Connecting communities to fight food waste

Food waste is a common problem in all industrial societies. According to the Department of Environment and Energy, Australia produced 7.3 million tonnes of food waste in 2016-17. Of this, 34% was created in our homes. At the same time, more than 4 million Australians have experienced food insecurity in the last 12 months.

Queensland impact start-up Spare Harvest is looking to bridge this divide. The app-based community facilitates the swapping, sharing, selling and sourcing of produce, pantry items, gardening equipment, and much more… “We have left the categories and ways in which people interact very open to make it easy for anyone to participate,” explains company founder Helen Andrew.

Over a period of three and a half years – and with very little technical knowledge –  Helen bootstrapped an online marketplace with 3,000 members and around 300 listings.

An idea to fight food waste – grown in the backyard

And it all started with a problem in Helen’s own backyard. When she traded life in the City and her corporate career in favour of a plot of land on the Sunshine Coast and raising her children, she knew one thing for certain: she wanted to be able to grow her own food and provide her kids with an experience similar to her own childhood in suburban Brisbane.

Helen Andrew is fighting food waste
Spare Harvest founder Helen Andrew. Image credit: Spare Harvest

The Sunshine Coast property looked like it would allow her to fulfill that dream. It had many established fruit trees with the potential to add more varieties over time.

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Protecting Australian native stingless bees from rising temperatures

Ann and Jeff Ross became beekeepers by accident. A few years ago, a hive of European honeybees had made themselves at home in one of the walls of Jeff and Ann’s car mechanic shop on the Sunshine Coast. Instead of just getting the hive removed, the couple decided to relocate them to their backyard and with that became hobby beekeepers overnight.

Hive Haven co-founder Ann Ross invented the bee box for Australian stingless native bees.
Hive Haven co-founder Ann Ross with version 9 of their bee box. Image credit: Hive Haven

Little did they know at the time that their new hobby would soon turn into a business. Ann and Jeff are the founders of Hive Haven, an Australian agricultural start-up that is one part boutique honey producer and one part award-winning manufacturer of insulated hives designed for the needs of the Australian stingless native bee.  

From hobby beekeeper to industry innovator

“I was doing a business degree at the University of the Sunshine Coast when we got that first hive”, remembers Ann. “While I was studying, Jeff’s interest in bees grew and he started growing his apiary .”

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compostable alternative soft plastic

This Kiwi start-up offers a compostable alternative to soft plastic

As the former owner of three busy restaurants in New Zealand, Ben Grant knows a thing or two about the issue of packaging. “We had about 10,000 people moving through our premises every week and around 50% of our customers were ordering takeaway”, he recalls. “Add to that all the packaging the produce is coming in and you’re dealing with huge piles of rubbish and recycling every day.”

Having always been conscious about the footprint he’s been living, Ben decided to change the packaging industry for the better after he sold his restaurant business in 2018. Together with Josh Kempton he founded Grounded Packaging, a start-up company that is aiming to replace soft plastic with compostable packaging from bio-based materials.

“The reason why we focussed on soft plastic is that it is the most problematic area within our current waste and recycling system”, says Ben.

Ben Grant is the co-founder of Grounded Packaging offering compostable alternatives to soft plastic.
Ben Grant is the co-founder of Grounded Packaging.

Soft plastic cannot be processed through the kerbside recycling system because it gets caught in the machinery (side note: soft plastic can get recycled through RedCycle). At the same time, soft plastic – like most plastics – is made from petrochemicals and is therefore detrimental to the environment in more than one way.

Why we still need packaging

Yet, while the movement against single-use plastic is gathering momentum in some regions, it’s difficult to imagine a modern world without packaging.

“Packaging material fulfils an important role in life – and especially in the food industry”, says Ben. For instance, packaging is known to significantly increase the shelf life of fresh produce which in turn helps to reduce food waste.

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