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Thu, 1 Jan 2015

Waste not, want not at JCU

JCU is the first university in the world to install a Bio-Regen unit, a machine that takes food scraps and turns them into a liquid bio-fertiliser.

James Cook University is the first university in the world to install a Bio-Regen unit, a machine that takes food scraps and turns them into a liquid bio-fertiliser.

The system, installed at JCU’s Townsville campus, is compact, efficient and overcomes the problems associated with commercial composting systems.

The Bio-Regen system has the potential to revolutionise management of commercial food waste and is already attracting worldwide attention.

Local company VRM Pty Ltd provide and service the units that instantly convert the food scraps to a liquid slurry by mixing it with water.

The slurry is then combined with a special mixture of micro-organisms and pumped into a tank outside the building where it is left for 28 days to digest, converting the food into a product similar in appearance to apple cider vinegar.

The tanks are emptied and the liquid is processed into a bio-fertiliser which is given back to JCU for use on lawns and gardens as a soil conditioner.

The process is odour free, carbon neutral and the end product is a powerful bio-fertiliser that can be used to improve soil health and build soil carbon levels.

Townsville residents are invited to bring along their food scraps and have a go at using the Bio-Regen unit tomorrow (April 20) and pick up a free bio-fertiliser sample at the same time to use in their garden.

Each year, JCU’s kitchens (including private colleges) produce close to 100 tonnes of food waste, according to JCU’s Manager, Environment, Estate Office Adam Connell.

That results in 380 tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions when sent to landfill − as much as 84 cars on the road for a year.

Mr Connell said the usual solution to food waste would be to use a composting system, but that still produces carbon emissions.

“So, where does that leave those wanting to do more to save the planet?” Mr Connell said.

Mr Connell said JCU and VRM had teamed up to tackle the issue.

VRM’s Ken Bellamy said the number one item on the ‘can’t be recycled’ list was food.

“Since I’ve been in the industry, food and organic waste has been the elephant in the room when discussing greenhouse gases and the cost of recycling. It’s the thing that’s never been touched, until now,” he said.

This led Mr Bellamy to invent the Bio-Regen unit.

Mr Connell said the JCU Halls kitchen catered for nearly 300 students and staff, providing three meals a day.

“It is expected over 20 tonnes of food waste will be diverted from landfill from the Uni Halls kitchen annually, saving 76 tonnes of GHG emissions, the equivalent of 17 cars off the road.”

“The kitchen will save over $5,000 per year in waste removal costs and will be instead producing a product that has value and can be used on site with the excess being sold to farmers.”

“We’ve basically wiped out a big part of our cost of sending food waste to landfill, which is expensive and wasteful, especially now the government’s brought in a landfill levy.

“We’re turning something that’s cost us lots of money in the past into something that’s making us money.”

University Hall is currently the only JCU residential college using the Bio-Regen unit, but Mr Connell and Mr Bellamy are hoping for more to roll out to the other colleges soon.

Issued 19 April, 2012

JCU Media contact: Caroline Kaurila (07) 4781 4586 or 0437 028 175.