Reduce the amount we buy

All over the world there is an imbalance in the amount of food people eat. There are millions of people world-wide who are hungry all the time, yet the western world is experiencing an epidemic of obesity.

More than 9 million tonnes of food waste is generated per year in South Africa. Around 4% of this waste is generated by consumers which is around 7 kg per capita per year. Post-harvest, handling and storage contributes 26%, processing and packaging around 27%, agricultural production 26% and distribution 4%.

South Africa, as most other countries on the continent, has concerns about food security. The inter-dependence of developing countries with developed nations is a factor here, as is currently being seen with the projected food cost increase due to the drought in the US and subsequent drop in maize production.

It is estimated that between 12 and 14 million people in South Africa are currently food insecure. For instance, about 68% of rural people in the North West are not sure where their next meal is coming from.

On the environmental front there are particular concerns about food waste that is landfilled. The main problem with sending organic waste to landfill is the decomposition of the waste. This generates methane and leachate in the landfill which has not only the potential to drastically contaminate ground water but methane is also a greenhouse gas with 21 times the capacity of carbon dioxide to cause global warming. Spontaneous fires can also occur when the conditions of decomposition are favourable, which is risky not only to humans but contributes to air pollution.

We can control the amount of food we buy and the amount of food that goes to waste. Sustainable living means buying just what we need, what we can keep fresh and what we should eat to maintain a healthy diet. We have almost forgotten the satisfaction of buying produce, picked that morning, from a local market.

Dealing with what is left

What about the bits we don’t use? Those who are fortunate to have a garden can return the nutrients to the soil. There are several ways of doing this.

The simplest is to just dig a trench in the garden and bury it. Natural soil micro-organisms will break down the organic matter in a week or two and leave all the nutrients in the soil. Plant the next vegetable crop on top.

We could feed it to the worms. A worm farm is an excellent hobby for those who like what the little critters can accomplish. Food and garden scraps are turned into leachate (or worm tea), a brilliant fertiliser, and compost for the garden.

If you don’t have a garden or you have no affinity for the soil, anaerobic fermentation of the food scraps is another option. Bokashi is an easy and fast way to turn your kitchen food scraps into nutrient rich soil conditioner! Bokashi, Japanese for “fermented organic matter” is a natural anaerobic fermentation process using anaerobic micro-organisms such as Lactobacilli, yeasts and phototrophic microbes.

Bokashi composting emits no foul odours and breaks down food scraps in a fraction of the time of conventional composting, providing the soil with rich nutrients and microorganisms. Unlike traditional composting, Bokashi enables us to compost all our food scraps including meat, fish, dairy and small bones and this is done with zero waste of nutrients, nitrogen or carbon into the atmosphere. So using Bokashi is a good natural way to reduce, reuse and recycle organic waste. It helps reduce greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane and bad smells like hydrogen sulphide and ammonia, associated with scrap composting. It is also much faster at breaking down our food scraps. Fermenting our scraps is a lot like making wine. In the Bokashi system, the lack of oxygen and the relatively low acidity prevent the organisms that produce gas and smells from forming, and any that were present will not be able to survive.

Bokashi mixed with food or garden wastes allows recycling which reduces the amount of waste in landfills. The processed waste ends up in our gardens or the worm bin. A healthy balance of microbes goes into the soil with the fermented scraps, re-establishing the high microbial counts present in healthy soil.

Managing our food waste at home therefore has several positive outcomes. We can vitalise our own soil with valuable nutrients and micro-organisms; we can reduce the amount of waste that has to be collected and transported to landfill at great expenses; we can reduce the contamination of dry solid waste, allowing for more waste to be recovered for recycling and thus saving valuable resources; it reduces the formation of methane, leachate and other harmful substances in landfills which pollute the environment; it reduces the amount of waste that has to be ‘dumped’ and so extends the life of landfill sites, saving money and valuable habitats. Now isn’t that worth a little effort?