What if all waste could be ‘food’ for another process?

Dear friends,

The ‘Herb Happening’ event in Midrand had me volunteering to assist in ‘manning’ a stand with the Earthworm Interest Group of SA (yes, indeed, there is such an organization). What a knowledgeable and passionate bunch of people they are too.

And how interest has grown ‘organically’ in the marvelous transformation that earthworms drive in veggie and fruit peelings and garden waste. A heap of vegetation becomes wonderful, rich, crumbly earthworm castings (wormy terminology for ‘poo’), feeding soil and thence plants and finally animals – including us. The added bonus of worm ’tea’, a liquid fertilizer, if the worms are ‘farmed’ in a bin, can be drained off and used as a foliar spray. And all this is done noiselessly, without odour, in the dark, in all manner of temperatures, 24 hours per day, working in harmony with multiple other organisms. Now that’s productivity! No strike action, no need for electricity, no waste or pollution, and no payment required.

All this results from the worms doing what worms are designed to do – consume decaying vegetation, ensuring that it doesn’t become a nuisance or health hazard. If the vegetation is sent to landfill and allowed to rot there, it produces methane, a significantly more damaging greenhouse gas than Carbon Dioxide.

Dung beetles are stars in the waste disposal universe too. Their utilization of dung to house their young, and burying it to boot where it nourishes the soil should have us providing a standing ovation. No fuss, no costs. Just give ‘em dung!

What if humans were to design manufacturing processes that resulted in by-products that do good, rather than unwanted and often toxic waste and pollution? The millions of Rands annually that could be saved in South Africa alone is staggering.

‘Delivery’ magazine’s March 2009 issue quotes for example the Ekurhuleni Metro’s Executive Mayor, Clr Ntombi Mekgwe, as stating that their landfill sites generated R70 665 285 in the last financial year! What if that money paid by taxpayers – or even half of it – could instead be put to use for education, housing, crime-fighting or any of the many other pressing issues that beset our land. And that figure doesn’t even include the costs of treating effluent (liquid waste) or emissions (gaseous waste).

Are there examples of manufacturers creating food from waste? Indeed. A famous example is Interface Carpets. As one of their many sustainability initiatives, their Waste Reduction goal back in the 1990s was to create zero waste. Perpetual leasing of their product was the result. They’re continually improving their production processes towards their Mission Zero commitment – to eliminate by 2020 any negative environmental influences by Interface. They call their raw materials and their waste ‘food’; the area where they receive old carpets to break them down for recycling in the factory, the ‘food processing area’.

Can you and I work towards our daily living practices resulting in reducing amounts of – and ultimately leading to zero – waste? To read more…

© Sue Bellinger, April 2009


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