Growing from trash


Green vision: Alam Flora chief executive officer Mohd Zain Hassan next to the Bio-Mate machine his company purchased to test the feasibility of composting organic waste in Putrajaya and three bags of the waste commonly used for the exercise, namely (left to right) food waste, over-ripe bananas and vegetable residue. -BRIAN MOH/The Star

COMPOSTING is nothing new.

It used to be common practice for people to bury organic waste like eggshells and anchovy peels in the ground as that not only stopped bad smells but also conditioned the soil.

Alam Flora chief executive officer Mohd Zain Hassan said that was a form of composting.

“Our forefathers did not have a proper waste management system and managed their own waste as efficiently as they could.

“But now with a proper waste management system and service, people do not see the need and importance of reducing the waste that goes into the landfills.

“Environmentalists are aware that the clock is ticking and something needs to be done before our landfills are full,” he said.

(left)Alam Flora chief executive officer Mohd Zain Hassan oversees his staff putting in the waste into the Bio-mate.
Mohd Zain (left) oversees his staff putting in the waste into the Bio-Mate.

As such, Alam Flora conducted a pilot project in Rawang to test the feasibility of composting organic waste using the endo food process to produce compost and fish food.

“Waste from the market is ground up and laid out on a vast piece of shaded land.

“Then, cultured fly larvae are introduced to break down the waste,” he said, adding that the maggots go into the pupal stage on the seventh day.

“We collect, dry and grind the pupa into fish food.

“From 100kg of waste, we get 30kg of compost.

“This way, we not only reduce waste and produce compost but also fish food,” he said.

But, he said, the discussion between Alam Flora and Kuala Lumpur City Hall was still in its early stages.

While the local authorities consider executing large-scale waste reduction methods, Mohd Zain said every household could also play an important role by segregating, recycling and composting their own waste.

Waste management

Mohd Zain said every day, an average of 2,400 tonnes of wastes from Kuala Lumpur and 80 tonnes of waste from Putrajaya were sent to landfills.

“But, we are only composting 200kg of waste daily in Putrajaya and from our research, 45% of the waste collected is organic. Our landfills are filling up fast,” he said.

“People should reduce their waste – a family of four can reduce their waste from 1,000kg to less than 100kg every year,” he said.

Composting in Putrajaya

Alam Flora set up small-scale composting centres in Precinct 16 in 2010 and another in Precinct 18 in June for food waste collected from food courts, restaurants and markets.

Mohd Zain said the food courts were provided with bins for the traders to put in their vegetable and fruit peels as well as extra food.

“We have taught the traders proper waste separation steps.

“For example, we ask them to remove the bones that take a long time to break down.

“We invested in a machine called the Bio-Mate from Japan which can produce compost in 48 hours,” he said.

Agamuthu tending to his compost-heap.
Agamuthu tending to his compost heap.

Every week, he said, half of the produce will be packed for distribution and the balance used to kick-start the next round of composting.

Mohd Zain said Alam Flora was in discussion with Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) to use Bio-mate at markets and food courts.

“We are also willing to invest in large-scale composting but there is not much demand for organic fertiliser.

“The agricultural industries prefer chemical-based fertilisers because it supposedly boosts growth,” he said.

At the moment, he added, the compost is given to Putrajaya Corporation and also to the public for free during their corporate social responsibility campaigns.

“We want to encourage households to compost for their own use.

“It is very simple and we have tried using the compost on some plants and it turned out green and healthy.

“Since compost is moist, it also cools the plant and saves water usage,” he said.


Composting at home

Universiti Malaya’s Prof Dr P. Agamuthu, who is also the Malaysian Society of Waste Management and Environment president, was sceptical about the success rate of large-scale composting in Malaysia.

“Compost from food waste is a sensitive topic in Malaysia.

“More than 20 years ago, when we were planning a very large scale composting centre with municipal solid waste management, there were already people questioning if the compost was halal,” he said.

“Developed countries use many methods to reduce food waste and composting was among the last options.

“They convert it to animal feed or through anaerobic digestion, produce methane and use the biogas for energy while the residue will be composted,” he added.

Prof Agamuthu said the key to waste reduction was source separation.

“We have to educate the people to reduce the amount of food waste.

“In Malaysia, we have 2% to 3% of unconsumed food thrown out on average.

“If there is source separation, the waste can be recycled in one way or another, regardless if it food or plastic,” he said.

Prof Agamuthu said the quality of compost in Malaysia was always in question as it depended on the effectiveness of the waste separation process.

“Without proper source separation, the household waste may include hazardous material such as batteries, insect repellent and perfume containers which makes up to 3% on average, contaminating the compost and jeopardising the quality,” he said.

It will be more effective if one composts at home, he added.

“I have a small composting pile in my garden for my garden waste.

“I just make a small heap with the waste in one corner of my garden.

“The bacteria and earthworms in the soil will do the job, I just have to make sure that the heap is moist at all times,” he said, adding that the compost should be ready in a month.

Prof Agamuthu said those with limited space in their homes can use plastic containers or bins with holes to compost.

“Even a laundry basket would suffice for composting.

“Just put in black soil, add in the waste, mix if needed and make sure it is moist.

“Avoid putting meat in the mix because it will attract red ants, pests and it will stink,” he explained.

As for the food waste that is thrown out, he added, filter the moisture content to reduce leachate production.

“In some countries, this practise is compulsory. Leachate treatment is very expensive and a big problem in our landfills,” he said.

Prof Agamuthu said there are many things people can do to reduce the quantum of waste that goes out and if done collectively, it would be good for Mother Nature.


   

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