From garden to table and back to the garden again, Westpac operates an aspirational circular waste management system in their Britomart head office.
As you walk through the Westpac head office buildings in Britomart, you encounter their circular food and waste system every few steps. A staff member walks past carrying a red Westpac reusable coffee cup. Indoor plants bloom lushly. Someone drops a plastic bag into a soft plastics recycling bin. Team members eat hot lunches at the Rafters in-house cafe, scraping the leftovers into the food waste bins when they’re done. A sushi delivery arrives in the building’s kitchen on a large reusable tray. And on the top-floor deck overlooking Customs St East, bees forage on the yellow blossoms of broccoli plants in the on-site gardens.
It’s a project that has been several years in the making, says Colin Trenwith, National Facilities Manager for Westpac. The project aims to close the loop when it comes to waste generated within the company’s buildings every day, a large portion of which comes from food and beverages.
With an in-house cafe and commercial kitchen, the company decided to take control of repurposing much of the waste generated themselves. Each day, the kitchen team serve up packaging-free hot and cold meals, using low-impact meat (mainly chicken) and seasonally available produce, including the fresh vegetables and herbs grown on their rooftop gardens.
The gardens – which even in the dead of winter offer beetroot, lettuces, capsicums. broccoli, kale, chard, parsley, mint and other herbs – are set in raised beds constructed from old wooden pallets.
Next to them, a series of plastic tubs house worm farms – essentially a form of composting that produces the nutrient dense fertiliser colloquially known as ‘worm tea’. The worm tea is used to fertilise the gardens, as well as the indoor plants throughout the building.
Next to the worm farms, a multi-level beehive is full of activity. “There are a surprising number of beehives around the central city,” says Colin, pointing out several nearby buildings that also have them. Bees can range as far as 5km from their home base in search of nectar, so the ones on Westpac’s rooftop may be gathering from as far afield as Parnell’s Rose Gardens and Albert Park, as well as the flowering plants around Britomart.
The bees are managed by Auckland apiarists Bees Up Top. They’re ‘rescue bees’ – wild swarms that follow new queens from existing hives in spring, captured before they set up home in a dead tree or concrete block wall. As well as the Britomart rooftop hives, the company sponsors a second hive at Bethell’s Beach, and there’s a hive at the Christchurch head office as well.
The honey that the bees produce is jarred for promotional purposes, and some is donated to the Auckland City Mission. Westpac runs regular education sessions for staff who are interested, teaching them about bees, composting and waste management.
Much of the waste around food doesn’t come from the food itself, though, says Colin, but from the packaging used to deliver the fresh produce, store it during the prep process and serve it. With this in mind, the kitchen has set up a system of reusable containers and trays for their produce deliveries, eliminated tinfoil and baking paper in favour of silicone baking mats, minimised the use of tea bags in favour of loose-leaf tea, and set up a system of washable Westpac ‘Red Cups’ for takeaway coffees.
Coffee machine grounds are another big source of waste, but one that’s easily dealt with – they’re used to supplement the worm farms and gardens (snails don’t like them) and made available free to staff members (packaged in the bags the beans came in) to use on their own gardens at home.
For anything that’s left, the company separates all waste into recyclables, soft plastics, commercial compostables and landfill. These waste streams are measured on an ongoing basis, down to a floor-by-floor analysis. During Waste Month, the company runs targeted education for those floors that are tracking higher than others, as well as a competition to see which floors can get their waste to the lowest level. There’s morning tea and cake for the winners. “People are a bit horrified to see the amounts of waste at first, but then the competitive spirit kicks in.”