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Homegrown heroes of sustainability

Written by Faculty of Society & Design Marketing Assistant, Chloe Parfitt 

When you think of the Faculty of Society & Design’s FabLabs, sustainability might not be the first word that comes to mind – but it should be. In fact, the team up at the FabLabs might be the Faculty’s best-kept sustainability secret. 

Fabrication Laboratory Manager Ryan Wirth and Technical Officers Alec Gentile and Nathan Freeman have been working quietly over the past decade to reduce Bond’s waste footprint through an extensive recycling program and a dedicated community garden. The result is a self-sustaining ecosystem of sorts that not only benefits the environment, but individual Bondies, by providing free reusable materials for design projects, as well as fresh veggies and herbs. 

What are the FabLabs? 

Located behind the Abedian School of Architecture building, the Fabrication Labs – affectionately known as the FabLabs – are a resource for Faculty of Society & Design students equipped with state-of-the-art construction and design equipment. The knowledgeable staff at the FabLabs are available to support architecture students with the technical elements of their projects.

How is the FabLabs team working to reduce Bond’s waste footprint? 

Ryan Wirth stands next to a piece of equipment in the FabLabs, wearing a suit
Ryan Wirth in the Bond University FabLabs

The team run a tight ship when it comes to sustainable recycling of materials, and the results are impressive, to say the least. Offcuts of treated timber and other coated woods are collected and sent back into recycling streams to be turned into other materials, such as bricks. Metal offcuts and scrap steel are collected separately to be remanufactured into new metal products. 

To achieve this, they’ve teamed up with Veolia Australia and New Zealand, an environmental solutions company that runs recycling and recovery operations to ensure that these materials are responsibly reused. Once the bins are filled, Veolia will collect them at no cost – as long as they’re completely clean of contaminated materials. A contaminated skip will incur a $600 fee, so it’s important to ensure each piece of material waste makes its way into the right bin. These get filled and emptied on average twice a semester, which equates to over a tonne of metal waste and over 8 tonnes of timber waste being saved from landfill each year! To put that into perspective, that’s a combined weight of 73 tonnes of waste saved from landfill since the initiative’s inception in 2013 – that’s about the same weight as 12 adult African elephants, forty standard cars, seven cruise ship anchors, or half of the Statue of Liberty! 

Plastic recycling, on the other hand, is a more hands-on process. Due to the very specific grades of plastic used in the labs, Ryan and the team must manually separate plastic material waste into different categories – for recycling through a specialised plastics plant, or for reuse by students to reduce the cost of purchasing materials for their assessments. Students who wish to use recycled materials for their projects can actually go their entire degree without purchasing materials, thanks to the reuse program set up and maintained through the dedicated efforts of the team. 

How did it come about?

Alec and Nathan stand in the FabLabs at a workbench
FabLabs Technical Officers Alec Gentile (left) and Nathan Freeman

This closed-loop recycling system first began taking shape back in 2013 and, under the guidance of Ryan, Nathan, and Alec, has been expanding steadily ever since, growing beyond just the architecture workshop and FabLabs. They each bring new initiatives to the table and learn from each other about how to improve the existing systems. For instance, the team have collaborated with Bond’s Facilities Management department to ensure that as much recyclable waste as possible is collected from all over campus and sorted into the right bins to prevent it from ending up in landfill. The team have also been running a campus-wide battery collection and recycling project since 2015, which involves hand-sorting tubs of batteries and dropping them off at different community recycling plants according to type (lithium ion, alkaline, or nickel metal hydride) and volume. 

What about the community garden?

Ryan Wirth stands in the middle of a community garden with garden beds and lots of green plants

Tucked around the corner of the FabLabs are six big garden beds full of life, flowers, and fresh, organic produce. Varieties currently include lemongrass, sweet potato, tomatoes, bok choy, pak choy, Australian native spinach, broad beans, nasturtiums, marigolds, and herbs of every variety! There are no fertilisers or chemicals in sight for these kitchen goodies, either – the sustenance they receive is totally home-grown. Clean, untreated hardwood timbers that come through the architecture workshops get turned into organic woodchips for the gardens, which are then supplemented with in-house compost to keep the soil full of nutrients and minerals. Five of the garden beds are planted with a variety of produce, with one kept aside as a composting bed. The FabLabs team tend the garden throughout the year, topping up the soil with fresh compost once or twice a year, and rotating the beds each year so that the soil is consistently turned over to help it stay healthy. 

A garden bed with a sign that reads Faculty of Society & Design Garden Project

The gardens have been running for a few years and are open to all staff and students to help maintain and plant their own produce. If you are open to giving a little of your time to tend the gardens, you can reap the (abundant) rewards of beautiful, fresh veggies and herbs. The team once harvested more than 30kgs of sweet potato from a single garden bed! 

Volunteers and donations are always welcome, for both the garden and the zero-waste recycling system. If you’re interested in contributing time, ideas, or getting involved in any other way, we encourage you to reach out to Ryan and the team at the FabLabs.

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