40kg – 50kg is the amount of food waste that an average household of four people produces per month.
Karen Heron and her husband Gavin, started Earth Probiotic in 2010 to divert food waste from landfills.
“We lived abroad for 14 years before returning to South Africa, and found that the country wasn’t handling food waste as effectively as Canada, the US, Australia and Asian countries using bokashi to quickly and effectively convert nutrient rich food waste into compost,” says CEO, Karen Heron.
“As an enthusiastic gardener and environmentalist, I started a worm farm to compost our own food waste, but found that many things had to be excluded, so I researched other methods. I found bokashi is used extensively, is scalable, and takes care of all organic matter,” Heron explains.
Hatching a business
Gavin Heron comes from a marketing background and immediately saw the potential of the business. “It started as a hobby and I thought about starting a small business, but Gavin said, ‘Why have 300 customers? Think big!’
“And thanks to his strategy and marketing experience, we’ve got a company servicing 6 000 households, with a growing commercial customer-base and, having diverted over 550 tons of food waste from landfills in 3,5 years, we’re well-positioned to aid municipalities,” says Heron proudly.
But the road wasn’t so easy. “We couldn’t get funding as lenders didn’t recognise the business opportunity. We bootstrapped the business and took almost two years to break-even. Now we’re a sustainable, profitable and growing business that doubles its sales and customer-base every year.”
Developing the concept
“We chose bokashi because it’s an efficient and contained composting method, and nothing like it existed locally, offering a new market. We felt very strongly about supporting local businesses, and so we chose to have everything manufactured locally. We’re Proudly South African certified.
“The business model involves diverting money spent on removing commercial or household garden and food waste into a cause that people can get behind. Many corporates and households want to show their contribution to the environment. So we sell bokashi kits and offer an advice service to households,” explains Heron.
“The commercial model is different because of the scale – anywhere between one and ten tons of food waste. Here we provide larger bokashi drums, drop off clean bins and collect full ones that go to a partner composting facility, or we teach landscaping staff how to deal with the compost they’ve made.
They also have the opportunity to use their own compost, sell it, or send it to a community programme for enriching soil in school vegetable gardens for example.”
Heron believes enriching Southern African soil is paramount to food security.
“It’s the next global problem, so we stabilise and combine your organic waste streams, and convert this to quality compost that increases food yields. It’s a win-win situation for everyone,” she says.
“So while we’re not directly involved as food growers, we’re in the business of fixing soil.”
Heron’s business model is designed to make composting as easy as possible but converting habits isn’t always an easy task.
“We learnt early on that you can’t persuade someone to recycle if they’re not in the right headspace. They need to know how their bottom line will benefit from their action. With our model, the benefits are clear.”
See more at www.earthprobiotic.co.za
Waste not, want not
Bokashi is a centuries old Japanese composting method that uses micro-organisms to ferment waste in a few weeks. It’s then buried to complete the composting process.