Words like organic, carbon and recycle have become very popular in Australian industries. In Western Australia, C-Wise combines all three by recovering resources from waste streams, and recycling the organic carbon to add fertility to some of the world’s most barren soils.
C-Wise focuses on building soil carbon. The business started in 1997 when the two partners, Andy Gulliver and Dave Cullen, came together to produce a composted growing medium for a mushroom farm. This allowed the mushroom farm to expand and create over 100 jobs. The composting business was based at the Wandalup Farms piggery and it wasn’t long before the piggery asked the new business to help manage the piggery wastes. Shortly afterwards, the local councils asked the business to recycle community greenwaste and a new business was born. 100% of Mandurah’s greenwaste and the piggery waste have been recycled successfully for well over a decade.
“The production facility sits on the Swan Coastal Plain, east of Mandurah, a region that has a number of pressing issues to deal with. These include spreading urbanisation with the attendant loss of productive farmland, increased pressure on waste management and regional waterways that have been impacted by nutrients from human activity. The South West of WA is also one of the first regions to be impacted by climate change with predicted drier and hotter weather patterns” says Michaela Tibi, Marketing Manager at C-Wise.
The business has grown within this context and has developed both products and services to make positive impacts right across this spectrum. Today the business directly employs over 30 people and indirectly another 15, who are involved in transporting product. A wide range of world class composted products are produced which rescue both nutrients and organic carbon from going to landfill. “These recycled products fulfil one of the planet’s most important tasks – restoring fertility to soil,” she said.
Organic wastes recycled include manure from the pig and poultry industries as well as spent mushroom compost and wine industry grape marc. Forest industry material and community greenwaste from urban areas provide a great base for the composting process.
Environmental benefits include fully recycling the organic wastes from the state’s largest piggery. C-Wise won the WA State Environment award for this work. A second benefit is the creation of closed loop solutions where, for example, community and industry waste is treated by composting then returned to the soil to improve soil health and performance in farming, parks, gardens and sports facilities; reducing water use and the need for synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.
“Recycling organic wastes in this way; solves a waste problem; creates new jobs; prevents potential nutrient pollution from inorganic fertilisers; and saves water – a precious resource in this dry state of WA,” says Michaela.
C-Wise is a recognised recycled organics industry leader across Australia and has over 100 years of combined high level composting knowledge. Apart from managing the Nambeelup production facility this knowledge assists other composters using the MAF (Mobile Aerated Floor) technology for which the company is the Australian distributor. This MAF system is used throughout Australia to process organic waste. Michaela proudly points to a regional example. “A brilliant local example of WA, this is the Bunbury Regional Council’s third bin installation, where the community has the option to recycle all of its household organic waste,” Michaela said.
C-Wise has helped several communities around Australia successfully recycle their organic wastes with several more plants to be built over the next 18 months.
The two owners are strong believers that business should return a “social dividend” to the community in which it operates. C-Wise supports an innovative, award winning program with the local Pinjarra Senior High School. The program teaches students rural and environmental skills through a TAFE Certificate course run on the farm surrounding the production facility. Under supervision, students run a herd of sheep and cattle and revegetate a wetland.
The students also observe and identify birds on site. So far 119 bird species have been identified. Many are wading shorebirds from the Arctic Circle that have been displaced by human activity in the Peel Harvey region. Additionally, students learn a range of life and social skills by being exposed to role models in a real workplace and understanding the demands of the adult world.
This program is supported by C-Wise staff. Hundreds of students have been through the course over nearly 10 years. “This gives them the confidence to make a difference and provides a unique opportunity to students.” Michaela also proudly states, “Since the program started, we’ve had no dropouts and this program is very dear to us.”
Starting out as a consultant for C-Wise in mid-2014, Michaela initially was brought in to help assess gaps in marketing. “The owners of C-Wise identified a need for marketing support to get key messages out to the community and potential customers. These include the ability to see the true value of soil carbon. Yes, this reduces Australia’s carbon footprint but more significantly it builds long term resilient and fertile soils.” Now the Marketing Manager, she oversees communications and helps educate customers about this new paradigm in soil building. The irony is that the value of humus and soil carbon has been known for over a hundred years but this knowledge was ignored during the “green revolution” in the 20th century where artificial fertilisers were favoured. Leading 21st century farmers are re-discovering the importance of soil carbon and now account for it in their farming management systems.
C-Wise has been quietly engaged in many projects in the region. These include a significant contribution to the manufacture of engineered soils for rehabilitation work on the New Perth-Bunbury Highway. This included recycling all the greenwaste and many thousands of tonnes of soil. C-Wise developed a process to compost the dieback-infested soil so that it was suitable for re-use and created a rehabilitation soil with superior performance. Many stunning examples of successful rehabilitation can be seen along the highway.
C-Wise is currently supplying rehabilitation products for Australia’s largest infrastructure project – the Gateway Project at Perth airport. Critical issues were the planting of phosphate sensitive native species and dieback control.
The Lark Hill Sportsplex is a $27M community sports facility built by the Rockingham City Council. When a devastating infestation of Sting Nematodes caused the playing surface to degrade C-Wise provided a solution that both treated the infestation naturally and saved a significant amount of water by building soil carbon and biologically healthy soil.
Building high performance soil is a focus of C-Wise’ works with farmers, particularly in irrigated horticulture. The region’s sandier soils are great for growing produce but do not hold on to nutrients or water very well. C-Wise provides solutions that grow healthier crops, save the farmer money on fertilisers, use less water and minimise the potential for environmental off site impacts from intensive farming – benefiting the economy, the community and the environment.
The recycled organics industry is, by its nature, close to the soil. Michaela left us with some “food for thought,” stating that “French wine connoisseurs talk about ‘terroir’ the unique flavour attributed to the soil in which the grape was grown. The food we eat is also affected by the quality and fertility of the soil where it is grown. Actively focussing on soil carbon builds healthy, productive soils and can have a profound effect on the taste and nutritional content of our food. This is a key message that we as a business need to communicate to consumers,” she said.