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Leading our local sustainable future

06 Aug 2019

Leading our local sustainable future Image

By Sean Car

South Melbourne Market’s operations manager Adam Mehegan has completely transformed the market’s sustainable practices in his five-and-a-half years in the role.

In the midst of the waste and recycling crisis currently plaguing Melbourne, it’s leaders like Adam and his team who provide an important source of hope for the community.

Determined to help the market’s traders and customers limit their impact on the planet, Adam is continuously looking to implement new measures that force changes in behaviour.

Taking Southbank Local News on a tour through the market’s loading dock last month, the impact that his passion is having on the market’s operations was both fascinating and inspiring.

“This backyard is like my university,” Adam told Southbank Local News. “I work on the premise that I don’t ask for permission, I ask for forgiveness.”

“Our contract is cleaning and waste management. A cleaning contractor would engage a waste company and when I started there were specific components required from a contractor.”

“It included things such as reduction of waste to landfill but we’re not educating the cleaners, improving our waste and finding new ways of doing things so I thought who is going to do it? I’m going to do it, aren’t I? I’ll take ownership of it and do it myself.”

Open four days a week and operating on a modest footprint, streamlining and enhancing its waste management systems has been vitally important in ensuring the community market remains the thriving space that it is today. Here are just some of the innovative ways it is making a difference.

Organic waste

The market has installed a machine, known as the GG1200, which processes about 470 tonnes of organic waste annually. Twice a day, about 600kg of product, which includes fish offal, coffee grounds, sushi, greens and orange rinds from juicers, is processed through the machine at 175 degrees and broken down.

The moisture is extracted over nine hours and after cooling down, is then processed into bags of soil food, which the market then sells to customers as slow release fertiliser, which Adam said was fantastic for the garden.

“Smells alright doesn’t it? When you have heaps of citrus and coffee in it you get a bit of a Christmas cake smell sometimes!” he said. “The beautiful thing about our product is that because of the seafood it has a 25 per cent nitrogen content. It’s a slow release and it’s 100 per cent organic concentrated and super-rich in nutrients.”

Adam said the market was also collaborating on a project with food rescue charity FareShare by providing it with soil food for its community projects.

The market is the only one in Australia that has a worm project of its size: approximately 150 tonnes (or six cubic metres) a week to be exact. Partnering with Wiggly Recyclers in Werribee, everything from paper, lawn clippings and green scraps are converted into compost.

Adam said he would soon be implementing working worm farms in the market to show the public. It will also soon sell the worms to customers, which according to Adam, fed off very special mix … “Our product is mixed with rhino poo from the Werribee Zoo I’ve been told!”


Using its own recycling partners Vanden and Australian Paper Recovery (APR), the market hasn’t been impacted by the current dramas gripping its council thanks to the closure of SKM.

A few key changes in this space under Adam’s leadership has been the installation of a bailing machines for polystyrene and milk bottles. As he said, in a 100 sqm waste management area, space was key.

Having previously been bailed into large 200kg loads, the new machine now air compresses polystyrene into neat bricks, resulting a significant reduction of volume. The change has seen collection go from three times a fortnight to once every five weeks, limiting truck movements and softening its carbon footprint.

Locals are also invited to bring their milk bottles to the market anytime, according to Adam. With the market using around 750 bottles of milk a week of its own, its bailer machine can compact 1000 in a single bail. Made from high-density polyethylene, milk bottles, like polystyrene, are both highly sought-after products for the building industry which use it for the likes of installation panelling and foundation pads for new developments. As a result, the market now earns money for what was once just considered waste.

It also runs a range of other recycling initiatives for other things such as glass, oil and …


This project, which was entirely thanks to Adam’s self-described “stalking” of a not-for-profit organisation called The Nature Conservancy, has been one of the market’s most transformative changes to date.

Going through around 3000 dozen oyster shells a week, Adam said the shells had previously created a massive by-product, which would previously go to landfill. Instead, the market has to date contributed 28 tonnes of oyster shells to the Nature Conservancy’s program to restore decimated reefs in Port Phillip Bay.

“In nature, oyster shells or scallop shells when they die that shell is used as a foundation for new shellfish to grow,” Adam said. “So, they establish the sandstone and drop the shell on and once it’s actually established with the seaweed and algae, they’ll go and plant the oyster spat. To date there is about 1100 sqm of reef that they’ve established. There is a beautiful, healthy, ecosystem out there now.”

Energy and water

The market’s roof has turned into an incredible resource for its traders. Not only does it currently hold 34kw of solar capacity, with another 200kw to be added soon (reducing energy bills by around $60,000 annually), the rooftop carpark acts as a water catchment that feeds a half-a-million-litre water tank.

This water is used for washdowns throughout the market and by the likes of the market’s florist for potable water. This combined with sub-metering the 76 stalls holders who actually use water at the market, bills have been slashed.

What’s next?

While the market runs a range of other initiatives, Adam said that new initiatives targeting items such as coffee cups, egg cartons and heating were next in line. And, of course, those notorious plastic soy sauce fish were on notice!

“We’ve tried to get rid of the plastic soy sauce fish by putting bottles on the tables,” he said. “Some of the shops still sell them but it’s a slow education process. Same with wasabi packets; we’ve started putting that in bottles too.”

“I come the generation of convenience. Like the plastic bags, which we were the first to ban. It’s lazy and it’s convenient. We need to actually change the behaviour.”

“There’s always more to come. We’re not resting.”

South Melbourne Market will host its annual Sutainable September campaign starting from August 26. To learn more visit


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