Food waste recycling startup Goterra, a company Woolworths is relying on to help it achieve net zero food waste, has won the 2023 Startup Daily Best in Tech Awards’ Best Sustainability Startup award, sponsored by Zembl.
In many ways Goterra is a simple idea – a circular economy business that harnesses the power of nature to tackle climate change.
Its processing plants use black soldier fly larvae to eat through food waste. But it’s the way former sheep farmer Olympia Yarger has gone about it that’s revolutionised the idea, creating modular systems that can be set up anywhere, in the process cutting the transport costs and emissions normally associated with recycling.
Inside the high-tech, shipping container-sized units, dubbed ‘Maggot Robots’, the larvae can devour vast amounts of food waste, reducing it by 95% in just 24 hours.
In just 12 days, the byproduct is garden fertiliser and nutrient dense protein feed for livestock. The maggots themselves are native: the species hails from Queensland’s Daintree rainforest.
From launch to supermarket sustainability
Yarger launched Goterra in 2016, receiving backing from agtech VC Tenacious Ventures and Atlassian cofounder Mike Cannon-Brookes’ family fund Grok Ventures. The company recently landed a $10 million bridging round as it sets up a new factory in Western Sydney to process food waste from Woolies is looking to raise a Series B later this year.
Woolworths is the foundation customer for a new $3.5 million Goterra processing factory at Wetherill Park, 38km west of Sydney’s CBD. Food that isn’t appropriate for hunger relief charities will be sent to the plant from Woolies stores across the Sydney region. It’s expected to process around 600,000 tonnes of food waste annually – waste normally trucked to landfill sites outside the metro area.
The supermarket has been utilising Goterra’s technology in a small-scale trial across its ACT stores since 2020 and has set itself the target of diverting all food waste from landfill by 2025.
As well as taking Goterra to the next level, Yarger said the project will also create 12 new jobs.
“For too long, food waste has languished in toxic landfills hundreds of kilometres from our cities,” she said.
“Our partnership with forward-thinking partners like Woolworths is helping change that.”
The size of the climate change problem Goterra is tackling is bigger than many realise. Food waste accounts for about 3% of Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.
To put that in perspective, it’s a bigger problem than the aviation sector, with food going to landfill generating the methane equivalent to around 6.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Startup Daily has personal experience of using Goterra, which has a processing plant in the basement of our building at Barangaroo, processing food waste generated from the offices of the Lendlease office towers.
Scaling up for a food waste revolution
Accepting the award for Best Sustainability Startup at the Startup Daily Best in Tech Awards, Goterra’s manager of customer success, Matthew Woloszuk, said they have a “massive vision” and want to change how the world thinks about food waste.
“Completely removing it from our waste stream and contributing to climate change is something to strive for,” he said.
“Our Wetherill Park facility will be our biggest one to date, servicing suburban Sydney, starting with 9 units and potentially expanding to 12.”
It’s a massive scale up for the business, which so far has processed more than 35,000 tonnes of food waste, saving around 50 million kilograms of CO2-equivalent emissions.
What drives everyone at Goterra, Woloszuk said, is the potential impact they can have for the planet and our future.
“That’s the ultimate goal. It’s about impact,” he said.
The other finalists in the Best Sustainability Startup category were:
Hysata, for their work to rapidly scale a climate technology that can produce green hydrogen critical to a net zero economy.
Kapture, the first company in the world to decarbonise diesel generators, reducing air pollution and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
This article is brought to you by Startup Daily, with the support of Zembl.