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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This Aussie inventor is making wave energy affordable

In the search for a more sustainable energy mix, solar, wind and nuclear power are clearly dominating the discussion. But there’s another source of renewable energy that has great potential: ocean waves.

“Unfortunately, no wave energy technology has managed to be cost effective until now”, says Oceanographer Tom Denniss. “But we believe that will soon change.”

Wave Swell Energy Founder Tom Denniss
Wave Swell Energy Founder Tom Denniss. Image credit: WSE

Tom and his team at Australian energy technology company Wave Swell Energy (WSE) are about to prove that wave energy has the potential to become a serious player in sustainable power generation. WSE is about to construct and launch a 200 kW wave energy project on King Island, with Hydro Tasmania integrating the electricity from the unit into the local hybrid grid, alongside its existing wind, solar, and diesel generation.

Producing energy through waves at a competitive price

Proving that wave energy can be captured in a cost-competitive way has long been a challenge for the sector. WSE is aiming to demonstrate this capability via the King Island project – and as a result of that to become the first wave energy technology to enter the commercial phase.

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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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Sustainable cities start with communities

Why sustainable urban development requires major philosophical shifts

Bustling streets, tons of creative energy and the promise of new opportunities – large cities have always drawn people like magnets. And while the world’s modern metropolises still lure with the promise of excitement and infinite possibility, they also represent one of the biggest challenges for sustainable development.

According to projections by the United Nations, 68% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. While cities only take up 2% of the world’s surface, they consume 78% of the world’s energy and produce 60% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. It’s inevitable then that any serious attempts to reverse climate change will need to include a framework for sustainable cities.

Gregor Mews is an urban planner and the founder of the Urban Synergies Group. After having studied urban planning and design in Berlin, he travelled the world to learn more about the human condition at different stages of urban development.

Now based in Australia’s capital, Canberra, Gregor is working with local governments, non-government organisations, businesses and UN Habitat to create healthier, more connected and sustainable communities. In short, if you want to have a philosophical discussion about what the future of the city should look like, Gregor is your man!

Gregor Mews talks about the role of cities for a more sustainable future. Image: Urban Synergies Group.

 “We’re at a historical moment in time”, says Gregor about the urgency of the problem. “We have three years to turn the trend in global warming around until we enter the adaptation phase.“ However, to tackle this problem, it would require more than just installing solar panels on rooftops.

It’s in this context that Gregor identifies 3 fundamental shifts required in our thinking that will ultimately lead to sustainable urban development.

1. Putting human needs at the heart of urban planning

Most people will have heard about the Mercer Global Liveability Index that ranks cities based on the quality of life they offer to their citizens.

“The issue with this ranking system is that it’s basically designed for rich minorities – highly educated people with a high socio-economic status who want to travel to and live in those places. But these rankings tell us very little about what ordinary life looks like for the majority”, says Gregor.  “For example, Sydney has often been ranked as one of the most liveable cities in the world. But I doubt that most people in Western Sydney would agree with this assessment.”

Thinkers

An ethical investment app for the Netflix era

Shun the plastic bag. Eat less meat. Ride your bike instead of driving. Changing the default in our everyday choices is among the most common advice given to anyone looking to lessen their impact on the planet. And while each of these decisions does reduce our personal carbon footprint a little bit, many people are unknowingly undermining their own efforts to lead a more sustainable life through their investments.

Goodments founders Tom Culver and Emily Taylor
Goodments founder team Emily Taylor and Tom Culver

“It’s all well and good to take your KeepCup to the coffee shop, but if you are still investing in companies that depend on fossil fuels there’s a massive misalignment between your values and how you’re going about securing your future in economic terms”, says Tom Culver. To help bridge this gap, the former wealth and investment manager took a leap of faith at the beginning of 2017 and left his stable career to launch the ethical investment start-up Goodments together with his wife Emily Taylor.

Democratising ethical investment

The idea behind Goodments is simple: make it as easy as possible for anyone to invest in recognisable brands that are aligned with their values. The Sydney-based FinTech company is achieving this through a combination of different strategies.

  1. Ditching the finance jargon

“The world of finance is full of unnecessary complexity and language that is completely meaningless to the majority of people”, explains Tom. “That’s why we decided to move away from talking purely about financial returns to emphasising the impact instead.”

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