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  • Writer's pictureMarnie Birch

One Man’s Waste Is Another’s Treasure

When he discovered the importance of compost and worm farming (vermiculture) for soil regeneration, Mitch Langfield decided to quit his job and set up a business.

For ten years, Mitch Langfield was a professional sportsman who travelled the world riding wakeboards in competitions and films. A series of knee reconstructions caused him to reassess his lifestyle, and now he’s more likely to be turning compost than riding a wakeboard around his property at Beachmere. Mitch operates a closed-loop food-recycling business called ‘In the Loop BNE’, which diverts food waste from landfill and transforms it into organic garden products.

“Everything we do has another effect down the road.

Although his property, located on a former sand mine, was purchased for wakeboarding, Mitch became passionate about improving the soil with a view to growing fruit and vegetables. When he discovered the importance of compost and worm farming (vermiculture) for soil regeneration, he decided to quit his job and set up a business. “Everything I read led me back to worm farming. If you have worms, you have healthy soil,” he says.

In order to farm worms, Mitch needed massive amounts of organic matter. He’d seen people in the United States doing residential bucket collections of food waste, but no one was doing it here in Australia.

‘In the Loop BNE’ was established when Mitch partnered with Sesame Lane Childcare Centres to collect food scraps from the five thousand daily meals their kitchens produced - organic waste that would normally be disposed of via landfill. Food waste is composted and fed to worms, and the final nutrient-rich product is added back to the garden to enrich the soil. The recycling loop is complete when more food is grown in the garden, and nothing is wasted.

Unlike some modern farming practices which might deplete the soil, robbing plants of nutrients, Mitch points out that an advantage of the closed-loop recycling system is the retention of vital nutrients within the soil. This means there’s less need to supplement with fertilisers, and the plants are healthier and more resistant to disease. And what’s more, Mitch says the produce grown in the enriched soil is packed with nutrients.

In the Loop BNE now collects organic waste from fourteen child care centres, as well as cafes and households from Bribie Island to Wavell Heights. Tanya Ricketts, Sesame Lane Childcare Centre Marketing co-ordinator explains: “We trialled using In The Loop BNE's food recycling system, and it was so easy to use we signed up all of our childcare centres and now report zero food waste going to landfill.”

With waste disposal an ever-increasing problem, a closed-loop recycling system benefits the local environment and the planet, by reducing methane emissions at landfills - a known greenhouse gas. Over the two years In the Loop BNE has been operating, it has recycled over 70 tonnes of food waste.

The composting process at In the Loop BNE involves a hot phase where Mitch carefully balances the compost components and turns the heap. This ensures an ideal temperature for aerobic decomposition to occur. After fermenting for around two weeks, the waste is moved to a curing pile where further decomposition occurs. After six weeks, the structure changes completely, and food scraps are no longer discernible to the eye. However, Mitch does get frustrated that the fruit stickers persist, as they are not biodegradable. As such, they must be removed separately.

Larger wood chips are separated out at this point and sold as a nutrient-heavy mulch with significant water-retentive capabilities. “It acts like a slow-release fertiliser,” says Mitch. “Anything that I have put that on, has grown like crazy.”

Next, it’s the worms’ turn to feed on the compost. It is placed in 26 worm-farm bins, with each container containing approximately 20,000 Red Wriggler worms. The worms produce castings which Mitch then sells online, at the community markets, or uses to brew compost ‘tea.’ Full of beneficial microbes, the compost tea can be sprayed on the leaves of plants to boost nutrient levels and deter pests, such as sooty mould.

Admitting to many hours of research, hard work, and determination in establishing his business, Mitch confesses it’s been a steep learning curve because it is such a new concept. Even so, he believes society can still achieve zero waste, but doing it right, without contamination, is a different matter.

“We have a long way to go educating people before they care. You have to find what they care about to make them care, I think. Everything we do has another effect down the road.”

Bearing this in mind, is there a role for ‘In the Loop’ to educate the community about closed-loop recycling systems? Mitch says he is keen to incorporate worm farming and composting workshops in the future. As he currently visits the childcare centres to talk to the children about worms and composting, he may have already started educating the next generation.

In the Loop BNE

Ph: 0434 496 995


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