Vertical farming, biodigester toilet and mushroom walls: an insight into zero-waste living

Greenhouse is a self-sustaining, zero-waste, productive house that demonstrates the potential of our homes to provide shelter, produce food and generate energy.

Joost Bakker is an Australian designer, floral artist, eco-warrior and a pioneer in zero-waste living. Last year, he was regarded as “10 years ahead of his time,” yet this hasn’t stopped him in his mission to inspire us all to live more sustainability. To encourage us all to live in a world without waste, Bakker has documented his journey to build the first-ever zero-waste, productive house in a film released just last week, titled ‘Greenhouse by Joost’.

This project, ‘Future Food Systems’ is a three-storey house and urban farm located in the center of Melbourne. With two full-time chiefs, a plethora of plant pots, mushrooms growing outside the walls of steamy showers, and even cooking gas generated by a biodigester toilet that utilizes human and food waste, the project conveys the achievability of green living.

Bakker’s philosophy is grounded in the belief that we are the only species on the planet that do not live a zero-waste lifestyle, and thus we need to learn to adopt these habits. He suggests that the way to influence people is through a physical product, to educate by showing, rather than telling. Bakker opened the world’s first zero-waste café, in 2012, which was exceedingly successful, evidencing his theory that educating through displaying is one route forward to accelerate sustainable habits.

His goal is that by 2030, urban food growing is mainstream and something we are all doing at home. Urban food in the most basic terms is the production of growing food in a city. In doing so, we decrease carbon emissions from transportation costs, and the additional green spaces combat pollution and provide some relief to the rising temperatures. With the rise of rooftop gardens, vertical farming, hydroponics (growing without soil), aquaponics (a combination of conventional aquaculture and hydroponics) and shipping container farming, we have the technology to make urban farming the norm by 2030.

These simple innovations could have a profound effect on global food systems if ubiquitously implemented. Food systems are inherently unsustainable. They cause 30% of global greenhouse emissions, tremendous deforestation, desertification, loss of biodiversity, and land clearing; thus is one of the largest culprits of the ongoing sixth mass extinction. A PNAS report declared our food system as biological annihilation, namely, our food system is the most destructive thing we do to our environment. Current trends indicate that half of the world’s population will suffer from malnutrition and related health effects by 2030, burdening health systems, increasing financial pressure and decreasing quality of life overall.

As a result, Bakker’s goal of his project is to shine a light on the existing technologies that can aid food-derived health, social and environmental pressures. Singapore and Montreal already have tax exemptions on rooftop gardens, and New York has a budding network of rooftop farms.

The tours and dining experiences offered at the Future Food Systems, highlight and celebrate what is possible with a small urban space. Bakker emphasizes the importance of good soil health; for decades we have relied on fertilizers to feed our growing population, yet long term these cause damage. Growing without them is possible – it requires a sustainable cyclical composting cycle of the leftover produce, to restart the growing rotation. Summarized by Bakker: “good food comes from rich soil, and soil is literally the foundation of the house”. This project conveys the zero-waste, energy-generating, nutritious and sustainable options that will enable us to transform food systems to reduce emissions, environmental degradation and health burdens.

Bakker has been working on the project since 2016 yet it has only gained traction in the last year, with many of the practices becoming more mainstream as time goes on. The hope is that urban farming practices will become mainstream over the next few years enabling us to feed our growing population, edging closer to a hunger free world by 2030 (SDG 2), without further damaging natural environments.

To learn more about how you can help reduce global food inequalities and reach SDG 2, click here.

About the author:

Georgina Murrin is a ESG Analyst in Itriom’s London Office.

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