I’m A Celebrity 2020: The Genius Eco-Invention That’s Changed The Camp

In its sixth season, ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here Australia’s camp has had a significant change.

Following the devastating bushfires across Australia, the show’s executive producers wanted to make sure the fire -- which is central to the celeb’s camp -- was as responsible as possible.

‘I’m A Celebrity’s Co-Executive Producer Riima Daher told 10 daily that during Season 5 a crew member approached production with a design that would also have a major environmental impact.

Alwyn van der Berg, the show’s Fabrications Manager and self-described “experiment monster”, had brought forward his design for a new firepit but Riima said it was too late to implement during the 2019 season.

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While the celebs face terrifying trials, give up their creature comforts for creepy crawlies and vie for the title of King or Queen of the jungle, it’s all for a very good cause.

“This year, amongst both Australians and South Africans, our collective crew consciousness around climate change is amplified and intensified and, because we’re all more aware than ever of our impact-responsibilities, our practices just had to change at every opportunity where there was a better solution on offer,” she said, adding, “this was unquestionably the BEST solution!”

“I invent things for sustainable development,” Alwyn told 10 daily. “I truly believe invention and art are the only things that will save the planet, getting us on the right track.”

“The firepit is designed to suck carbon down -- instead of releasing it up and out into the atmosphere,” Riima said, “through a very specific process that, if I’m going to be honest, I’m not smart enough to understand.”

And it took a LOT of googling (and one helpful metaphor about potato chips) in order for us to wrap our heads around it also. Thankfully, Alwyn is an expert.

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What he designed was a firepit that features several grids and a water basin which pulls heat and burning fuel (in this case, sustainable wood) down, creating a product known as “biochar”. Essentially, it’s very similar to charcoal but is extremely porous and holds onto approximately 50 percent of the source carbon of the materials burned, rather than releasing it back into the environment.

“The beauty of that complex scientific process is that, on the user-level, it’s super easy to operate and maintain,” Riima said. “Our celebs have been quick to adapt to it and there have been no changes to the heat it generates for warmth, or to their cooking times.”

“We can use [biochar] for multiple things in nature,” Alwyn explained, listing water purification, food additives for livestock and a soil amendment, as well as a great tool to combat climate change.

The environmental impacts of utilising biochar, rather than a traditional campfire, also means the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere isn’t just dramatically reduced, but it can be put back into the environment to promote healthier growth, used as waste management, energy generation, reduce the spread of toxins or even clean up a few nasty spills.

Adding biochar to soil increases water holding capacity, aeration and nutrient retention of the soil. It’s also what Alwyn described as a “grand hotel” for microbes and the organisms plants require for growth.

One gram of biochar has the surface area of approximately two football fields.

“Biochar has saved this show probably ten times,” he added.

While this season is the first time the camp itself is generating biochar, Alwyn and his team have been using it behind the scenes since the very first season. And sometimes it gets them out of some very sh*tty situations.

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“There was this crisis [in a past season], we had this other toilet in camp and it got clogged,” he said, “it took about 200kgs of celebrity poo and wee. The first thing the art department did was went in with like four buckets of char. We started mixing it… and in an hour or two all of the smell disappeared.

“If trials come back with like 10 million flies, it stinks and that stink is the greenhouse gasses. Immediately we cover it [with biochar] and not long after, the smell is gone. The biochar is busy sucking in those resources and if we take that char now to the soil it’s going to relate to food for plants.”

Now, rather than sending off timber scraps to be burned, Alwyn and his team turn it into biochar to be re-used later in other parts of the production.

“I’ve been in the background doing carbon blocking, trying to educate the filming industry,” Alwyn said, “we can almost go carbon neutral, or just some of it -- we can say hey, we’ve locked this much carbon just by looking at our resources.”

Riima added that the series has been working with an independent Ecological Officer who guides the production.

“In camp, everything our celebs use -- their toothpaste, soaps, shampoos, laundry detergents -- every product that enters the camp has to be eco-approved,” she said. “The toilets in camp use a biochar and sawdust system”.

“It’s a highly sustainable working environment,” she added, “it’s a work in progress, always striving to do things better both on and off set, which in TV is not often the case.

“To be part of a production that respects the environment and practices sustainability as a principle the way ‘IAC’ does… that’s a huge pride-perk of this gig.”

To find out more about how you can personally support the communities devastated by the crisis across Australia, click here.

I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! airs Sunday to Thursday at 7.30 on 10 and 10 Play.

All image embeds above are from the Sustainable People's Project, posted with Alwyn's permission.