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Investigating the role of food waste recycling in closing the loop: Case study from the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Australia
Every year in Australia household, commercial and industry sectors generate more than 5 million tonnes of food waste, the majority of it ends up in landfills that are costly to run and diminishing in availability. Furthermore, landfilled organic waste decomposition in Australia is estimated to result in nearly 8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent for food disposed in 2014-2015 over the year it takes to decompose. These figures highlight the significant need to address the greenhouse gas contribution of food waste. There are substantial precedents globally of the resource recovery industry reducing the volumes of food waste ending up in landfill, effectively ‘closing the loop’ on the flow of nutrients from – and back to – the soil. There are also significant precedents of doing so in ways that contribute to the ‘circular economy’, where selling products containing composted food waste reduces the environmental footprint of cities, creates local jobs and fosters new and diversified industries to collect, transfer, process waste. In achieving the target of reducing food waste by 40 per cent by 2020 in Australia, the industry would also be addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12 ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’. Reflecting on this context and opportunity for improvement, this paper presents the findings of a research project to assess food waste recycling on the north-east coast of Australia in South East Queensland, specifically through evaluating a major food waste recycling initiative during the 2018 Commonwealth Games (Gold Coast). More than 6,500 participants from 71 Commonwealth Games Associations participated in the event requiring 18,000 meals per day. With more than 1.2 million visitors and global broadcasting, such events raise awareness about environmental stewardship and local actions for global impact. This research used stakeholder theory to provide a theoretical lens to the study. The research methods comprised contextual literature review, stakeholder interviews including event attendees, and field observations. Data was gathered over 6 weeks including pre and post stages of the games. Questions related to desire, challenges and opportunities in engaging with food waste recycling programs were included. The authors conclude the success of the 2018 Commonwealth games event in ‘walking the talk’ of a clean game, achieving a clean food waste stream and providing an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the potential for recycling food waste into a high-quality saleable product. Furthermore, innovative and streamlined practices for managing the transfer and processing of food waste demonstrated proof of concept for South East Queensland. This research provides evidence for key stakeholders such as local councils, food suppliers/vendors and the local community, to promote the value of creating high-quality food-waste streams for collection and processing, linking large-scale food waste recycling to job creation and environmental benefit. The authors propose a stakeholder engagement model arising from the research, that can immediately assist stakeholders in engaging in food waste recycling practices. The paper is also valuable as a globally relevant, local example of sporting entities, commercial food enterprises, the waste industry and government all working together to realise substantial environmental, economic and social outcomes.