Transforming Mushroom Waste into Worth
Growing mushrooms in Australia is a big business with big waste challenges.
Driven to reduce its environmental impact and increase potential revenue, Australian mushroom growers partnered with Horticulture Innovation Australia (Hort Innovation) and engaged The Growth Drivers (TGD) to find a solution.
The result was The Mushroom Strategy, a bespoke toolbox of solutions to find high-value alternatives for the estimated 250,000 tonnes of mushroom and compost waste produced in Australia each year, which netted the partnership an Australian Good Design Award.
Across Australia’s horticulture industry, businesses are trying to do more with less. The Mushroom Strategy aimed to maximize the industry's existing contribution to the circular economy in a way that returned revenue and cost savings back to mushroom growers.
Dr Scott Needham is The Growth Drivers Managing Director and led the project for TGD. “It was a very open brief and one of our first things to do was get through a focus group activity,” Dr Needham explained.
“We asked growers what they meant by ‘waste’, and waste to them was two things: actual edible mushroom waste – what they call subprime or imperfect mushrooms – and what they were throwing away as compost.”
With support from Hort Innovation, The Growth Drivers worked hand-in-hand with Australian mushroom growers to understand what solutions they had trialled previously, the needs of their business and test new solutions to better understand hurdles to adoption.
“Scott Needham and the team were really adept at very quickly gaining an understanding of the waste stream challenges facing the industry and producing some really innovative ideas for adding some real value,” Australian Mushroom Growers Association (AMGA) Chair & Director Geoff Martin said.
“I’m sure that in the future when some of the economic drivers change that several of the more promising proposals will be taken up by industry.”
The Mushroom Strategy reflects a global conversation about sustainable land and farming practices and how to responsibly manage waste. This project leveraged global expertise, world-leading research and start-up enterprises to apply these solutions on-farm.
Valuing results over reports, The Growth Drivers continually tested and iterated the suitability of these solutions to the needs of Australian growers at each step of the development process, from on-farm trials to detailed financial models assessing the ROI of capital expenditure.
For example, this project produced successful results for the recycling of spent mushroom compost back into the production process, a method of production never previously trialled in Australia.
Winning an Australian Good Design Award gives The Growth Drivers a big tick-of-approval for its methods and systematic approach to designing real solutions that work.
“The Good Design Awards are an external body validating that the methods we are using are some of the best in Australia,” Dr Needham says.