Food flight

Ian McInnes with the green waste dehydrator. Photo by: Hannah Jenkins

Ian McInnes with the green waste dehydrator. Photo by: Hannah Jenkins

In summary: 
  • UTS’s new food waste system processes approximately 90 per cent of the university’s food waste on-campus
  • A dehydrator turns the waste into a clean, dry, soil-like material that is used by EarthPower in Western Sydney as a fuel for generating renewable energy

“Every day it’s busy with a constant stream of problems,” says UTS Supervisor for Public Spaces, Services and Systems Ian McInnes. “But for every problem there is a solution and it’s my job to come up with solutions and implement them.”

One of the solutions McInnes is proud to be a part of is the new food waste system implemented in office areas and cafes across campus with approximately 90 per cent of food waste at UTS now processed on-campus. 

It all started when the university introduced separate green bins for food waste. 

“Removing food from the general waste stream helped reduce contamination and improved the quality of recycling for all the standard recyclable items like plastic, glass and aluminium, and especially for paper and cardboard,” explains McInnes. “Our paper recycling alone increased by nearly 25 per cent!” 

Earlier this year, McInnes and his team took waste management one step further. They installed a green waste dehydrator so the 300 kilograms of food waste collected at UTS each day could be processed on campus. 

Each morning, the green bins are collected and loaded into the dehydrator located in the basement of building 10. The machine heats to about 85 degrees and dehydrates the food scraps, reducing their volume and weight by around 80 per cent.

The machine takes about nine hours to turn the waste into a clean, dry, soil-like material. Once a week, the material is collected and taken to a company, called EarthPower, in Western Sydney which uses it as a fuel to generate renewable energy. 

In the future, McInnes says there’s potential for the material to be used as mulch and soil conditioner on gardens in and around the UTS precinct. And the university is currently working to install two new units to further increase processing capacity.
But for now, says McInnes, “We still face the challenge of lowering contamination of the green bins in office areas”. He says people occasionally toss in coffee cups, plastic bags, food containers, tuna tins and even forks, which the cleaners then need to pick out. But apart from that, the system is improving and operating pretty well. 

In fact, it has already been used as a working case study by a group of UTS design students who were looking at ways to design new systems for organisational change. The students’ final designs were ultimately presented to the NSW Environmental Protection Authority, UTS Facilities Management Operations and industry partners. McInnes says it’s just one example of how the university has integrated its own operational facilities with teaching and learning to give students real-world understanding of systems thinking.

Says McInnes, “I graduated from a degree in law and economics in 2007 with a whole different career in mind. I was lucky to work with some great people, and my three-month temporary position at UTS somehow turned into eight years. 

“One of the most rewarding aspects of my multi-faceted job is assisting with the roll out and management of the various UTS environmental initiatives, the most ambitious being the treatment of organics. 

“It’s a great feeling working for such a large institution that is willing to put so much effort into minimising its environmental impact and encouraging others to follow suit.”