Composting to divert food waste from landfills

Pardon Murwira and Collins Kuyewawa turning compost at Soil for Life in Constantia.

Composting is leading the charge in provincial government’s plans to divert half of all organic waste from landfills by next year and all of it by 2027.

The Integrated Waste Management Plan for the Western Cape was created by the provincial Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (DEADP) in 2007 to get around the problem of limited landfill space. The department is working with the City of Cape Town and 29 other municipalities in the province to meet the plan’s targets.

According to mayoral committee member for water and waste, Xanthea Limberg, the City has been doing its part by rolling out composters to more than 22 000 households since 2016, and from October 2019 to March 2020 a food-waste diversion project trialled in Langa and Wolwerivier kept 20.5 tons of organic food waste out of a landfill.

In April, the project was rolled out at four drop-off sites: Belhar, Killarney, Hout Bay and Woodstock.

At the Woodstock site, facility foreman, Joseph Meyer, said 5-litre buckets were being issued to 200 participants in the project. When the buckets are full of food waste – which can be kept in a fridge or freezer – they are taken to a drop-off for emptying. The waste, including fruit and vegetable peelings, meat, bones, egg trays, paper plates and the like, is hauled to a Bellville South compost-making plant.

Ms Limberg said the food waste diversion project would scale up to two lidded buckets so that the contents of a full 5-litre kitchen bucket could be emptied into a 25-litre bucket kept in a garage or outbuilding for fortnightly collection.

According to DEADP director of waste management Eddie Hanekom, about 40% of all waste going to landfill in the province is organic – about 3-million tons annually.

“Organic waste as a resource is seen in the developed world as the new black gold. So called because it is the end product of the decomposition of organic matter. Managing it correctly will reduce the environmental and health impacts of the waste type, stimulate a waste economy and create jobs,” said Mr Hanekom.

The City’s food waste diversion project is not yet available in the south, but residents we canvassed would like to participate in it.

Dr Berta van Rooyen, of Tokai, said she only put dried grass and vegetable waste in her compost as bones, old meat and stale food attracted rats. The City’s project would prevent landfill pickers from getting food poisoning and the compost would improve Tokai’s poor soil, she said.

Anne Mayne, of Constantia, said composting was important in Cape Town gardens because of the poor soil here. “If you want to grow vegetables or have strong plants that are not adapted to granite sandy soil, you need to compost. Improving soil is always good because our urban lifestyle depletes soil health and soil water retention.”

Neo Simons, manager of Spirit Cafe at Constantia Village, said their organic waste was collected free by Soil for Life who use it for worm farming.

Natalie Hartley, of Soil for Life, said people were welcome to drop-off their garden and kitchen waste at their site in Brounger Road, Constantia during work hours.

“Directly, or indirectly, all food comes from the soil. Today, soils are tired, overworked, depleted, sick, and poisoned by man-made chemicals. The quality of our food has suffered and so has our health. All life will be healthy or unhealthy according to the fertility of the soil. Since soil is the basis for all human life, our only hope for a healthy world rests on re-establishing harmony in the soil,” said Ms Hartley.

Richard Flandorp, whose family have been producing flowers and compost on land in Orpen Road for 28 years, said they would take organic waste to produce compost at no cost.

Mr Hanekom said current methods of organic waste disposal were costly and occupied increasingly scarce space. The landfill also produced environmentally harmful methane – a greenhouse gas – and expensive containment barriers were needed to stop leachate contaminating surface and groundwater.

“These negative issues present a cost burden where, if removed, savings could be allocated to much needed infrastructure projects and stimulate further organic disposal initiatives,” said Mr Hanekom. “And organic waste is not waste at all. It can be turned into valuable compost and nutrients to sustain future food security while creating jobs in the implementation of a new way of collection, commercialisation and creation of composting sites.”

Organic waste is not waste at all. It can be turned into valuable compost and nutrients to sustain future food security.
Smelling the compost, Pardon Murwira of Soil for Life says it feeds the plants.
The food waste diversion project is operating from four City drop-off sites including this one at Woodstock where Joseph Meyer is the foreman.
Residents drop off their 5-litre bin of kitchen waste at a drop-off site. The bin is then cleaned and returned.

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