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It’s a smelly job, but somebody’s got to do it

While we can applaud the efforts of those that choose to use reusable nappies, the reality is that disposables are by far and away still the most popular option (and let’s face it, the most convenient). But what if you could compost them? That’s exactly what EnviroComp plans to do in Wellington, and an announcement by the Government that it will contribute $700,000 in grant money to further support the business initiative has provided a valuable booster. But that's not the only big news for the company, which has also announced it will expand operations overseas as part of recent acquisition by the New Zealand office of UK-based facilities services company OCS.

While we can applaud the efforts of those that choose to use reusable nappies, the reality is that disposables are by far and away still the most popular option (and let’s face it, the most convenient). But what if you could compost them? That’s exactly what a Kiwi business plans to do in Wellington,  and an announcement by the Government that it will contribute $700,000 in grant money to further support the Kiwi business initiative has provided a valuable booster. 

EnviroComp uses a purpose built 'HotRot' composting plant to breakdown disposable nappy waste into a safe, odourless compost. The first such plant was established on a site in Balcairn, North Canterbury back in 2009 and the new facility will make itself at home in the Hutt Valley. 

Environment minister Nick Smith made the grant money announcement, saying the new facility will aim to divert 1000 tonnes of waste every year to the new Wellington composting facility. 

"The Government's Waste Minimisation Fund is about supporting this sort of green growth business. We were pleased to fund a feasibility study in 2010 and are now contributing a $700,000 grant for the Wellington plant," says Smith. 

The idea to compost nappies is the brainchild of Karen and Karl Upston who had owned a business selling both disposable and cloth nappies and regularly embarked on the cloth versus disposable argument. They decided to trial composting disposable nappies on a commercial scale, and contacted HotRot Organic Solutions (NZ) Ltd, manufacturers of the HotRot range of in-vessel composting systems, for advice and guidance.  

After a five month trial which involved over 200 families, 45,000 nappies were composted (equating to 56 tonnes) and the couple went on to build their North Canterbury composting facility in collaboration with HotZRot Organic Solutions.

Before it got the grant go-ahead form the Government, EnviroComp received $30,00 from the Waste Minimisation Fund to carry out a feasibility study. The results of that study showed nappies make up the bulk of the total sanitary hygiene waste in Wellington. There are an estimated 17,000 babies under 2.5 wearing disposable nappies in the region which represent our target audience. In Canterbury, the plant has processed 5 million nappies into compost since it opened.

"The market size in Wellington is similar to that in Canterbury with 7432 tonnes sanitary hygiene products disposed of to landfill each year. The plant will initially compost 1300 tonnes per annum with the capacity to double that within the first year,” says Upston. 

And while the growth in Wellington is a healthy sign, Upston says there are plans to go global, including the US, UK and Ireland. But the ability to expand only comes thanks to the very recent acquisition of EnviroComp by the New Zealand office of UK-based facilities services company OCS. In fact, in the beginning of EnviroComp's endeavour, OSC was originally signed up as a user of Envirocomp in Canterbury providing OCS customers (including rest homes, shopping malls, businesses and airports) with an alternative to landfilling sanitary hygiene waste.

In light of Charlie's recent news, you might roll your eyes at yet another foreign buy-out, but Upston is realistic and optimistic about the deal.

“There’s no way we’d get the exposure and ability to move to the foreign market without this acquisition,” she says. 

Upston made the acquisition announcement at the launch of the feasibility study. 

“OCS Ltd has acquired a 100 percent share in Envirocomp and I am tasked with spearheading the launch of additional Envirocomp facilities in New Zealand, Australia, the UK and Europe," says Upston. "This is an exciting new chapter in the Envirocomp story—and one I owe to many people who have believed in the business. Selling was not an easy decision but the team at OCS is absolutely committed to growing the Envirocomp brand and I firmly believe that this is the right decision for Envirocomp.”

And perhaps there's another silver lining to the acquisition cloud. Upston is quick to point out that the expansion overseas provides massive opportunities for Christchurch where the composting machinery is manufactured. She says all the machinery for the overseas facilities will continue to be made in Christchurch.

And if you're wondering where on earth the compost will end up, Upston says in spring this year trials will get underway with the compost produced from the Christchurch facility. 

"We had to wait to generate enough volume form Christchurch plant before trails could begin," says Upston.

The company has just hired an employee with a horticulture background and trials will be carried out in the areas of forestry, horticulture, viviculture and nurseries.

Not that the final output is too important. Upston says that because the company operates on a front-end, user-pays operation model, it's not reliant on generating finances from the back-end output.