Use waste as a resource
12Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
How can we harness the power of organic waste to improve soil condition? According to the UN Environment Programme, some 60% of South Africa’s land has very low levels of organic matter, making it susceptible to degradation and low productivity. There is an urgent need to restore organic matter. At the same time, domestic organic waste that is capable of improving soil structure is simply being driven into landfill.
Up to 40% of Johannesburg’s municipal solid waste is food waste. It decomposes into methane in anaerobic conditions, causing these sites to be the second highest producers of methane in the country.
Himkaar Singh vividly remembers a visit to a water treatment facility some 20 years ago, where the guide warned of the need to conserve water in the future. These were words that stuck with him. After training as a civil engineer, and working in Durban and Johannesburg, he became acutely aware of the country’s need for more effective water management.
He left South Africa during its recent water crises – not to avoid the problem but to find a solution. He spent time in Germany, Vietnam and Jordan to look at different models of water management. Then he returned, to start a business with a circular model to improve the soil’s ability to hold water, with a larger vision of improving food security.
Vermicompost is compost made by earthworms. They eat organic waste and excrete rich compost which is especially good for organic farming. It is known as the best type of compost because it is so biologically rich and nutrient dense.
The Compost Kitchen collects food waste from its subscriber households on a weekly basis. They then heat treat it and, with the help of earthworms, recycle the waste into vermicompost. They then give the vermicompost back to the customer for free in a craft paper bag, so they can use it in their vegetable garden to grow food again.
His customers, who have no access to municipal recycling or composting services, pay 190 rand per month for this service. The business started at neighbourhood level, but Himkaar’s vision is to evolve the model using a circular economy approach which would valorise food waste and allow the company to go global. This would enable people to earn income from making vermicompost at home, which is expected to be a significant enough incentive to get people to compost their food waste.