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Tuesday April 7, 2009
By TAN CHENG LI
Enthusiasts claim that garbage enzyme works its magic indoors and outdoors. But not everyone is convinced of its benefits.
IT IS every housewife’s dream – a multipurpose
cleaner that is all-natural, environment-
friendly, non-toxic, free of
synthetic chemicals and best of all, can be
made from kitchen scraps.
Sounds too good to be true, right? But
many who have made and used this cleaner
swear by it. Making this wonder cleaner
merely involves fermenting kitchen waste
with brown sugar and water for three
months. The resulting brown, vinegary solution
is commonly called garbage enzyme and
is diluted with water for use – and it appears
to be able to work miracles.
Testimonies on its uses appear endless: to
do the dishes and laundry, mop the floor,
scrub the toilet and bathroom, remove stubborn
stains, for body care, as deodoriser and
antiseptic and to clear blockages in pipes and
drains. It will even repel ants, mosquitoes,
In farms, garbage enzymes have found use
as a natural pesticide, herbicide, fertiliser and
odour remover, and is also added to animal
feed to improve digestion of livestock.
And in the garden, it will make your plants
flourish, bloom and fruit. Prisca Loke can
testify to that. “Because of my busy schedule, I
never had time to take care of my plants and
they looked horrible. But after I sprayed them
with garbage enzymes, they grew lush and
started flowering. That converted me into a
garbage enzyme user,” says the assistant
human resource manager.
Loke now relies on garbage enzymes for
many of her household chores. She finds it
effective in removing grease from pots and
pans and kitchen counters, as well as stubborn
stains from her children’s white school
shirts (she soaks them in diluted enzyme
solution before the normal laundering).
Most of what she knows is from experimenting
and sharing experience with friends.
“I could not find any scientific analysis on the
enzyme on the Internet but from my personal
experience and talking with friends, I find
that the enzyme is useful.”
She has tried fermenting different fruit
wastes since all will produce different
enzymes, and some might be more effective
for certain tasks than others. Ever willing to
share her knowledge, Loke has given demonstrations
on enzyme-making to her colleagues
at Sunrise Bhd and residents of Sunrise Mont
Kiara in Kuala Lumpur.
Poultry seller Tan Yew Leong has also
turned enzyme-advocate after seeing how it
has reduced foul odours emanating from the
Section 17 market in Petaling Jaya, Selangor .
“The market used to smell as the council only
cleans it once a week or once a month by
spraying water. Since we started spraying the
enzyme (diluted with water) daily, it is not so
smelly and there are fewer flies. The drains
are also cleaner,” says Tan who has been
making full use of vegetable and fruit discards
at the market.
His home is filled with about 100 tanks,
both big and small, of fermenting waste.
“Some other hawkers are also making the
enzyme themselves after seeing its effectiveness,”
says Tan, who provides free enzyme for
cleansing of the market. He also sells the solution
by the bottles but thinks it best that
people make it themselves as they would
reduce their waste.
Tan uses the enzyme liberally at home.
“About 70% of the cleaning at home is now
done using the enzyme, for mopping the floor
and cleaning the toilets and bathroom. My
family has reduced the use of chemicals and
there are no more cockroaches in my house,”
says the satisfied user.
The benefits of garbage enzymes is said to
extend beyond the home. Apparently, when
enzyme-laced wastewater flows down kitchen
sinks and bathroom pipes, it supposedly
continues to work its magic in drains, sewers
and eventually, streams and rivers. This idea
has spurred a project to get some 10,000
households in Petaling Jaya to produce their
own garbage enzyme for home use.
The Danish-funded project by Section 19
Residents Association, Justlife (an organic food
chain) and Beautiful Gate Foundation for the
Disabled, will see enzyme-making demonstrations
for residents’ associations and other
community groups in the next five months. In
Thailand, households’ use of garbage enzymes
is said to have helped keep some streams
“When people use the enzyme to clean
dishes and do the laundry, the discharged
water will finally end up in ponds and
streams, so indirectly cleaning up the water
bodies,” says Lee Lih Shyan, senior assistant
director of the Local Agenda 21 programme at
Petaling Jaya City Council.
This approach benefits the environment
more than that of pouring drums of garbage
enzymes into ponds and rivers to cleanse the
water bodies as practised by some communities in Penang. Lee says cleaning up ponds
and rivers this way is an exercise in futility if
pollution is not stemmed at the source.
“Such efforts will not be effective unless
there is a group producing the enzyme in
large quantities and continuously pouring it
into the river. There is no point in doing it
once or twice,” he says.
Where is the science
But exactly how and why this miraculous
solution works is unclear. Even its advocates can’t quite explain the science behind it.
“There have been tests done but all the
information is in Thai. I do not have the
resources to get them translated into English
or to research into how it works. And I’m not
a chemist, so I don’t know how to explain it.
All I can say is that people have used it, and it
works,” says Penang-based naturopathy practitioner
Dr Joean Oon,
Oon had learnt about garbage enzymes
from its originator, Dr Rosukon Poompanvong,
a pioneer of Thailand’s organic farming movement
and a Food and Agriculture Organisation
award recipient for her work in using
fermented organic waste for crop fertilisation,
pest protection and livestock feed.
Scientists spoken to say it is the microorganisms
present in waste that produce the
enzymes. The fermentation produces acetic
acid, characterised by its vinegary smell, and
it is the acid that gives the solution its cleaning
prowess; vinegar, after all, is a traditional
The usefulness of enzymes has long been
known. Enzymes act as catalysts – they
increase the rates of chemical reactions.
human body, enzymes help in digestion and
other bodily functions.
In wastewater treatment, enzymes accelerate
decomposition of organic substances.
Enzymes have also found their way into
commercial goods: in detergents, they
improve the cleaning performance while in
cleaning solutions, they eat away organic
material that clog up pipes.
While the cleansing ability of garbage
enzymes can be explained, claims on its other
abilities seem pretty far-fetched – for
instance, its role in repairing the ozone layer
and in reducing global warming. Its proponents
say ozone generated by the enzyme
solution will bind with heavy metals in the air
to reduce global warming. The ozone will also
react with other elements such as nitrogen
and sulphur to form nitrates and sulphates,
which make good plant nutrients.
The science behind these claims, however,
is sketchy. It does not help that the few documents
available from Oon have been poorly
translated into English from Thai. In Internet
chat groups, some have censured the claims,
especially the one about repairing the ozone
hole. It is argued that ground-level ozone is
unstable and will break into oxygen before it
has any chance to migrate to the stratosphere
(10 to 48km above sea level) to form the
beneficial ozone layer that prevents harmful
UV radiation from reaching the Earth.
Also, ground-level ozone (it results when
nitrogen oxides and organic gases, emitted by
automobiles and industrial sources, react with
air) is a toxic gas and irritant, and causes
smog. In recent technologies, ozone is used to
disinfect water as well as sterilise air and
certain foods but the amount of ozone
produced in garbage enzymes is so low that it
would have little effectiveness.
Sewerage plants do rely on beneficial bacteria
to break down waste but no one knows for
sure if the flushing of garbage enzymes down
the toilet, as advocated by its proponents,
would not lead to ill effects in the long term.
Likewise, flooding lakes and rivers with
enzymes might be harmful if too much is
used – it might well deplete oxygen levels in
the water due to higher organic matter. Also,
the anaerobic fermentation involved (the
enzyme is made in an air-tight container) will
release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
Dr P. Agamuthu, a professor in waste
management at Universiti Malaya, has questions
too regardin g garbage enzyme. That the
solution is beneficial for plants does not
surprise him as it is rich in nutrients from the sugar.
However, he is wary about using the solution
in the shower and to wash dishes and
food. “Since it involves fermentation of waste,
there might be pathogens in the mixture. In
normal composting of solid waste which is
water-free, temperatures can reach to 65°C to
70°C, and this will destroy most pathogens.
Fermentation, however, will never reach this
temperature, especially when water is added.”
He is uncertain if it is the enzymes, or other
chemicals that are doing the job. To clear
these doubts, Agamuthu intends to conduct
his own tests with the enzyme to see what it
contains and its effect on plants and soil.
Following the barrage of criticisms, Oon has
decided to stop linking garbage enzymes with
ozone depletion and global warming – but
only because she is stumped when asked to
explain the scien ce. She adds that she does
not urge people to pour the enzymes into
rivers to clean waterways – that was done
initially just to create an activity and to
promote public awareness.
Sincere in wanting to encourage green
practices, she now expounds on only one
aspect of garbage enzymes: “It makes good
use of kitchen waste which would otherwise
end up in landfills and generate methane, a
potent greenhouse gas. It is something that
housewives can do. And the enzyme also
reduces our reliance on chemical cleaners,
detergent and fertilisers.”
Ambiguities aside, the garbage enzyme
movement has found quite a following and
many attest to its efficacy. Still, until more
tests are done on its contents and long-term
effects, it might be wise to use it judiciously.
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