THEY may not know it, but some restaurant customers in Yorkshire have been munching recycled cardboard with their champagne.
The unique process of developing caviar from recycled cardboard was presented by Graham Wiles, from the Green Business Network, West Yorkshire, at the Social Economy Finance 2006 conference in Northern Ireland.
Organisers Ulster Community Investment Trust described it as a thinking "outside the box" moment as European subsidies continue to reduce, according to the organisation.
Mr Wiles told delegates that he identified an opportunity for reusing cardboard waste by shreddding it for use as bedding at local farms and equestrian centres.
The soiled bedding is then taken away for composting. During this process, worms are added to break down the cardboard into very fine compost. Another by product to this process however is many more worms.
To stop the spread of worms, the social enterprise developed a fish tank system to produce Siberian sturgeon that could eat the excess worms.
As the sturgeon reached an appropriate size they could then be sold as food for human consumption, with some being raised to maturity for the production of caviar to be sold to local hotels and restaurants.
The scheme was set up to help young disadvantaged people with a background of substance abuse find full-time employment by teaching them new skills in a sustainable industry. All profit generated is ploughed back into the scheme.
The conference, staged in the Armagh City Hotel, aimed to look at new methods of financing the community and voluntary sector. UCIT was set up to bring a commercial approach to the sector through providing dedicated loan finance combined with free mentoring and support.
Since 2001, the UCIT social enterprise loan fund has assisted over 100 projects with loans totalling in excess of £ 12 million.
Twenty-five social enterprise exhibitors highlighted the range of services which can now be purchased locally and through doing so enable individuals and companies to give back to their local community. Other organisations present were the River Valley Community Development Association who were promoting their award winning self-catering cottages ?Hanna's Close' and a new fishery and walking scheme both located in the Mournes.
The Kilkeel River, which flows through the land has been restored and restocked utilising native fish. The Association has also established two new walks.
Also participating were AVEC Solutions, a company providing IT consultancy and technical support services.
Based in East Belfast, any profit generated by the organisation is either reinvested into the company to ensure the continued delivery of the service, or redistributed through charitable bodies seeking to work for the benefit of the whole community.
? Trudi Dunlop is Marketing Executive for the Ulster Community Investment Trust.