Did you know that almost one-third of all food produced in the world goes to waste? Apart from the social and humanitarian consequences of such food wastage, spoiled food is a top environmental hazard – about 6% of all methane that contributes to climate change is generated by the incorrect disposal of food waste. Fortunately, what you do with food waste at home can make a difference and when you know how to compost, you will realise what an easy and rewarding process it is!
What can I do?
The first and most important step is what we actually spoke about in Pledge #2 – buying less junk! We should also cut down the amount of food we buy at any one time – a good way to do this is to have a meal plan in mind and then visit the grocer or supermarket. But what can you do with the food waste you create anyway from kitchen scraps and inevitable spoilage? You can learn how to compost!
Here are some tips – including ideas for those that do not have a garden:
What is composting anyway? Simply put, composting is “managed decomposition” so that harmful by-products are minimised, and useful nutrients are preserved in a way that makes them accessible to plants.
How Do I Prevent Waste?
- Get creative with leftovers! Check out MyFridgeFood and SuperCook to help you find a recipe to use the ingredients you already have
- Use your freezer! Frozen vegetables often have as many nutrients as fresh vegetables as they are frozen almost immediately when picked
- Blend, bake or boil: just like the famous Covid-19 banana bread, many fruits and even vegetables, once overripe, are still perfectly fine, if not better, to create all kinds of things like smoothies, soups, jams, and stocks
- Use vegetable scraps to make stock
- Use stale bread and crusts to make crumbs and croutons.
If you don’t have much space:
- Get a bokashi bin – the fermentation process involved produces very little methane while stripping nutrients from food waste. Bokashi bins are excellent for people living in flats who cannot produce a lot but still want to experience the benefits of composting.
- Support a community garden – there are many projects around Cape Town that will happily take your compost or suitable organic food scraps! Keep a small bucket or container with a firm lid specifically for this
- Small vermicompost systems, a.k.a. worm farms, are great for small gardens or balconies. These work well with the diluted solid scraps from a bokashi bin.
If you do have a garden/space:
- Consider a compost heap or bin. Trench composting is a commonly used technique, but it actually releases quite a lot of methane.
- Get creative and use your veggie scraps to grow more food.
Why does it matter?
We might not always think it, but we are actually part of the greater food chain and therefore, the benefits of composting affect not only us, but our greater ecosystem. We tend to take out, but then forget that we are also supposed to put something back. Knowing how to compost is an easy and effective way of putting vital nutrients back into the food chain, and at the same time preventing more pressure on our already over-full landfills. Here’s just a small glimpse into the true cost of the 1.3 billion tons of food waste generated each year:
- 200 trillion litres of water – about a quarter of all water used to produce food.
- 6% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and thus 6% of the blame for climate change.
We’ve already discussed the other impacts that our excessive consumption of all things has on our planet and society – and food is no different. We certainly aren’t saying that by being more careful with your own food intake you can magically feed people without access to food, but what we are saying is that your spending habits play a very real role in shaping how retailers and, through them, producers prioritise the quality and distribution of their products.
Myth-busting: Composting is the same as rotting in a dump.
When organic material decomposes it can do so in two broad ways – aerobically (in the presence of air) and anaerobically (in the absence of air). In anaerobic conditions, the types of bacteria that thrive produce methane, which is a very potent greenhouse gas – 72% more potent than CO2! Aerobic decomposition involves different kinds of microorganisms that release CO2 instead of methane. In a landfill, where organic matter is squished up with non-biodegradable plastics and other water, no air gets in and only sticky, inefficient anaerobic rotting takes place, unlike a well-managed compost heap which lets lots of air in and isn’t smelly at all.
Who can I follow?
It’s worth following Ocean Pledge for some tips for how to compost at home!
Cape Town’s Green Guerrillas is an amazing organisation that is heralding low-cost urban agriculture based on the principle that nature provides abundantly. Throughout lockdown, they have been teaching people from Masiphumele how to compost, about the benefits of composting, how to create healthy soil, and how to produce food during times of scarcity. There are other examples of great organisations like this – feel free to add you suggestions to the comments section at the end of this article.
WWF South Africa is also actively working with government and business to reduce South Africa’s more than 10 million tonnes of annual food waste.