Business Story - Atlas soil
Atlas Soils CE4B case study
North Queensland business leading commercial, household organic waste circular economy in local markets
Household food waste, coffee grounds, organic waste and fruit scraps which would otherwise be destined for landfill are being re-purposed into a range of valuable soil rejuvenation products at a Townsville business at the forefront of the local circular economy.
For the past two years, Atlas Soils directors Jason Lange, Steve Hannah and Paul Bull have been collecting local waste from households, businesses and the council and processing into a variety of soil end products capable of rejuvenating everything from garden beds and lawns to mine sites, developments, agricultural land and cities – where it’s needed most.
As part of CCIQ's CE4B program, Atlas has worked with more than 30 local businesses and three local government areas to divert more than 2,000 tonnes of green waste and 500 tonnes of soil from landfill and produced enough HumiSoil to remediate close to 250 hectares of soil.
Using novel, natural, microbial biotechnologies and processes, Atlas Soils convert organic and earth waste materials into a range of commercial products and ecological services that improve soils, lawn health, tree health and agricultural yields; creating local jobs and new businesses in the process.
Their vision is to completely transform how cities and businesses view ‘waste’ and use North Queensland skills and technologies to convert to these hidden resources and restore healthy soils in agricultural, natural, and urban environments whilst improving water quality to the Great Barrier Reef.
“Atlas Soils is taking big risks and working hard with locals to bring circular economy products and services to the region that have never been seen before,” Steve said.
“The region has an opportunity here to turn that waste into world class products and allow the community and business to participate in that journey”.
“We have a responsibility not just to us but to our kids, to live in a city which is repurposing waste to not just save money, but to make the city better for generations to come.
“We’re also on the doorstep of the Great Barrier Reef, where all our waste and water, if not treated right, can spoil one of the seven wonders of the world.”
A tonne of coffee grounds voluntary collected from 15 local cafes adds nitrogen, fruit waste from nearby businesses adds potassium and sugars and carbon rich waste direct from wheelie bins in northern Townsville suburbs lands at Atlas Soils every week.
During the humification process, the raw materials are biologically broken down into smaller pieces, ‘spread out like peanut butter’ and sprayed, mounded into a pile and kept below 55C for six weeks. It’s covered in plastic, sprayed with a catalyst and re-covered for another 20 weeks. After the 26 week period the base material is screened into various size classes that are then used in a range of products, projects and applications.
The Groundswell(r) process, pioneered by VRM Biologik, replicates what the rainforest does in more than 50 years and uses catalysts to condense this into a six month process to create HumiSoil(r), organic soil enhances which are brimming with soil biology and rich in humus that can enhance existing pastures or lawns, reducing the need for fertilizers and water.
The product is a concentrated soil additive, ‘full of life and goodies’ to encourage growth and happens to be made from 100% local waste.
Diversion of organics from landfill reduces methane emissions at one end, while the application of humic soil products to land reduces the use of virgin materials and synthetic fertilisers. In addition, improved soils through application of their microbial products captures more water, reduces runoff and erosion, and improves crop health and productivity.
“We engage local businesses in the smaller urban market, to think about their waste and how we can turn it into a valuable product which we also showcase in their business,” Steve said.
“We are also working with other local businesses and our distributors to offer our products in both raw format, without packaging, in refillable bags and we are soon to launch packaging that at end of life can be used to make more product.
“We were looking at doing more than taking it to landfill or using it as clean fill, we wanted to value-add the product and put it to good use.
“Rather than having a downgraded, poor soil, we wanted to use other waste streams in the circular economy project to turn that into something more valuable and enrich the soil.
“The end user is anybody and everybody, especially the urban market to make sure we have a tight circular economy. It might be someone who wants a better lawn, fruit or roses, or the commercial sector like mining rehabilitation, or farmers.”
Steve said the team at Atlas Soils had created a local circular economy so in demand over the past two years, they were already planning to upscale to produce enough HumiSoil to supply the local market.
“The key is we’ve built a market first, we have faith in the products and the results have been proven and now we need to work to meet the demand we have created,” he said.
“We have more of a market than what we can provide and as we develop more products and uses for waste material we plan to grow here in the North.”
Steve said CCIQ’s CE4B program allowed the business access to a network with shared challenges, expertise and knowledge.
“When we first started Atlas Soils, we needed a bit of direction or an organisation that would help us foster our vision,” Steve said.
“From the very start CCIQ gave us a direction, a plan to formalise and further our direction.
“The CCIQ program was a great introduction to a group of like-minded people who were in different industries but had the same common problem with a waste stream which we wanted to do something with.
“From textiles to timber, we all had a common problem in getting a leg up. We were able to link up with others, talk to the right people.
“It’s important for us to not only do what’s right for ourselves but be able to share ideas and resources or equipment, even a waste stream. We were able to start a conversation about that environment and the circular economy.
“It’s valuable to get onto paper what you’re trying to do, to get a military outlook, and work with other people and organisations who are able to help you get there.”
Their next move will see the humification process hit the road, and able to re-purpose waste on other sites and meet demand in new markets, for example the North Queensland sugar cane industry.
“Rather than bringing the waste to us, we can take Atlas soils to them,” Steve said.
“We’re Queenslanders and if you’re passionate about something you need to run with it, we have a passion for this and doing it well from the beginning.”
About CCIQ’s CE4B
The ecoBiz Circular Economy Pilot was designed to learn about the validity of employing CE principles for existing businesses in Queensland. CE is a core priority within the Queensland Government policy roadmap but much of it is focused on new design which presents a significant risk to the more than 450,000 businesses currently operating on traditional models of linear resource consumption.
This pilot’s primary purpose was to identify three projects that were looking to retrofit CE into their business operation and support the development of those projects over the course of a year. The pilot provided resources in the form of expert consultation, workshopping ideas and limited capital expenditure. The processes yielded a wealth of knowledge that will be used to feed directly back into Queensland Government policy development, and CCIQ’s ability to support businesses transitioning to a new economy.