Worm farms, compost heaps, beehives and vege gardens. Auckland businesses as diverse as cafes and clothing designers are finding that being environmentally friendly doesn’t have to interfere with the bottom line.

When top New Zealand fashion designer Tanya Carlson moved to Auckland from Dunedin, she was already an accomplished gardener. She had tended 65 rose plants in the south, but when she hit sub-tropical Auckland she branched out into flowers, herbs and most importantly vegetables to feed her and her friends.

But it was only recently that she managed to source decent compost when she teamed up with popular restaurant Orphan's Kitchen, which neighbours her Ponsonby Rd shop. The two high-end businesses started a unique ¬urban green business relationship that ¬recycles food waste.

Every night, after Carlson has finished designing her latest range and fitting her many celebrity customers who come to her for bespoke gowns, she grabs a 50-litre rubbish bin full of food waste, hefts it into her car and takes it home.

Once there, it goes in the compost bin, to be made into wonderful nutrients for her own garden and Orphan's Kitchen's restaurant gardens.


Josh Helm and Tom Hishon, who own Orphan's Kitchen, confess it was Carlson's idea to start a food-waste co-op but it fits their ethos to reduce waste and recycle where they can.
When "the boys" moved in 18 months ago, they came over to discuss putting sheepskin on their dining chairs. She talked them into giving her some of their red cushions and then hit on the idea of composting their scraps.

"I had been walking into fruit shops and asking them for their waste but they never ¬really got it. But Tom and Josh got it immediately," says Carlson.

"Tom is really into foraging and trying out different herbs and leaves in the kitchen so we have a shared interest. And sometimes I'll bring in flowers or seed heads for their tables or just to see if they can use them rather than see them go on the compost pile."

Few visitors to Orphan's Kitchen or Carlson's shop would have any idea that behind closed doors at the back of the posh Ponsonby premises lurks a green haven.

"It's not something we advertise or tell our customers," says Helm. "It's just something we do because it should be done. The food and beverage industry produces a lot of waste and too much of it goes into landfill."

Helm and Hishon have a beehive on their roof that, according to the man who put it there, is one of the healthiest beehives in Auckland, as its bees feast on the well-maintained flower gardens of Ponsonby homes.

"We had someone look after it for the first six months and train us and now we look after the hive ourselves," says Helm. "We get about three frames' worth of honey a week."
And, of course, that honey is used in their restaurant.

They haven't had any complaints from neighbouring businesses, who all seem to think it is a great idea. So far the only person nearby allergic to bees is Carlson.

In her large and glorious garden, Carlson spends most nights weeding and caring for her hundreds of plants, and loves nothing better than to take in radishes, herbs and ¬salad leaves for Orphan's Kitchen.

"It makes so much sense to combine our separate interests to achieve a common interest, which is to save the planet and ¬reduce waste," she says.

Carlson says gardening is a lot like fashion designing. They both have six-month cycles, and starting a garden requires a lot of design of colour combinations, form and structure.

Mike Murphy, managing director of coffee roaster and cafe business Kokako. Photo / Ted Baghurst
Mike Murphy, managing director of coffee roaster and cafe business Kokako. Photo / Ted Baghurst

Further up the road, in Grey Lynn, Mike Murphy owns the organic Kokako Cafe and Roastery. He has also teamed up with a local business to recycle his waste.

Five years ago he was at a networking function for businesses interested in green issues.

"I'm not a great networker so I was standing at the back and started talking to this tall, lanky guy who had developed a revolutionary new worm farm system and wanted a ¬commercial business to test them out for him," says Murphy.

That man was Ben Bell from Hungry Bins, who put his bins at the commercial kitchen Murphy then had in Eden Terrace.

"So when I opened the Kokako Cafe and found premises for our roastery we got 16 worm farms from Ben and that takes care of most of our rubbish.

"Every night, one of the kitchen hands takes the waste and distributes it among the farms. Anything left over is collected by a company called We Compost."

The highly sought-after worm juice and castings are picked up by the junk shop owner across the road, who has created a ¬guerrilla garden at the back of her shop as well as ¬behind the Grey Lynn public toilets.

And his coffee grinds are picked up by a rather eccentric local known as the Cat Lady because she feeds stray cats.

Murphy is not sure what she does with the grounds but she collects them regularly.
"It feels great to know food waste that would normally end up in landfill is being turned around and re-used in the very place it was created," he says.

Bell says he started making worm farms out of broken wheelie bins, but couldn't get enough of them to meet demand.

Ben Bell with the Hungry Bins installed at Mt Eden Corrections Facility. Photo / Supplied
Ben Bell with the Hungry Bins installed at Mt Eden Corrections Facility. Photo / Supplied

So he designed his own and the Hungry Bin was born.

These days, he has 70 bins in the basement at the Auckland Council's new building in
Albert St, which takes care of the food waste of 1000 staff.

And over at the Mt Eden Corrections Facility, 200 worm bins are at work.

Despite this, Bell says it can be hard to convince businesses of the worth of recycling waste.

"Businesses often want to solve a ¬problem then for it to go away. So putting everything on a truck and never seeing it again is a great solution but doesn't deliver the best environmental outcomes," he says.

"To change the status quo you often have to spend some capital and set up systems.

"But more businesses are starting to see the long term benefits of ¬installing worm farms and most of it comes from a ¬collaboration with another business.

"Much like Mike and me."