What happens to food waste?
Organic waste included in the mass of waste goes to landfill, where it constitutes up to 50% of the total waste. There, it begins to rot and produce methane, as well as other harmful substances with strong odour, thus making the landfill site a problem for the people living in the nearby area. This is not the way it should be, as organic waste is the potential source of organic matter and minerals, i.e. the material which can turn into valuable compost and transform into humus ? the ?life-force? of the soil.
The project entitled ?Organic Waste: Life after Life? (?Odpady organiczne: życie po życiu?) has been conducted from August 2009 to December 2010 within the area of the administrative district of Lubartów by the Polish pro-Earth association, Stowarzyszenie ?Dla Ziemi.? The partners in the project were Waste Management Plant in Lubartów, Poland, and Lindum ? a leading Norwegian company in organic waste management in Norway.
The project was an attempt to develop an effective model of recycling organic waste with Effective Microorganisms Technology (EM).
The following actions have been taken in the project:
– implementation of the pilot system of the collection of organic waste, implemented between November 2009 and August 2010, involving the participation of 120 households from Lubartów and the administrative district of Lubartów;
– construction of compost piles using bio-waste and preparation of compost in the composting plant in Puławy;
– examination and analysis of compost conducted by experts from the Institute of Soil Science and Plant Cultivation (IUNG) in Puławy;
– trainings for farmers and inhabitants of the nearby areas in twelve communes of the administrative district of Lubartów;
– ecology workshops on composting for children and youth;
– production and distribution of the environmentally-themed film on composting, entitled ?How to compost at home?? (?Jak kompostować we własnym domu??);
– study visit of representatives of self-governments and NGOs in the headquarters of the Norwegian partner in Lindum in November 2009;
– workshops in Lubartów conducted by experts from Lindum in June 2010;
– publication of a project progress report, together with an abstract in Norwegian;
– conference on waste management in Poland, organized in Lubartów in December 2010.
Organic waste is usually perceived as source of problems, such as unpleasant smell, source of diseases or rodents. Not many people can compost waste effectively in their own households. The people living in households participating in the project can be divided into two groups: those living in multi-family buildings and those living in single-family houses. People living in their own houses often declared that they solved the problem of bio-waste on their own by composting waste in household compost piles. However, their level of knowledge concerning the methods of proper backyard composting was often insufficient or low, and they experienced the problem of the significant amount of bio-waste, especially during the vegetation period. Residents of multi-family buildings were not markedly interested in bio-waste segregation. The most common reasons for this was the lack of space in their apartments, necessary for placing containers for sorting waste, and the initial decomposition process, which created unpleasant smell and could be a source of pathogenic bacteria. During numerous conversations with the potential participants of the project, we managed to develop several solutions, encouraging them to sort their waste at home.
The basic equipment for sorting waste included 10 l containers with lids, which made it possible to discard the drains produced during the initial decomposition process. 120 l Biotainer with 20 l reserve for drains and appropriate ventilation system constituted additional equipment in this waste sorting solution. 120 l containers were standard containers made of plastic, used in Western Europe for the purpose of this type of waste collection.
The first stage of the container distribution process was the training for participants of the project, at which the officer responsible for delivering containers provided them with training materials, consisting of the waste collection services schedule, additional educational materials and the environmentally-themed guidance film, entitled ?How to compost at home?? Education was a very important element of the project ? each participant completed a brief training when accepting the container. Moreover, a special telephone number was made available so that the participants of the project could receive any necessary information concerning waste collection from the employees of Waste Management Plant in Lubartów.
Waste was collected every fortnight on Saturdays. The task of each participant of the project was to place the container in front of the house or, in case of multi-family buildings, in front of the block of flats. At the same time, Bokashi was distributed, in accordance with the notifications submitted to the employees collecting bio-waste. Each time, waste was transported to the composting plant in Puławy.
What are Effective Microorganisms (EM)?
EM is the product resulting from the cultivation of natural bacterial cultures, which can be found the world over. EM include lactic acid bacteria, phototrophic bacteria (i.e. bacteria that use photosynthesis as their source of energy) and yeasts. This combination of microorganisms has peculiar biochemical features, which allow them to decompose organic waste and sludge without producing unpleasant smell.
The phenomenon of EM consists in the fact that strains of aerobic bacteria ?cooperate? with anaerobic bacteria. This product, properly and regularly introduced to the environment, improves its self-restoration potential. EM Technology, which has a beneficial effect on the natural environment, was developed by Dr. Teruo Higa, a professor in Okinawa, Japan. His discovery provided science with new outlook on the protection of natural resources. In many countries, EM Technology is used not only on mass scale in agriculture, farming and bio-waste recycling, but also in offices and households. Owing to the positive impact of EM Technology on the health of people, animals and plants, it is planned to widen the scope of its application. From the point of view of commerce, Effective Microorganisms are an arsenal of biologically-active agents that can be used in many fields of life and economy.
Quality assessment of the final product ? compost
Examination of compost was conducted by experts from the Institute of Soil Science and Plant Cultivation (IUNG) in Puławy, in accordance with the methodology used for examining organic fertilizers marketed in Poland. The content of nutrients in compost made of household bio-waste was slightly higher than the content required in organic fertilizers, pursuant to the Ordinance of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development concerning the execution of the provisions on fertilizers and fertilizing. The content of organic matter amounted to 24.47% in dry matter and was lower than the required value. The examined compost was alkaline (pH value 8), and the C:N ratio amounted to 15:1. The concentration of heavy metals in the examined compost was significantly lower than the admissible concentration value for organic fertilizers.
Salmonella bacilli and live eggs of intestinal parasites were not detected, which means that the product satisfied the sanitary requirements.
However, due to the low content of organic matter, the compost produced using only household waste does not meet the requirements for organic fertilizers. Pursuant to the provisions on fertilizers and fertilizing, the compost with the foregoing parameters may be qualified as a soil improving agent.
The following conclusions have been drawn from the analysis:
– household waste contains too much water and nitrogen (in relation to the content of carbon);
– in order to improve the aerobic fermentation processes, the material should be enriched with substances with wider C:N ratio (e.g. straw, leaves, sawdust). It would also improve the moisture level of the compost pile;
– adding carbon-rich substances would help produce compost with higher content of organic matter, sufficient to meet the requirements of the provisions concerning organic fertilizers.
Projects, such as the one described above, should take place everywhere. The problem of bio-waste is not only Polish problem; it is also a common problem in Europe and the rest of the world. The main task and priority of the appropriate authorities should be the question of implementing technologies, which would help reduce this problem. The project was a pilot program, and it had both small victories and failures. We would like to emphasize that no similar projects on the same scale have been conducted in Poland; therefore, we had nowhere or no one to seek practical advice from. For Poland, this is only the beginning of settling problems with waste. The participants of the project were of great support to us. People living in Lubartów and its environs immediately responded to our invitation to take part in the selective collection program, and were deeply disappointed that the project had to come to an end. The scale of the project, which we thought to be large at first, in practice turned out to be a drop in the ocean of needs. After we had already registered the maximum of 120 households, we still received applications from people eager to participate in the project. This shows that the social demand for pro-environmental activities is high, social awareness increases, and a great number of people hold a pro-ecological world view. The participation of our partners in the project was particularly important; without them, we would not be able to make our ideas come to life. Both Waste Management Plant and Lindum company provided us with professional support and substantive knowledge. The project has also shown that cooperation of partners from three different backgrounds can be fruitful and successful.