Organic Waste – Problems and Solutions

The goal of this article is to make people aware of a problem that regards every single one of us: organic waste. It addresses both the problems and the solutions. The article focuses in particular on composting. By showing them examples of how to deal with this issue, we hope to motivate them to help our environment. By making an effort now, we invest in a better future.

What is organic waste?

Organic waste is any material that is biodegradable and comes from either a plant or an animal. About 30% of what we usually throw away is actually organics, including food scraps and food-soiled paper products.

How much organic waste do we produce in Switzerland?

The awareness that a great deal of food is wasted has increased greatly in recent years. Nevertheless, 2.6 million tons of food still end up in waste in Switzerland every year.

How does Zurich deal with the issue?

To counteract food waste, the city of Zurich has launched a pilot project in 2016 to measure food losses. The municipal businesses involved  have measured their food losses, jointly devised measures and successfully implemented many of them. For example, in various businesses, the amount of coffee for breakfast was adjusted to the actual need, combined with an after-service, or leftover recipes were collected and tried out. Leftover meals are also distributed to those in need. [5]

How to compost at home

All composting requires three basic ingredients:

Browns – This includes materials such as dead leaves, branches, and twigs.

Greens – This includes materials such as grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps, and coffee grounds.

Water – Having the right amount of water, greens, and browns is important for compost development.

The microorganisms  in the Browns eat the organic waste, breaking it down into its simplest components. The humus (finished compost) they produce is rich with fiber and inorganic nutrients and it makes a natural fertilizer that is beneficial to the environment. If you regularly water and turn the compost in your compost bin or pile, the compost can completely decompose in just two to three weeks. [3]

Composting for your own garden.
Composting for your garden. [2]

Industrial composting

For industrial composting, the environmental conditions are kept at an artificial optimum and the same processes are greatly accelerated. Good compost has comparable properties to humus. Compost is therefore of particular importance as a fertilizer/soil additive. It is not only a sustainable source of nutrients, but also has the ability to improve and maintain the soil.

What can we use the compost for?

Compost is the single most important supplement you can give your garden. It’s a simple way to add nutrient-rich humus to your lawn or garden that fuels plant growth and restores vitality to depleted soil. It’s also free, easy to make, and good for the environment.

Compost:

  • Enriches soil, helping retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests.
  • Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers
  • Encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material.
  • Reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint.

You can plant seeds and seedlings in it, nourish established houseplants, spread it in your garden, dig it into garden beds or plant it directly in it. [4]

You can check out our pamphlets; this is a short summary on how to compost at home:
Pamphlet_Home Composting [PDF]

Our collaboration with India

In the future, we imagine people being more responsible. By teaching them how to deal with the issue, we hope to reduce the amount of organic waste in the whole city. We imagine people trying to reduce their waste. We want everyone, who has the possibility, the compost their waste and use it in a responsible way.

We started a collaboration with Sivani from India. Our goal was to compare the amount of organic waste in two very different countries and to learn from one another. We could benefit from the information that we sent one another.

Organic waste situation in India

Urban India generates 62 million tonnes of waste annually. 43 million tonnes of solid waste are collected annually, out of which 31 million is dumped in landfill sites and just 11.9 million is treated. The organic waste fraction varies between 40 and 60 % of the total solid waste streams. Average waste is about 450 grams of waste per person per day.

How big of the organic waste produced is turned into compost?

A study conducted in 2019 showed that not even 5% of the total waste generated is converted. Even though there is a huge potential for composting in India with the amount of organic and biodegradable waste produced but due to unorganized management a lot of it just ends up in landfills. One of the main reasons for such a low number is due to the emission of potent greenhouse gases during uncontrolled decomposition of organic waste in dumpsites.

If composted, how do cities use them?

Big cities/ urban areas:  Compost in big cities are usually run by the waste management sector in the local government. City compost is usually used as a replacement or supplement to chemical fertilizers in replenishing the nutrient-depleted soil. The majority of the composts is sent to the farmers in rural areas. Thus, compost plays a major role in balancing the food demand.

Smaller cities / rural areas: Other than the composts that are managed by the government, smaller and more affordable composts are also managed in the backyards of our houses. This is very common in rural and smaller cities. The organic waste produced, like vegetable peals, food waste etc., are collected together and then thrown in a small compost pile.

Household waste - Picture from India
Household waste – Picture by Sivani, Kerala
Compost used in the garden - Picture from India
Compost used in the garden – Picture by Sivani, Kerala

Our Experience

At first we didn’t really know what topic to choose for our project, this was actually the hardest part. Organic waste came to us as kind of a surprise. We weren’t really informed about it, but we were certainly eager to learn. We were surprised when we found out about home composting. It’s such an easy process, yet very few know about it and compost at home. We enjoyed creating out pamphlet, in which we describe how you can do it yourself.

While working on our project we did a collaboration with Sivani in India. Our goal was to compare the situation regarding organic waste in our two countries. We exchanged our information and benefited from it. The communication worked perfectly. It was really interesting to see that, for most of the people in India, composting at home is really common. It basically belongs to their daily routine.

We really enjoyed doing our research and writing about organic waste. We definitely hope to help our environment by trying it ourselves.

Ulza & Chantal / Collaboration with Sivani

Sources
[1] Headpicture
[2] Composting for your garden picture
[3] Composting
[4] Organic waste
[5] Organic waste in Zurich;

On-topic contributions on dontwastemy.energy
Living Vegan
Urban Gardening
Foodwaste at weddings
Organic Farming in Kerala

 

☷ See the project teams here »
☵ Some words about the contributions »

One thought on “Organic Waste – Problems and Solutions

  1. Dear Ulza & Chantal
    Thank you for your amazing project! It was very interesting to read and to learn about organic waste. I am now more aware of this topic and I will try to compst more than I did before.
    Kind regards,
    Anabel

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