the possibilities are.
Overall, the small series of visits has yielded some big ideas about improving business efficiency and collective action – recycling cardboard and purchasing energy. Zero Waste SA will advise APAL of the outcomes of the SARDI work looking at the content of juice pulp.
APAL thanks Andrew and Zero Waste SA for the time they put into the interviews and their knowledge and insight in identifying opportunities for the industry, and to Susie Green and all the packing sheds for their assistance and cooperation.
About the author
Russell Soderlund is an APAL consultant and can be contacted on 0400 117 360 or firstname.lastname@example.org.