Will McLellan has been interning with Melbourne Farmers Markets for the past 3 1/2 months. In this guest blog he recounts a number of waste initiatives he came across from within MFM as well as from our stallholders. Will was successful in getting a number of his own waste initiatives up and running during his time with us including instating the rubber band return jars. A very big thanks to Will for being an all round eco-hero and creating serious impact in his short tenure with us. All the best Will for your sustainable future ahead!

Words by Will McLellan

‘Single-use’ – that’s the word of the year according to Collins Dictionary. Those pesky plastics seem to be everywhere at the moment, and with efforts progressing to reduce their impact on the environment this year has also been called the “year of the eco-warrior”. Our community of market shoppers and stallholders has shown a lot of interest in this issue, so we thought we’d take the opportunity to highlight a few of our own eco-warriors. Every week we have a range of producers selling some of the freshest produce available in Melbourne, and while food is their main focus, many of them are implementing initiatives to avoid single-use plastics and become more sustainable. As the Waste and Sustainability Intern at Melbourne Farmers Markets I have been exploring and encouraging these initiatives over the past few months.

Several stallholders are exploring ways to reduce waste resulting from bottled products. Schulz Organic Dairy have become one of the leaders of this at our markets through their glass bottle return scheme. Simply bring back your empty bottles so they can reuse them, but remember to get in early as their delicious full cream milk always sells out!

Other initiatives with glass bottles are based around refills. Ray-Monde Deux sell their Pinot Noir on tap, which means you can bring back your empty wine bottles for them to fill up or just enjoy a glass in the lovely market surroundings.

Similarly, Mount Zero offer half-price refills on their award-winning olive oil. Many stallholders are looking to replace their plastic packaging with glass, such as The Broth Sisters who recently introduced reusable glass jars for their bone broth.

Our fruit, vegetable, and egg producers are also doing their bit through packaging initiatives. Allison and Dennis from Trentham Potato Co. have been selling their delicious spuds in reusable cloth bags for the past few years. While some people are enticed by the hot baked potatoes they sell on market day, others take a bag of potatoes home with them and based on the number of empty bags at the end of the day it looks like everyone is helping to close the loop by returning them. When purchasing oranges, you’ll notice a few waste initiatives including the reusable baskets used by Doron Talmi Citrus and the netting bag return system at Kingfisher Citrus. Days Walk Farm have created their own ingenious rubber band storage device as a way for shoppers to give back the rubber bands used to bunch their produce. Many of our egg producers, such as Inverloch Free Range, are also encouraging shoppers to bring back their used cartons to fill up with fresh eggs.

Food waste has also been a hot topic over the past few years and Hazeldean Forest Farm are taking many steps to ensure their organic apples are not wasted. The other week at Collingwood Children’s Farm they were giving away cooking and juicing apples with every purchase, while they recently donated 8 tonnes of ‘seconds’ apples to SecondBite. Lentil As Anything’s Food Without Borders project has also been working to publicise this issue at our Children’s Farm community stall by asking shoppers to purchase extra produce and leave it with them as a donation to prevent the amount of food that stallholders waste at the end of a market day.

As an organisation, we have also implemented our own initiatives to tackle these issues. Since the beginning we have been a plastic bag free market and we are always aiming to reduce the amount of unnecessary packaging that stallholders use. Earlier this year we introduced the Wash Against Waste station at our markets, which allows shoppers to choose a reusable option when purchasing from our takeaway stallholders. This has been a major success but wouldn’t have been possible without our dishwashing volunteer Din, the Fair Food Challenge team at University of Melbourne, and all the stallholders that offer our reusable plates and cups. Over the past few months I have been looking to streamline this initiative and target other areas of waste. Based on feedback from shoppers we have focused on the cleanliness of this station and its visibility at the market. We have also looked into what types of waste we produce at the markets and how its impact can be reduced. In the future I’d like to introduce a soft plastics collection point, particularly with the Reground team now based at the Melbourne Food Hub where our Alphington market operates. However, one recent step we have taken is the introduction of our Rubber Band Return jars, which we hope will promote the return and reuse of rubber bands from stallholders. The sky’s the limit with what we can do to become more sustainable – so if anyone is looking to volunteer or intern in this sector and implement more practical solutions we’re always looking for help!

Although these initiatives may have a small focus, through your continued support they can have a greater impact. In line with Melbourne Farmers Markets’ support of local food these initiatives ask us to think globally and act locally. Hopefully over time this idea of a sustainable food system will be more widely embraced and have an even greater impact on the global food system.