Making Good with Agile City’s Food Waste

8 July 2024

At Agile City CIC we have a unique combination of tenants who feed into our yearly waste in different ways. Consider how a coworker might bin a crisp packet or some paper, a chef in the Canteen might bin food waste and coffee grounds, or someone hiring the venue might be binning cardboard and empty Williams Bros. tinnies from their party. It is important that we consider waste when planning for the sustainability of the company. Agile City has been using Enva for our waste management since 2019. The benefits of using a waste company that centres sustainability include both onsite and offsite waste recycling and recovery. In addition, we can monitor our in-depth waste data through the online portal.

Business Waste Produced by Agile City in 2023

Figure 1: Waste collected by Enva at Civic House and the Glue Factory. Graph produced by Enva’s Customer Portal.

Using this data, we can target the waste streams across Civic House and Glue Factory to reduce our carbon footprint.

Figure 2: Percentage of waste sent to landfill versus the percentage of waste recycled at Agile City by Enva.

Note how in 2022-2023, we recycled or recovered 93.9% of our waste. We were able to increase this proportion to 96.2% in 2023-2024. Note, too, that we reduced the total CO2e produced by around 0.011 tCO2e (or by about 5%). Though this is a small decrease, it bodes well for the future that Agile City is able to keep a predictable amount of waste each year.

We are also lucky here at Agile City that Glasgow has a supportive network of organisations focusing on green issues. One such group is the Glasgow Community Food Network (GCFN). GCFN produced a report recently about the need to drive down food waste. It goes on to provide very real, very achievable methods for food waste reduction in Glasgow. It states at the beginning of the report, “Food waste is a major contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions which are causing climate change. In 2021, over one million tonnes of food in Scotland was wasted… [and] food waste accounted for approximately 6% of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions.” Clearly there is a need to target food waste across Glasgow. With a resident kitchen, Civic House must do its part in reducing the amount of food waste each year.

Working with Food Waste from Parveen’s Canteen

Lunch at Parveen’s Canteen. Photo by Tiu Makkonen (2023)

Parveen’s Canteen is our working canteen based on the ground floor of Civic House. Run by Fariya and Sahar, Parveen’s is often the first port of call when entering the building. The team serves Pakistani-inspired vegan food to the building’s hires, coworkers, and public. Since opening in November of 2022, Parveen’s has produced roughly 9,840 litres of food waste. This is based on an estimate of 240 litres of waste every two weeks since the 11th of November 2022. Throughout the year Sahar and Fariya use Olleco to collect and process their food waste. Olleco then uses Anaerobic Digestion (AD), or the breakdown of waste by microorganisms, to convert Parveen’s food waste into biogas and fertiliser.Olleco and Enva bins at Civic House. Picture for scale as the Canteen at Civic House produces roughly half a bin of food waste each week.

Based on the conversion factor supplied by the UK government in 2023, the 9,840 litres of food waste from our canteen has contributed to roughly 40.2 tCO2e. Compare this to the 3,158 tCO2e that would have been produced by sending the food waste to landfill. That is a difference of 3,117.7 tCO2e saved by AD processing. Olleco also points out that with UK-wide landfill taxes, “it now costs well over £100 per tonne to dispose of general waste in a landfill site whereas it costs less than half of that to take food waste to an anaerobic digestion plant.” Parveen’s has spent roughly £430 to date on the bin uplift alone. This works out to roughly £260 saved per year. So finding alternative disposal methods for food waste is lucrative for both reducing carbon footprint and saving money!

The former site of Phoenix Nursery and current wildflower garden at Civic House back in 2020 during the retrofit and development.

So how can Agile City CIC tackle this issue?

Ben Wray, the author of the 2022 report for GCFN, helpfully outlines a number of key findings to combat food waste in Glasgow. For example, “long term and sustained behaviour change is more likely when access to the individual’s change of behaviour is validated by their immediate social networks and they have access to the material means of making the desired change,” according to the findings of the Whitmuir Community Benefit Society case study. This idea of making the impacts of a community’s behaviour immediately available to those in and around the community is particularly interesting in how we can apply it to Agile City.

We’ve already seen how food waste folds back into a circular economy by Parveen’s Canteen, but what about coworkers at Civic House bringing in their own lunch? One simple way to reduce emissions from the coworking space would be to support the behavioural change of sorting food waste by introducing food waste receptacles into the space. These could then be processed in a contract with Ollaco, to follow in the footsteps of Parveen’s, or by booking for processing with Enva at their, “fully permitted in-vessel composting or Anerobic Digestion facilities.” This would be a simple short-term solution which would require continued investment to transport and process the waste.

What are some longer term waste processing alternatives for Agile City CIC?

Part of Civic House’s footprint includes a yard and greenspace that would be perfect for a community composting project. There are a few different ways to locally process food waste. Two methods that would work well at Civic House with its various spaces would be instituting a hot compost or a wormery.

Participants at Woodlands Community Garden’s composting and food waste reduction workshop in 2020. Photo Courtesy of Pat Byrne at 

A hot compost is what most people think of when they hear the word compost. The ‘hot’ distinction requires at least one cubic metre of food waste to be manually turned every couple days as the microbes heat the compost up to around 50-60 oC. Its cool counterpart would still function, but it could take up to a year for the composting process to mature if a critical mass of one cubic metre is not reached and properly maintained. This method still produces green house gases, but at a much lower rate than if the waste was sent to landfill.

Wormeries (or vermicomposting), in comparison, relies on worms. These are typically Red Wiggler, Tiger Worm, or European Nightcrawler in the UK. The worms process food waste into vermicast. Vermicast is the nutrients-rich soil produced by these worms. This method works without a critical mass of waste as it relies on the appetite of the worms rather than the microbial process of fermentation.

The Future is Now

Both of these methods could be developed on-site at Civic House and the Glue Factory. Key to this process would be engaging the building users in the process of waste sorting and compost maintenance. As Ben Wray noted, the switch to these forms of permaculture is most effective when individuals receive direct feedback from their behavioural change. In this case, the growth of a communal responsibility and the direct access to the compost generated both function as positive feedback for our users.

Networking and community engagement aid this process. For example, Agile City could aim to join Make Soil. Make Soil is a global network of soil makers and soil supporters that share knowledge and resources. In Glasgow there are already four soil sites in Garnethill, Denniston, and Kinning Park. At these sites soil supporters can contribute organic waste and help the cultural change we require to reduce the volume of waste to landfill. As laid out above, in the next year we are in a great position to introduce composting sites and wormeries in our green spaces and make that shift to dealing with our food waste on-site.

This article was written by Sebastian Taylor. They are the Community Connector at Agile City CIC with funding through the Step Up to Net Zero program.

Step Up to Net Zero is an initiative by Glasgow Chamber of Commerce. SUTNZ supports Glasgow SMEs in their efforts to reach net zero by funding six-month work placements who will help organisations take action towards net zero and circular goals.