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An initiative that allows businesses to divert coffee grinds and soft plastic collection from landfill could help drive Victoria’s move to a circular economy, experts say.

Eliza Whitburn-Weber started Ground Up Coffee Recyclers 12 months ago, offering to turn waste into a valuable resource.

Now she diverts 2,000 kilograms of waste from landfill each week. 

Ms Whitburn-Weber said she was motivated to start the initiative after moving to Ballarat and noticing a gap in the market.

“We thought we could fill that gap and offer a better solution,” she said.

Ms Whitburn-Weber takes food and coffee scraps to Mount Buninyong Winery and Murphy’s Patch, who use them for compost on their farms. 

Melbourne manufacturer APR melts the soft plastics down into oil to create new plastics again.

Growing support for initiative

More than 20 cafes, restaurants and other businesses have partnered with Ground Up, with shopping centre Stockland Wendouree the biggest and most recent sign up for coffee recycling.

A green bin filled with coffee grinds. A green bin filled with coffee grinds.
More than 20 businesses are now on board with Ground Up.(Supplied)

There are eight cafes in the suburban shopping centre that will now keep their coffee grinds for Ms Whitburn-Weber to collect weekly, totalling 12.5 tonnes of coffee annually.

Stockland Wendouree centre manager Stevie Wright said the initiative supported the centre’s target to divert half of its waste from landfill.

She said they were investigating similar recycling collection initiatives for soft plastics, and retailers were on board.

Landfill cost burden increasing

Business owners say both environmental and economic benefits are driving their decision to sign up.

Hydrant Food Hall co-owner Sam Rowe said the cost of landfill was “going through the roof,” and while Ground Up was more costly now, he believed it would soon be the cheaper option.

City of Ballarat’s most recent budget shows landfill will cost the council $2.3 million over the next financial year.

An aerial photo of a high brown dirt mound covered with bluish material.An aerial photo of a high brown dirt mound covered with bluish material.
Ballarat’s landfill is filling up quickly and costing millions of dollars to keep open each year.(Supplied)

It will cost council $20 million over the next 10 years if landfill continues at the current rate.

The costs are coming back to residents, with a $26 increase per property on the waste management service charge this year.

“I think businesses will be looking really hard at how to save a dollar over the next six months,” Mr Rowe said.

“With general waste costs going up, people will be looking elsewhere.”

In a circular economy, manufacturers still have responsibility for the end-of-life handling of the products they profit from.

RMIT University professor Usha Iyer-Raniga said her circular economy research showed businesses were thinking about sustainability but were not interested in transitioning without a clear financial incentive.

“We do need businesses to be open to experiment and to innovate,” she said.

State-wide plan needed to combat waste

Reducing business waste is part of the Victorian government’s circular economy plan and is also a key priority for City of Ballarat.

Victoria has targets to divert 80 per cent of waste from landfill by 2030 and to cut the state’s total waste generation by 15 per cent per capita by 2030.

A blue flyer reads your coffee is helping save the planet, tastes great doesn't it? A blue flyer reads your coffee is helping save the planet, tastes great doesn't it?
Cafes are promoting their efforts to have their coffee waste composted.(Supplied)

Professor Iyer-Raniga said she believed the state was not on track to meet these targets, but there were “pockets of innovation and experimentation”.

“This really needs to move from a few businesses here and there. We really need to scale up,” she said.

“Ground Up is a great initiative, but that is one business in Ballarat. We need to have something similar for all of Victoria.

“We need to be thinking about this from the perspective of all areas: clothing and textiles, food packaging, takeaway containers.”

Ballarat council is encouraging businesses to use the ASPIRE platform, which matches waste resources from a business with potential remanufacturers, purchasers and recyclers.

A workshop for businesses will be held next week.

Councillor Belinda Coates said Ballarat could become a fully circular economy.

“There are so many opportunities for re-use and recycling and to actually earn money from waste as well,” she said.

“There are so many potential innovative solutions. Some of them are already happening, but really, the possibilities are endless.”

Push for recycling facility

A circular economy precinct is a key part of the City of Ballarat’s plan, and the priority is to create a materials recovery facility that would sort recyclable materials from across regional Victoria.

Two men in orange high-viz, hard helmets, gloves sort through waste on a conveyor belt. Two men in orange high-viz, hard helmets, gloves sort through waste on a conveyor belt.
City of Ballarat wants to build a materials recovery facility like this one in the ACT.(Supplied)

It would make it easier to use the recyclable materials, with potential for new businesses in the precinct.

Ms Coates said City of Ballarat would ramp up advocacy in the lead-up to the state government election to secure funding for the project.

Meanwhile, innovators like Ms Whitburn-Weber will continue to expand their service offerings in Ballarat, with plans to get Daylesford and Geelong businesses on board.

A confident, smiling woman with arms crossed, in black, wearing chains, bangles, large earrings, red lipstick looks at camera.A confident, smiling woman with arms crossed, in black, wearing chains, bangles, large earrings, red lipstick looks at camera.
Eliza Whitburn-Weber says she started Ground Up after noticing a gap in the market.(Supplied)

She has already diverted 70,000 kilograms of waste from landfill in the first 12 months of Ground Up’s operation. 

“I think we have huge potential to become a circular economy in a hyperlocal way,” Ms Whitburn-Weber said.

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