Recycling up, costs down

Tuesday, 03 May, 2005

A United Nations program for eco-efficiency in food processing has led to some dramatic savings at Golden Circle's Brisbane plant.

Most of the solid waste Golden Circle Limited's Brisbane plant generated throughout the supply chain used to end up as landfill. Today, the company recycles or reuses about 95% of it.

Like many other food processors around Australia, Golden Circle is using eco-efficiency measures as a business approach to environmental management. It is continually identifying the most efficient and cost-effective means of producing goods and services while minimising resource consumption and waste generation.

"Eco-efficiency is all about improving environmental performance to become more efficient and profitable," Agriculture Minister Warren Truss said. "It's about producing more with less. Many case studies show companies can make significant savings for the environment and their budgets through eco-efficiency measures. And this can give them a competitive advantage."

Golden Circle recycles about 6000 tonnes of mud a year - one of the by-products from its solid waste - as a soil improver for pineapples. The mud is mainly soil, fine organic material and lime.

"Most of the mud components are originally from pineapple farms, and are largely particles of pineapple and other fruits and vegetables," the company's environmental manager, Paul Prendergast, said. "By sending it back to farms, the company is simply recycling nutrients that would otherwise be lost to the soil forever.

"The effluent plant mud is a soil improver growers can use as a replacement for chicken manure and gypsum. The net application costs are significantly less than these alternatives. And it greatly reduces Golden Circle's disposal costs."

But the story doesn't end there. Water conservation is high on the company's agenda. "The target for 2004 was to reduce our water consumption by 20% per unit of production on 2003 levels," Paul said.

"Our various water conservation projects have resulted in estimated savings of about $177,000 a year. And we're saving more than 60 gigalitres a year. The environment benefits because we are reducing the volume of water in the wastewater system. This reduces the contaminants released to the sewerage system and that, in turn, reduces the cost of releasing the water."

Golden Circle also has an energy committee driving its energy-reducing initiatives, which have saved the company about $90,000 this year.

"The benefits to the environment are wide ranging," Paul said. "They include reduced electricity use, which is our largest contribution to greenhouse gas emissions."

In 2004, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, state governments and the Australian Industry Group ran eco-efficiency workshops around the country. The workshops gave food companies the chance to learn how to develop their businesses by reducing wastes, as well as water, energy, chemical and packaging use.

The workshops assessed eco-efficiency, as well as a proposed national eco-efficiency project in the food processing industry. Those involved shared experiences they had gained from a recently completed eco-efficiency food-processing project in Queensland.

The United Nations Environment Program Working Group for Cleaner Product in the Food Industry ran the Queensland project, which several Australian, state and local government bodies and the Australian Water Association funded.

The group has launched an eco-efficiency toolkit containing a self-assessment guide, calculators, checklists and many practical ideas to minimise a factory's use of raw material, energy and water, and reduce solid and liquid wastes.

The toolkit took more than two years to prepare. It involved collecting information and undertaking case studies on reducing the food processing industry's costs and its impact on the environment.

The workshop participants agreed the Queensland project could provide the foundation for a national approach to eco-efficiency, and allow for amendments to suit individual state requirements. DAFF is reviewing the workshops' outcomes and looking at future directions.

For a copy of the Eco-efficiency Toolkit for the Queensland Food Processing Industry, contact Ken McKeon, Queensland Department of State Development and Innovation on 07 3234 1818, or download a copy from

Reprinted from Contours, December 2004. Published by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Copyright Commonwealth of Australia - reproduced by permission.

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