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Tackling waste at the roots of the food system through the Victoria Unboxed Project

Angus Howlett, Victoria Unboxed Coordinator, Sustain

The movement to reduce packaging waste has been gaining speed in recent years, with many governments enacting bans on single-use plastics and the increased popularity of package-free products, returnable containers and buy-in-bulk grocery stores.

However, many consumers would be shocked at the amount of waste the produce they eat creates before it even arrives on their grocer’s shelves or at their door as a take-away order.

In an effort to address this hidden issue, Sustain has partnered with Natoora Melbourne, a produce distributor connecting Victorian growers, restaurants and markets; as well as Sustainability Victoria, to cultivate solutions to the high volume of waste in this often-invisible stage of the food cycle.

Since January, we’ve been working together to find the best way to reduce the 14.4 tons of cardboard waste that is currently generated in Natoora’s supply chain on average every year. After consulting with our partners, 960 reusable crates were introduced into Natoora’s supply chain.

“I prefer using crates for deliveries as they are all the same size and easily stack in my van, they are easy to carry and stack on my trolley, the bottom is guaranteed to never fall out, unlike cardboard boxes, where this happens too often.” - Kash, delivery driver

The project is still underway, with about six months to go, but we are already seeing a significant reduction in the amount of cardboard being discarded. Our calculations suggest that about 5 tons of waste could be diverted per year thanks to this system of reusable crates circulating between Natoora and their partner growers and restaurants.

According to Adrian Li, Chef at La Madonna, the benefits of this system don’t stop at just waste reduction:

“These crates are a game changer. We love them because they protect the produce inside instead of getting unintentionally damaged during transit. Also it is one less thing we have to break down at the end of the night to put into bins. I believe alcohol is the next product to be utilized with the Unboxed project.”

Beyond tackling waste within Natoora’s supply chain, through the Victoria unboxed project we are learning about the challenges and benefits of implementing a closed-loop crate sharing system to reduce waste so it can be reproduced across the industry.

As part of this project, Sustain will be educating Melbourne residents on ways to reduce food waste at home through a series of free workshops in October and November.