A few years ago, Fiona Kelleher and her kids stood at their kitchen window in Clonakilty looking out in bewilderment. They were watching Kieran Coffey, Fiona’s husband, as he worked in their garden on something that – truth be told – looked a bit nuts.
‘He had a bucket, a hose, and what looked like a giant egg,’ Fiona says.
‘We were like “what is he doing?” Then all of a sudden bubbles were coming out of the bucket and he was jumping up and down going “Yes! There’s gas!”’
As it turned out, Fiona and her kids had just witnessed the ‘eureka!’ moment of a new invention. Kieran, a longtime mechanical engineer, had just invented Ireland’s first micro-scale anaerobic biodigester.
Ireland’s first what?
Now you might be thinking: Why all the excitement?
What does one even do with a micro-scale anaerobic biodigester?
Well, this particular anaerobic biodigester takes care of nearly 100% of your food waste.
You feed in all your scraps and waste – even hard-to-compost foods like cooked meats, dairy, cakes and liquids go in. Then the anaerobic bacteria get to work breaking down the waste.
After that, out come two very different ready-to-use products: a biogas for cooking and a nutrient-rich liquid fertiliser for gardening.
Food waste goes in. Gas and fertiliser come out.
(Now are you starting to get the cause for Kieran’s excitement?)
Life gets better with the egg
Since its invention in 2017, Fiona and Kieran’s family haven’t been without a biodigester, or an ‘egg’ as they refer to it.
Using the egg has led to some massive lifestyle improvements for them.
‘We were never really into gardening or growing food. That was the biggest thing to change with the digester,’ Kieran says.
‘During lockdown, we set up the polytunnel and started using the fertiliser from the egg to grow tomatoes and courgettes. Because not only have you got a way to get rid of your food waste, you’ve also got a way to grow more food. And the taste was extraordinary. We had loads of tomatoes so we gave them to friends. They couldn’t get over how tasty they were compared to what they were buying from shops.’
Fiona and Kieran have only seen positives come out of using the egg. They love cooking with the biogas they produce themselves, and having no bill for fertiliser.
But how have their kids found life with the egg?
‘For our kids – older teenagers – the egg has just become quite normal,’ Fiona says.
‘The kids use it to get rid of our food waste, and they cook on the gas it produces. They look out to see if the gas bag is full or empty. They don’t put anything down the sink or throw stuff in the bin. Everything goes into the egg. Those behaviours were formed naturally simply because they took our lead. Kieran and I were the ones changing our behaviour, but the kids took it on as well.’
Maybe… more than just an experiment
The family never expected the egg to turn into a business.
For the first few years, Fiona and the kids thought it was just another one of Kieran’s engineering side projects he liked to experiment with.
But all that changed in 2019 when Kieran and the family’s biodigester were featured on RTÉ in an episode of Eco Eye. Public interest swiftly followed.
‘The feature caused a bounce of enquiries we weren’t quite prepared for,’ Fiona says. ‘But that’s what put us down the road of going out to install a unit in a local café.
At that point, Kieran started thinking maybe he’d take some time out of his job to focus on the future of the egg. That’s when MyGug, the business, started to take shape.
Before long, other businesses and domestic customers got on board, and the awards and recognition started rolling in…
In 2021, MyGug made the shortlist for the National Startup Awards.
They’ve received Local Enterprise Office and microfunding finance of €60,000 and qualified as an Enterprise Ireland High Potential Startup.
‘The novelty doesn’t wear off’
Now Fiona and Kieran are both fully focussed on bringing MyGug to businesses and consumers throughout Ireland.
The customers who own a MyGug rave about how it’s improved their lives and how its ‘novelty doesn’t wear off.’ It’s food waste one evening and the next morning it’s gas.
For these customers, the egg has simplified the removal of food waste, cut their energy bills, and created a circular economy all while skyrocketing their sustainability efforts.
Particularly for food businesses, where food waste originates from multiple sources (from the prep stage, food that has gone out-of-date, and food that’s left on customers’ plates) there’s the appealing potential to greatly reduce food waste grams per cover.
As Fiona says, ‘This kind of technology gives people power to make change right away in a very meaningful way. You can make so much of a difference by cutting carbon emissions, cutting off your dependence from outside sources, and becoming more independent in your life in terms of how you eat, how you grow, and how you treat the planet.’
Imagine having to wash your clothes in the bath
As the first and longest users, there’s no one who understands the benefits of owning a MyGug as well as Fiona and Kieran’s family.
It became obvious just how much they’d come to rely on their egg when early on, issues with the prototype put it out of commission for a while.
‘The difference was night and day. It was such a pain,’ Kieran remembers. ‘It’s a bit like getting rid of your washing machine. Imagine having a washing machine and then you don’t have it for four weeks and you have to go up to the bath and start washing.’
Now the family – kids included – are shocked when they see people scrape food waste into the bin. It feels foreign to them.
So once you’re used to the conveniences of life with a MyGug, what’s life like without one?
‘Honestly,’ Kieran says, ‘it’s like going backwards.’
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