When I read in the paper that we were to have a pop-up summer garden on the Pyrmont Bridge I was excited. When it was revealed to be a vegetable garden I was dismayed. It’s not that I don’t love home-grown food, but that of all the great possibilities in the world of plants and gardens we don’t seem able to lift our eyes from our plates. Is that where we’ve arrived – if we can’t eat it we don’t care?
It turns out that the garden, called Amaze, is not really about the food we eat, it’s about the food we don’t eat. It’s about waste. It’s a garden designed to glorify compost. Closed Loop is a Melbourne-based company that produces zero-waste solutions, including compost systems for the notoriously wasteful hospitality industry. These use electricity to heat, agitate and aerate food waste to produce speedy compost. Closed Loop has developed composting systems for some of the businesses at Darling Harbour, whose converted waste will be mixed with growing medium to support the growth of fruits and vegetables in trellis gardens designed by sustainability entrepreneur Joost Bakker.
Closed Loop composters have celebrity cachet – Attica in Melbourne has installed one and so has NOMA in Copenhagen. In Sydney, the Boathouse at Palm Beach was an early adopter. Owner Andrew Goldsmith says the system has cut the waste collection bill from $5000 a month to $2000. Food waste from the company’s other two venues, at Balmoral and Whale Beach, are taken for composting to Palm Beach, which produces too much compost for the café’s own vegetable garden. Compost is now being shared with the café’s herb grower and flower grower and there’s plenty more to go around. Can celebrity chefdom do for compost what it did for kale?
There’s a domestic version of the Closed Loop system too, called Clo’ey. It looks like a small chest freezer, and is designed for kitchen, laundry, garage, or shed, where it will chew up to four kilograms of waste food a day. That sounds like a hell of a lot, but the NSW government’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign estimates that NSW households throw away $2.5 billion worth of edible food every year. Most of that goes to landfill where it produces methane rather than compost. Much better for everyone if we kept it at home, turned what we could into leftovers and composted the rest. Wire or wood-enclosed bins out the back work fine; commercial systems are quicker and better suit gardeners with not much garden, and not much time.
The unplugged version of the upmarket domestic composter is the Australian-designed Aerobin, whose breakthrough is an aerating core that introduces the airflow formerly achieved by a gardener hoisting a garden fork. Even easier to site in a small space is The Hungry Bin, a new and improved worm farm developed by New Zealand inventor Ben Bell with a tapered shape that encourages worms to the surface. A compost worm will eat its own body weight in food waste every day; we throw away twice our own body weight in food every year. I can only hope that celebrity composters can turn the worm… and that next time we get an opportunity for an exciting pop-up garden, it is about soaring ideas and inspiring beauty, not just something to eat.