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Getting the dirt on compost: A chat with Edible Earth founder Jayden Klinac

We love a good collaboration. You’ve probably noticed that, and they usually result in a block of delicious Whittaker’s chocolate like L&P or Brewed Ginger Caramel. But our latest collaboration, draws on the skills and vision of Jayden Klinac and his environment-led start-ups, For The Better Good and Edible Earth.

We met last year during our research for the Peanut Slab compostable packaging trial. Our Whittaker’s team were a bit stuck because we knew we were missing an important piece of the puzzle. We needed a drop-off and collection process for the wrappers, and a place to compost them.

Luckily, we found an urban farm just up the road from our Porirua factory. There we found Jayden, who introduced us to the work his team were doing on community composting and regenerative product design (design that restores the environment), and it soon became clear we'd found the perfect partner for our trial.

We think you’ll find Jayden as inspiring as we do. So we sat down for a chat about composting (spoiler alert, it’s cool now!) and how, together, we can create real, positive change: 

For The Better Good and Edible Earth, might be new to Chocolate Lovers. Can you tell us about these start-ups?

With For The Better Good, we began with a mission to redesign plastic and give people a choice away from traditional plastic water bottles. For example, you might find yourself in a situation where you don't have your reusable bottle with you and you need a bottle of water for an hour, or the day – yet you’ve got to buy it in a container that’s going to outlive your grandkids. That just doesn’t make sense. So we set out to give people a choice in those moments, to buy something that isn’t so harmful.

You might have seen our ‘Better Bottles’ in cafes and at festivals. These are water bottles made from plants, that are reusable, and at the end of their life, compostable.

However, as there weren’t really composting sites available for what we wanted to do, we had to build them. That’s where Edible Earth comes in. 

Through our Edible Earth urban farms we can:

  • stop food and packaging waste (like Better Bottles) from going to landfill
  • create healthy compost that can take carbon from the air and help rebalance our atmosphere
  • grow organic food for local communities, and
  • provide easy, ‘How-to’ articles online for anyone interested in composting at home, growing food regeneratively at home (by creating 'climate gardens') or learning about how soil health impacts our climate.

Was there an event or a person that inspired you to get into this type of work?

When I was at university I studied Design Thinking. In one of my first classes, a lecturer said, “almost everything that exists, has been designed”. Cities, cars, clothes, everything we can see. So, when something isn’t working or it’s causing problems – it’s just poor design. That made me look at the world very differently. Because, if it’s just poor design then there is an opportunity to redesign it. 

You can see how that influenced For The Better Good and our 'Better Bottles'. We saw a design problem with plastic bottles and spent three years in research and development, redesigning them to be made out of plants and collected in a system where they never need to become waste. 

You use composting as a way to break down your Better Bottles and our Whittaker’s Peanut Slab trial wrappers. Why use compost?

It came up as a solution to deal with waste because that’s how nature deals with its own waste.

A tree will grow a leaf, it will use that leaf for a season to take in light and make sugars for the soil. At the end of that useful life that leaf is not indestructible.  It falls to the ground and breaks down naturally.

That’s how we design our products at For The Better Good, and at Edible Earth, we create the environment that allows that packaging to break down naturally. In short that is, what composting allows us to do: work with nature rather than against it.

How do you check the compost remains healthy and can be used after the wrappers break down?

If you get a cake out of the oven, you know if it’s worked or not. It’s the same with compost. Really good compost is black, dark, light and fluffy. Once it’s gotten hot and cools down, suddenly all the worms come – there are signs of healthy compost just like there are signs of healthy people and healthy plants. It’s a living thing.

We also send compost samples off to labs to see what’s in there and how healthy it is. We do this as part of our organic farm certification.

Turning compost is an important part of keeping it healthy. Can you spot the Better Bottle that's been added?

Is there anything special you need to do if composting Whittaker’s Peanut Slab trial wrappers from home?

Composting at home is an interesting one. It’s awesome people are giving it a try, although a lot of home compost I’ve seen are more rotting piles of food than compost. You need to make sure to balance carbon (like, dried grass, leaves, woodchip, shredded compostable packaging) and nitrogen (food scraps).

A simple tip is to put some untreated sawdust or mulched up dried leaves near your compost bin. Then, when you put your food scraps out each week, put a scoop of sawdust/leaves (carbon) in too. That will help your compost heat up and make it active (healthy).

What values do you think Edible Earth and For The Better Good share with Whittaker’s? 

We take responsibility for what we create. We don’t just release products for the sake of products. If we did, our collaboration probably would be a chocolate water rather than a process to compost wrappers!

But it’s interesting you know – For The Better Good, we’re a young start-up company. We can be a bit loose, a little edgy, and move really quickly. For larger organisations that can be hard. I’ve been really impressed with Whittaker’s ability to act as a start-up in a way. You can change tack if you need to, which has been really cool.

What do you think our collaboration can achieve? 

I think we can show New Zealand businesses what’s possible.

Before there wasn’t really a way to package a product and not harm the environment. Or, the options that were there were ‘OK’, but they weren’t that great. Whereas For The Better Good, Edible Earth and Whittaker’s, by working together on the packaging trial – we’ve got something that we’re really quite excited about. 

Co-Chief Operating Officer at Whittaker's, Holly Whittaker, and Jayden Klinac at the launch of our Peanut Slab compostable packaging trial.

I’ll sneak in one last question, returning to compost. What would it mean for our environment if we could get more people composting at home?

If they are composting right the way, and every one person in New Zealand puts some effort into composting – whether that’s doing it yourself or using a system like ours, we’d probably see some amazing results. Right away food stops going to landfill, it’s a great tool to reverse climate change and you can use it as fertilizer to grow your own food.

But not everyone will have the space or time to learn how to compost. For example, if you’re living in a city apartment and working 40 hours a week, when and how? So it’s about making change where you can and why creating systems like the one we have for the Peanut Slab packaging trial are so important. You don’t need to compost, you can drop off the wrapper in one of our collection boxes and we’ll compost it for you. 

We started this interview talking about giving people a choice when they’re about to buy something, now we’re giving them a choice at the end of a product’s life too.

Yes, we’ve always found that individual people are the biggest changemakers. We can create a system where waste doesn’t need to exist, but to be successful people need to choose to be involved. With this trial, Chocolate Lovers have the chance to make a big difference and create a lot more possible change. I’m really excited to see what happens.

Want to learn more about composting?

Check out these useful links:

Edible Earth: For lots of great tips and 'How to' guides, from starting your own climate garden to learning how to compost from scratch.

For The Better Good: To find out more about Better Bottles and regenerative product design.

And, if you're in Wellington or Porirua, take part in our Whittaker's Peanut Slab compostable packaging trial!