Ground Up initiative turns Ballarat’s commercial waste into a sought-after resource

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A move that allows businesses to divert ground coffee and soft plastic collection from landfill could help move Victoria towards a circular economy, experts say.

Eliza Whitburn-Weber started Ground coffee recyclers 12 months ago, proposing to turn waste into a valuable resource.

Today, she diverts 2,000 kilograms of waste from the landfill every week.

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

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

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

Melbourne manufacturer APR melts soft plastics in oil to create new plastics again.

Growing support for the initiative

More than 20 cafes, restaurants and other businesses have partnered with Ground Up, with Stockland Wendouree Shopping Center being the biggest and newest sign of coffee recycling.

Over 20 companies are now on board with Ground Up.(Provided)

There are eight cafes in the suburban shopping center which will now store their coffee grinds for Ms Whitburn-Weber to collect each week, totaling 12.5 tonnes of coffee a year.

Stockland Wendouree center manager Stevie Wright said the initiative supports the center’s goal of diverting half of its waste from landfill.

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

The Burden of Landfill Costs is Growing

Business owners say environmental and economic benefits drive their decision to register.

Hydrant Food Hall co-owner Sam Rowe said the cost of landfill was “skyrocketing” and that Ground Up was more expensive now he thought it would soon be the cheaper option.

The most recent City of Ballarat budget shows the landfill will cost the council $2.3 million over the next fiscal year.

An aerial photo of a tall mound of brown dirt covered in bluish material.
The Ballarat landfill fills up quickly and costs millions of dollars to stay open each year.(Provided)

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

The costs fall back on residents, with a $26 increase per property on waste management service fees this year.

“I think businesses will be looking very seriously at saving a dollar over the next six months,” Rowe said.

“With the general increase in waste costs, people will look elsewhere.”

In a circular economy, manufacturers are always responsible for the end-of-life treatment of the products they benefit from.

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

“We need companies to be open to experimentation and innovation,” she said.

Statewide plan needed to tackle waste

Reducing commercial waste is part of the Government of Victoria’s circular economy plan and is also a key priority for the City of Ballarat.

Victoria aims to divert 80% of waste from landfills by 2030 and reduce the state’s total waste generation by 15% per capita by 2030.

A blue flyer says your coffee is helping save the planet, that's good, right?
Cafes promote their efforts to compost their coffee waste.(Provided)

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

“It really needs to grow from a few businesses here and there. We really need to grow,” she said.

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

“We have to think about it from all areas: clothing and textiles, food packaging, take-out containers.”

The Ballarat Council encourages companies to use the ASPIRE platform, which matches a company’s waste resources with potential remanufacturers, buyers and recyclers.

A workshop for companies will take place next week.

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

“There are so many opportunities to reuse and recycle and make money from waste,” she said.

“There are so many potential innovative solutions. Some of them are already underway, but in reality the possibilities are endless.”

Push for recycling facility

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

Two men wearing orange high-visibility hard hats and gloves sort waste on a conveyor belt.
The City of Ballarat wants to build a material recovery facility like this in the ACT.(Provided)

This would facilitate the use of recyclable materials, with potential for new businesses within the compound.

Ms Coates said the City of Ballarat would step up advocacy in the run-up to state government elections to secure funding for the project.

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

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

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

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

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