Jan 15 2013
So it’s been many months since this website was created and I have not had the time nor inclination to update the blog on a regular basis. This is a pity and I am already regretting it, but let’s see if I can catch you up on what has been happening on the ‘waste’ side of things.
After exploring the research topic of waste management in informal settlements for several months, I finally had a break through when the municipality conducted a waste characterisation study of the greater Stellenbosch area. This included Enkanini, the informal settlement that the group is doing its research on. The results of this study showed an overwhelming percentage of waste generated in the informal settlement is food waste, also referred to as organic or kitchen waste. Not that this was a surprise as it confirmed what other studies had already found out, however, it led me to focus on one category of the waste spectrum. I also felt that food waste was one of the more pressing issues in the settlement as this is the waste that starts rotting, thus attracting pests and so with pathogen carriers, and therefore becoming a relatively bigger threat to people’s health and well-being.
I have seen quite a number of articles in the media recently referring to the incredible amount of food that is wasted (many of these referring to the United States, but assuming that this is the case for many developed nations) and how our landfills are filling up at an alarming rate due to all of this rubbish that could actually be diverted and processed in such a manner that it has a useful second life. The fact that we (collectively in the world) waste far too much food is currently not the point I am trying to make. Instead, the fact that the majority of this food lands up in a landfill where it creates even more problems through emitting GHGs and contaminating ground water is socially and environmentally irresponsible.
The Pilot Project
At the end of 2012 I conducted a pilot project in Enkanini with the help of our 3 co-researchers that live in the settlement. The pilot included 100 households that were each issued a Bokashi unit. Bokashi is a product that has it’s origins in Japan and is basically wheat bran inoculated with effective micro-organisms. Sprinkling Bokashi over food waste allows the waste to be stored for a number of weeks (even months) because instead of the food waste rotting it ferments. Essentially the food waste is being pickled. Not only does this allow for faster composting (if this is the chosen final processing method) but it also eliminates the unpleasant smell of methane that is associated with rotting food waste and it keeps flies and other pathogen carriers away. When I refer to a Bokashi unit, in this case that consists of two 25 litre buckets which are stacked, the inside one with holes drilled into the bottom to allow for liquid drainage, a lid to ensure the process remains anaerobic, and the Bokashi bran itself.
The unit was handed out to 100 voluntary participants/households which were asked to separate their food waste into these buckets, treat it with Bokashi and then to bring the buckets to a particular location within Enkanini once a week. At this location my team and I dumped the contents of the 25 litre buckets into larger drums to continue the fermentation process for a while longer. The participant got her empty bucket back and was able to collect some more bokashi if hers had run out. This continued for 9 weeks and during this time we collected close to 4.5 tonnes of food waste which we mainly processed through lasagne method composting.
The response from the participants was overwhelming. Some had to walk over very difficult terrain carrying a bucket that weighed sometimes up to 24kg. The participants were scattered all around the settlement so some had to walk a lot further than others. Yet they all came to bring us their food waste. The word about the project spread and we had a continuous demand from non-particoants to join the project. There was even a lady who just started bringing us her waste using an extra bucket she had and getting Bokashi bran from her neighbours. When we told people that the project was coming to an end and we would like to have the buckets back people were actually upset that they couldn’t carry on.
The project was made possible through collaborating with a local private company – Probio, which supplied the Bokashi at a highly discounted rate, and the municipality, which financed the Bokashi and the buckets. Our main objective for this study was to assess the response of the participants in regards to this processing method and the accompanied behaviour change this required. Along with this we wanted a real-life experience of the challenges this method would present in terms of logistics and infrastructure needs in this particular setting. Seeing as Enkanini is informal I need not say much on the lack of existing infrastructure.
Due to the lack of infrastructure we had to be extremely flexible, and our project in many ways was as informal as it’s environment (when I say ‘we’ I am mostly referring to the co-researchers Victor, Sylvia and Yondela, and myself). Because of the informality and flexibility the project asked of us, it required a lot of energy input. This paid off because the response from participants was extremely positive. We had almost 100% participation rate right up to the end of the project. The feedback was enthusiastic and a lot of people told us that the main benefit of using Bokashi is that it seemed to keep rodents away from their shacks. The food waste was now contained in an airtight space and this made a huge difference to the rat infestation in a shack.
Where to from here?
Due to the successful response we are looking at taking the project into a second phase. For this to happen we need better infrastructure and more financial support. We are still in the process of figuring out how to take this forward. The idea is to include a different processing method of the Bokashi food waste for the second phase. This would be in the form of Black Soldier Fly (BSF) larvae. On more info for BSF copy and paste the following link into your browser: http://www.blacksoldierflyfarming.com/index.php?option=com_jusertube&view=lightbox&rid=bMkyE-SbwhE&yuser=PLWHg3f1i4hU5-Zl76vOdNKq7SjIaCb6o5&auto=1&eh=385&ew=640&st=yes&height=500&width=680&srztb_iframe=true
Black soldier flies are quite amazing little creatures, but that is a story for another day. For now I hope I have given an adequate enough overview of the Bokashi project to date.
Thanks for your interest in the project and if you’d like to know more feel free to post questions or post some feedback. You can also find my contact details in the ‘contact’ section of the website.