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Earthworms Unleashed: Waste to Food's Recipe for Sustainable Success

A groundbreaking social and environmental start-up, Waste to Food, co-founded by Phumlani Dlongwana and Roger Jaques, is making waves with its transformative approach to recycling food waste. Recognized with the prestigious Class of 2015 award for Business Most Likely to Succeed from the University of Stellenbosch’s Small Business Academy, Waste to Food is not just an eco-friendly endeavor but a beacon of economic potential and food security contribution.

Phumlani Dlongwana expressed his personal satisfaction with the award, stating, "Winning the Academy’s award is a confirmation of the vision Roger Jaques and I share. Extracting nutrient value from organic waste isn't just a nice idea; it holds real economic potential while addressing food security in our society."

Waste to Food's innovative approach involves feeding food waste destined for landfills to earthworms, producing high-quality vermicompost that enhances soil fertility and aids in plant pest and disease control. With ten industrial-scale earthworm composting systems, aptly named Worm Hammocks, successfully piloted at the Philippi Fresh Produce Market site, Jaques and Dlongwana aim to scale their project on an industrial level, revolutionizing the way society handles organic waste.

Co-founder Roger Jaques explaining the composting process using the Earthworm Hammock system.

The initiative, launched in 2012 with support from Closing the Loop, the City of Cape Town, and Pick 'n Pay, has received a significant boost with a R2 million grant from the Ackerman Pick 'n Pay Foundation. This funding, along with Pick 'n Pay's commitment to divert organic waste from its stores, secures a sustainable source for the project and fosters job creation and local entrepreneurship.

Anticipating the acquisition of the Hotrot in-vessel composting system in the coming months, Waste to Food plans to upscale, processing around 28 tons of food waste per week. The Hotrot system will enable the inclusion of a broader range of food types, such as meat, cooked food, pastry, and dairy products, creating a premium compost product with wider applications.

Looking ahead, Waste to Food envisions offering Worm Hammock systems on a micro-franchise model, empowering entrepreneurs, especially from low-income communities. The patented Worm Hammock design proves to be a commercially viable option, allowing small-scale entrepreneurs to run multiple units efficiently.

Waste to Food employees harvesting vermicompost; and showing a container with vermicompost.

Roger Jaques emphasizes the broader impact of Waste to Food, stating, "Vermiculture is just one aspect of ‘Closing the Loop,' changing how we generate and consume food." The project not only addresses food waste but opens avenues for social upliftment, offering opportunities in food and ornamental plant production.

Phumlani Dlongwana's role in Waste to Food was recently recognized with a Distell-sponsored award, highlighting his potential as an entrepreneur. Thomas Swana, CEO of Philippi Economic Development Initiative (Pedi), sees Waste to Food as a potential job creator in an area with high poverty levels and scarce job opportunities.

With accolades and support pouring in, Waste to Food stands as a testament to the transformative power of innovative thinking and sustainable practices, promising a greener, economically viable future for Cape Town.


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