Malaysians produce an average of 30,000 tons of waste every day, and only 5% of this is recycled.
Coupled with an ever-increasing population and rapid urbanisation, we have produced a generation responsible for very high levels of waste.
Of course increased consumer consumption is the natural result of a growing economy, but the consequences are high levels of waste, serious land and air pollution, as well as health problems for communities.
The problem of poor waste management has now become a key issue that must be addressed. The new government have taken onboard these warnings and have agreed to look at new policies.
This month, the Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin, announced the government will be phasing out landfills and will be looking at ‘waste-to-energy’ options, where waste can be transformed into a fuel or other useful component. This will reduce pollution levels, and perhaps reduce disposal costs over time.
But should this responsibility just lie with government to sort out? All of us can also adopt a ‘waste-to-energy’ system if we desired... and it does not involve much work on our part.
I got a little more connected with the soil under our feet when I started gardening.
It all began with carrots. Well, carrot seeds to be precise, which I thought I could easily grow in my Klang Valley garden, some 13 years ago.
In my mind, I could see myself proudly holding up bunches of bright, happy-looking carrots for the dinner table. So it was a shock of epic proportions when I pulled out a bunch of gnarled and twisted roots that bore no resemblance to carrots.
I grew up in Port Dickson surrounded by plants. My mother and grandmother loved pottering in the garden, so I just assumed I had a natural affinity with nature and all things green. This was clearly not the case. But acceptance of failure doesn’t always come easily.
The carrot debacle was the first of many experiments into urban edible gardening. Many more attempts went awry but I didn’t give up. Planting vegetables was meant to be a de-stressing exercise, but it was infuriating, and I was determined to get it right.
And I eventually did – but only when I identified the one magical factor that contributes to healthy, steady and successful plant growth in the tropics – compost.
If you think about it, the thick lush carpet of soil in the rainforest is naturally occurring compost. As decomposed organic matter, compost promotes soil microbes andis the best possible food for plants, especially in our unique environment.”
Some gardeners refer to compost as ‘black gold’. Check any website on gardening and you will discover the huge benefits of composting.
By recycling organic material such as leaves from the garden and vegetable peel from your kitchen, you would be mimicking the rain forest every time you add a new layer to your heap of compost. And you needn’t just take my word on this.
Research from all over the world shows that compost enhances the ability of vegetables to stand up to common diseases, improves their flavour and nutrition, too.
Composting also helps to retain soil moisture. Through composting, you enhance your garden’s ability to grow healthy vegetables whilst greatly reducing your rubbish – which is going to landfill at great cost to all of us. More importantly, for those of us living in the Klang Valley, the greenest contribution to our surroundings is to compost.
But what about folks living in flats and condos? Or terrace houses that have been cemented and tiled upto the hilt?
These are not impediments in the least as compost can be built anywhere, from a bucket on a balcony to a corner in your terrace house garden. Once you begin producing compost, you needn’t buy chemical fertilisers. Neither would you need to drag home bags of cloggy soil from the nursery.
To produce well-baked compost, you need to create alternate layers of greens and browns.
Greens are leaves, grass cuttings, banana peel and leaves or chopped-uptrunks, vegetable scraps and freshly-pulled weeds.
Of course, if you live in an apartment, greens would be onion, garlic, fruit and potato peel and green vegetable scraps. Even wilted flower and stems can be thrown into the compost heap.
Browns, on the other hand, might include dried grass and leaves, cardboard, paper and wood chips. To add browns to my compost, I sometimes collect the odd bag or two of dried leaves gathered in plastic bags along the roadside by local council workers.
Big warning: Unless you want to invite rats and other creatures into your garden or balcony, do not throw cooked food scraps into the compost.
I also make it a point to tell folks to treat compost with TLC (tender loving care). As you are building it from the ground up with greens and browns, jab it now and then to aerate the soil.
If you’re making compost in a bin, make holes to allow air in. Also add some water from time to time. Occasionally, tip the bin over and give it a good turn – although I do know of people who allow their compost to break down everything in its own sweet time.
Another big warning: the composting process produces a lot of heat so when you are ready to use it, add soil and sprinkle water to allow itto cool down before you begin planting.
I learned this from my early days as a vegetable gardener. Compost takes several months to break down, but I’ve have friends who won’t wait that long. They throw in half-baked compost to line the base of their pots or raised beds.
I must stop waxing lyrical about compost but do consider this very last point: that compost is a natural and possible way for each and every one of us to help fix our planet – and it’s absolutely easy and free.
Harbir Gill (known as H by his friends) has been collecting surplus produce from The Lost Food Project. This is the food that has been donated, which is not fit for human consumption. H is very passionate about composting. When he is not making videos, he spends his time up to his neck in food waste.
Find the other stories, including quizzes in which you can win prizes, in your copy of Star2. Love Food Hate Waste will appear on the fourth Thursday of every month in collaboration with Suzanne Mooney, who is the founder of The Lost Food Project. It's the first food bank in Malaysia to have professional contracts with a number of supermarkets, manufacturers and a wholesale market. They distribute 50,000 meals a month to over 40 charities, composting any donated food unfit for human consumption. E-mail: TLFPcomp@gmail.com
Read about The Lost Food Project.