Food waste from Cecconi's in Flinders Lane is being converted to compost on-site and used at owner Maria Bortolotto's farm to grow fruit vegetables for the restaurant.
Food waste from Cecconi's in Flinders Lane is being converted to compost on-site and used at owner Maria Bortolotto's farm to grow fruit vegetables for the restaurant. Photo: Eddie Jim

Jane Holroyd

Australian restaurants generate a huge amount of food waste, a large proportion of which currently goes to landfill. But a local company is hoping to convert that waste into compost for city vegie patches.

Closed Loop sells machines that turn food waste into useable compost within 24 hours. Managing director Rob Pascoe is on a mission to lease out as many as 20 of the units to Melbourne restaurants within the next month. He says the machines not only turn organic waste into a useful resource, but can save restaurants money by drastically reducing the amount they spend on waste collection.

Pascoe's plan is to help restaurants cut their food waste to zero and in the process help fund a social enterprise aimed at getting disadvantaged young people into work building vegetable gardens in and around the CBD.

Silo by Joost in Hardware Lane, Melbourne, has installed a Closed Loop composting machine.
Silo by Joost in Hardware Lane, Melbourne, has installed a Closed Loop composting machine. Photo: Eddie Jim

The Closed Loop organic composters are currently being trialled in two city businesses; Joost Bakker's zero-waste cafe Silo (Hardware Lane), and Cecconi's on Flinders Lane. Since installing the machine at Cecconi's in February, owner Maria Bortolotto has been able to put the compost generated to immediate use at her vegetable garden at her farm near Lorne. Produce from the farm then goes back to the restaurant where it is dished up to customers.

Ms Bortolotto is a trail-blazer in reducing her business's food waste, having managed to cut the number of rubbish bins the restaurant puts out for collection from about 12 each week three years ago, to three per week now. She said she had managed to save money in the process, with each bin collection costing about $12. "I used to pay $600 or $700 each month on waste collection, and now it's more like $200," she said.

While Ms Bortolotto was already composting the restaurant's food waste, she said the Closed Loop unit had saved her a lot of time and energy, as she used to collect vegetable scraps in 20-litre buckets and transport them to the farm. A normal compost heap takes about six months to convert food waste into useable compost.

Now Cecconi's 600kg of weekly food waste, including bones and fish heads leftover from making stock, is converted into about 120kg of compost within a day of going into the restaurant's composting unit.

Joost Baker said he had farmers fighting over the compost generated by the Closed Loop unit at Silo. He said the compost was so good it "smells like Christmas pudding".

Closed Loop are looking for more restaurants to sign up for its City Harvest scheme, launched today. Under the scheme, businesses would pay about $500 per month to lease the composting units. Closed Loop plans to collect the compost generated by its machines, and build city vegetable gardens. Young people will be recruited through partnerships with programs such as Les Twentyman's The 20th Man, and trained in building and planting out the vegetable gardens at sites throughout the city.

Rob Pascoe said the City Harvest project would be funded by the Closed Loop leasing scheme, from vegetables grown in the gardens and sold back to participating restaurants, through commercial sponsorships and through public grants.

The Closed Loop composting units range in size from a two-litre domestic model to a huge 500-litre model currently being used at the Austin hospital. Cecconi's has installed a 50-litre model, chest-high and about two metres wide, which can generate about 150kg of compost over a 24-hour period.

For more information contact info@closedloop.com.au