Food for soil

Food for soil

By introducing food waste recycling and a dedicated sustainability portfolio, the Melbourne Cricket Ground is hitting more than 75 per cent landfill diversion.

Known simply as the “G”, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) attracts more than three million people each year.

With a capacity bigger than most regional towns, the seven-day-a-week stadium is often filled to the brim, hosting major AFL matches, cricket, concerts and Australian and international soccer.

But its ability to manage its waste in a smarter way is largely a hidden success story, reducing total waste produced by 259 tonnes, despite increasing its patron numbers by 197,214 in 2018.

Such was its commitment to waste management that it pragmatically invested in three compactors to prevent waste going to landfill.

Vince Macolino, the MCG’s Environmental Sustainability Specialist, says that in one isolated occurrence, the stadium was advised through its contractor KS Environmental that its recycler was no longer operating from midday on a Saturday and were closed on Sunday.

“As an events-based business, we operate Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Our biggest days are Saturday and Sunday and we can have 90,000 people on Saturday that generate waste that needs to be recycled,” Vince explains.

“The only option was to send it to landfill but for us at the Melbourne Cricket Club that’s not an option – we’re not taking steps backward, we’re going forward. So in discussions with KS, we realised that if we buy new compactors, we could store the waste and send it to Dandenong to be stored until the facility opened on Monday.”

Its merely a small aspect of the MCG’s achievements – a stadium that set itself a key performance indicator of 75 per cent landfill diversion and surpassed it in 2018.

Since joining the MCG at the end of 2013, Vince has helped raise the bar with support from the team, lifting its diversion rate by 15 per cent from what was just 20 to 30 per cent a decade ago.

Eliminating plastic straws, recycling organic waste onsite and spreading the subsequent compost on the surrounding lawn are just a few of the recent achievements of the MCG. The MCG has about 26 different waste streams that are separated and processed.

Most recently, it demonstrated its commitment to sustainability by creating a dedicated sustainability portfolio, as Vince moved on from his role as venue presentation coordinator.

He says that one of the MCG’s proud achievements was the installation of a food dehydrator. After taking the initiative in 2016 to audit the stadium’s waste management processes, Vince took a tour of major food waste recycling sites, including the Melbourne Zoo, Melbourne University and Degraves Street.

“We found out that the Gaia unit would be best for the waste we’re generating out of our operations. Due to the amount of organic waste we were processing, it was a three-year payback period.”

Since then, the MCG has implemented a “zero waste to landfill” approach at its corporate suites, collecting all organics waste and processing it via the dehydrator.

Introducing Method recycling bins to promote good source separation, the MCG went from sending 120 80-litre organics bins to landfill per event to nothing on its corporate suite level. The dehydrator unit produces a compost known as SoilFood which is spread on the MCG’s surrounding parkland – Yarra Park.

“By blending SoilFood with sand to create a good ratio and spreading it through the park, we no longer need to transport the majority of our organic waste to compost facilities. We’ve potentially freed up space at those facilities for other users and closed the loop, while applying a highly nutritional soil food to the park lands,” Vince says.

From Boxing Day 2018, the MCG phased out plastic straws in partnership with Epicure. It has also begun trialling chemical-free sprays that ISS Facilities Services have implemented which reduced the amount of chemicals required to clean the stadium.

A bin washing water unit was also installed that saves more than 1000 litres per day. Rather than just establishing soft plastics collection through the Redcycle program, the MCG has taken it a step further to purchase bollards for Yarra Park made from the material through Replas.

Vince says the MCG will continue to improve its processes and reduce contamination into the future, as he attended this year’s Waste 2019 conference to discover some of the industry’s latest innovations.

He says that the MCG is now working with Epicure to put on sustainable ambassadors at event days that would inspect bins and engage and educate staff to reduce contamination.

The stadium is now looking at a range of options for compostable packaging. Vince remains optimistic that big changes are on their way. While the MCG hit 83 per cent diversion in 2018, Vince hopes to one day reach 90 per cent. This may include looking at new areas such as compostable bins, further engaging with patrons and spreading environmental messaging by tackling what Vince says are the little “one per cents”.

“Moving into the role of environmental and sustainability specialist has given me the opportunity to look at the strategy of the MCG for the next three to five years and put together more policies and governance in this space.”

“Looking at it from a procurement point of view and getting our environmental management system up and running will set some clear direction and targets and a vision to drive us into the future.”

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