In Bogotá, just past Ciudad Bolívar on the way towards Villavicencio is Doña Juana, the city’s massive landfill. Everyday some 800 trucks make the journey to the landfill from all neighborhoods of the city. Those trucks haul an estimated 7,000 tons of trash to Doña Juana every single day. It shouldn’t come as a big surprise then that, according to their website, the landfill has about ten years left of capacity.
Recycling is, of course, a major component in the city’s ambitious “Zero Waste” plan that was announced by the administration recently. At present, recycling in Bogotá seems to vary drastically. Some neighborhoods have regular weekly pick-up by waste management companies and others don’t. Some apartment buildings decide to participate – like mine, but many don’t.
In my neighborhood, every Thursday night a cute little recycling truck comes by to pick up all of our plastic, paper, glass and other recyclables. That formal system manages a fraction of the recycling in the city. While not ideal – not by a long shot – the informal recycling sector still accounts for upwards of 80% of the recycling in the city.
But what about food waste? Scraps – from homes, restaurants and institutions – is one of the top occupiers of landfills. Besides taking up space, what is most detrimental for the environment about food scraps is that, when they rot in a landfill, they create methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Methane is much more detrimental to the ozone layer than carbon dioxide and therefore has a huge impact on global warming.
Besides not buying vegetables in the first place that will just end up rotting in the ‘crisp’ drawer of the refrigerator and not wasting food, what can you do to limit the amount of organic waste heading towards the landfill?
Without a lot of space and time to maintain their own composting system, urbanites in a growing number of cities have their organic waste – usually food scraps and some paper – picked up by sanitation services or there are composting programs in neighborhoods, where organic waste can be dropped off. (Bogotá is not quite there yet.)
In my household, the amount of garbage we send off to that faraway landfill has decreased dramatically since the recycling service began. But still, I noticed that, until very recently, probably 75% of our trash was food scraps. That is until I discovered bucket composting with bokashi.
Bokashi is a high-speed bucket composting method that was developed in Japan. It is a mixture of efficient microorganisms (EMs) mixed in with wheat bran that is sprinkled onto organic waste in a special garbage can.
Here is how it works: You start with a layer of bokashi at the bottom of the bucket, add food scraps (preferably cut into smallish pieces), sprinkle more bokashi on and so forth. After about two weeks, the organic waste, begins to more or less ferment. At that time you can bury it in a shallow trench in the ground, and cover it with about six inches of dirt. Within two months, that soil will be packed with nutrients and ready to be used as excellent compost for gardening or just to enrich the earth. Most importantly all that organic waste isn’t creating methane gas.
Bokashi containers actually have two levels. As the organic waste begins to ferment, liquid seeps down to the bottom layer. This liquid is a highly potent fertilizer. It has to be diluted 1 part liquid to 100 parts water (!) for it to be used on plants. It’s like vitamins for them. It can also be poured down the drain, which is apparently good for water systems.
I have a small garden where I have been burying my bokashi composting. You really do not notice it at all. No flies, no smell and not even the dog seems interested in it.
But can you use the bokashi system if you don’t have a place to bury the organic waste? Here is where you have to be a little creative. Maybe your apartment complex has land for a small composting area or the local park might be interested in receiving your composting. Or you could guerrilla compost – dig a little hole in a patch of land that could use some love – late at night – and dump in your bokashi concoction.
Fundases, a project of the Minuto de Dios, promotes sustainable agriculture throughout Colombia and has introduced environmentally-friendly techniques such as bokashi bucket composting to mostly rural communities where waste management systems are lacking or nonexistent.
In Bogotá, Fundases sells bokashi buckets for under $30,000 with each bag of bokashi costing under $6,000.