Recycling works a treat for health food company

Each week, Kiwis discard around 13% of the food they buy, representing a $1.8 billion food waste problem. While some people compost their food waste, the lion’s share ends up going to landfill.

Large food manufacturers can make a big impact on waste minimisation. Keen to lead the way, Sanitarium sharpened the focus on its own backyard.

Experience showed the health food company that good intentions alone do not drive behavioural changes necessary to make a material difference to waste minimisation.

Looking for a partner to steer the company’s waste minimisation programme and bring everyone on the journey, Sanitarium engaged EnviroWaste.

Objectives

Sanitarium’s commitment to sustainability is enshrined in an “environmental promise” that lays out the company’s intention to conduct business in an environmentally responsible manner to protect the earth and its natural resources.

Critical elements supporting its mission include the efficient and cost-effective use of resources, and doing all it can to recycle and reuse waste materials. Further, promoting a “whole-of-lifecycle” approach ensures Sanitarium employees are accountable for minimising their environmental impact.

Solution

Lauren Shaw, Sanitarium’s Environmental Systems Coordinator, and EnviroWaste representative, Julie Keeley, kicked off the process with an audit to identify just how much potentially recyclable material was slipping through the cracks and into landfill.

Surrounded by a week’s worth of waste collected from Sanitarium’s manufacturing facility in Royal Oak, Auckland, the pair donned protective gear to complete the odorous task of sifting through the waste pile to identify recyclable material.

Their analysis identified a line-up of the usual recycling suspects:

  • Soft plastic, including bin liners and wrappers for raw materials and pellets
  • Paper and cardboard collected from around the site
  • Kitchen items, such as milk bottles, cans, and bottles from the employee canteen
  • Food and compostable utensils

The pair also factored in isolated opportunities, including food write-off from manufacturing, expired products, and a new initiative from EnviroWaste to remove ink printed on plastic packaging liners.

With the size and shape of the recycling opportunity now clear, Shaw appointed an internal champion to promote Sanitarium’s broader mission and educate employees about the new recycling initiatives.

The introduction of colour-coded bins to the employee canteen ensures food waste is separated from general waste and transported to an off-site processing facility, where it is converted to compost for commercial re-sale. Another initiative positioned dedicated cages in the manufacturing plant, creating collection points for soft plastics, cardboard, and paper.

EnviroWaste also recovers batches of expired or damaged products from Sanitarium. Both the packaging contents and the packaging itself are diverted from landfill, with the former repurposed as stock feed.

Results

Sanitarium reduced waste to landfill by 13% and increased recycling to 94% of all waste generated on site, one year into a new partnership with EnviroWaste.

Shaw said bringing employees on the journey was a key success factor. “The challenge for big companies like ours is getting employees to listen and buy into the process,” she said. “But give them a chance and they will. Start with the reasons why and the how comes next. Keep it simple and make the systems user-friendly.”

Below L to R: Sanitarium's Willy Nimbwen (Hygiene Controller) and Lauren Shaw (Environmental Systems Coordinator)

SM Sanitarium Sustainability Advocates