Knook #26: Why Waste
The last decade or so has seen an increased awareness around waste - recycling is fairly commonplace, phrases like ‘single use’ or ‘circular economy’ have entered collective vocabulary.
But there’s still more that can be done and it’s exciting to see new ways of managing our impact. Tauranga-based Why Waste is on a mission to change the way we look at waste, primarily through their worm farm subscriptions.
“Biodegradable waste is our biggest form of waste,” says founder Leo Murray. “Waste isn't my favourite thing, but I got stuck into this issue because something needed to be done and no one else was doing it.”
Why Waste provides worm farms to both commercial and residential clients on a subscription basis, looking after the farms and making use of the additional byproducts the client doesn’t want. They’re currently servicing Auckland, Tauranga, Whakatāne, Rotorua, Hamilton and Dunedin.
“You chuck your waste in the top and the worms process your biowaste. It produces a liquid byproduct and solid castings for plant fertilisation. All of the byproducts are property of the member, but most people can’t use it all, so we donate what’s left over to partnerships with school and community gardens.
“Because each unit is one farm, our solution is scaleable - if you have more waste, we can put in more farms. It makes the system dynamic and agile, and enables us to cater for bigger clients.
“We’re enabling people to manage their waste in a decentralised way. In the case of Tauranga, there’s no landfill - we use 68 trucks each week to take Tauranga’s waste to Auckland and then have to drive the trucks back to do it all again the following week.”
I asked Leo how Why Waste got started.
“Why Waste started a compost collection in Tauranga in 2014, but I felt like I was simply ‘sustaining’ the status quo picking waste up and taking it to an ‘away place’. I studied organic horticulture and began to understand the huge role worms play in minimising waste and developing topsoil, and began to think about how my impact could go ‘beyond sustainability’ to regenerate our land, and inspire others to create positive changes as well” says Leo.
“The top few inches of our soil is basically responsible for life on Earth, no matter where it is on the food chain, everything relies on plants to live. Plants consume nutrients from the soil, and we consume those nutrients, so it’s up to us to return them back to the system so life can continue. When worms feed on debris (dead roots, leaves, grasses, manure) their digestive system concentrates the organic and mineral constituents in the food they eat. This results in ultra-fertile castings that are richer in available nutrients than normal soils.
“Someone asked if I could lease them a worm farm, and I thought ‘why not?’. It helped me to hash out initial issues of pricing, logistics, the appropriate mechanisms to ensure proper service, which was great - it really allowed me to build a minimum viable product to work out the kinks before scaling the service.
“It started building from there and I stumbled on this niche of looking after worm farms for people on a product as a service model. We can manage the whole-of-life service of the farm, and help people address the causes of waste. There’s been lots of work on farm to table, and Why Waste is working on what it takes to round it out, table to farm.”
I asked Leo what he saw as factors to their success.
“A lot of it is timing to be honest,” says Leo.
“6 years ago when we started, waste minimisation was a hard sell. Waste is now seen as a key issue, now it’s kind of hip and trendy, not an extreme ‘greenie’ idea as it was a decade ago.
“And I think we present our service and values with the authenticity of people who care. The environmental conversation has largely been driven by fear of what we stand to lose when it’s gone, not out of love for our home on this planet. We’re changing the nature of that conversation to ‘do more good, instead of less bad’. It’s more empowering for people than the previous way caring for the environment was talked about.”
I asked Leo what challenges he’s faced in his business journey.
“A big one for me is just staying focused and disciplined. I’ve realised that my personality needs to be part of a team - I’m not at my best in isolation, so it’s been really important to have a team around me to build the business more.
“It can be quite hard to bite the bullet and get over the scarcity mindset to bring a team on board. But once I knew I could pay my bills, I was able to share the wealth with the good people who also shared the Why Waste vision. That’s the main piece, having a team who share my passion for life and are willing to push the business along to achieve the impacts we’re seeking.”
I asked Leo what’s next for Why Waste.
“We’re teeing up a nationwide launch. The goal is to have someone servicing worm farms in every locality, and also develop a virtual service to support and empower people to return their waste to soil wherever they are in Aotearoa. They can rent-to-buy the farms from us and we can take them through the steps of caring for their farms without having to travel to service them all ourselves.
“We’re here to enable a better conversation around managing waste and not keep the intellectual property to ourselves, so we’re looking forward to bringing more people on that journey!”
For more info, visit: https://www.whywaste.co.nz/.