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59 per cent and counting...

George Pilkington

1st February, 2006

Biodegradeable Waste (BDW), ‘plants and animals’, comprises an amazing 59 per cent of your household waste. Do you simply throw yours in the bin? If so you...

…are sending 59 per cent of your household waste on unnecessary and increasingly lengthy journeys by truck, which result in: climate changing CO2 emissions; asthma-inducing exhaust and waste dust particles; noise pollution; smell; road congestion; and increasing waste collection costs, which are passed on to you in council tax charge increases.…

AND IF YOUR BDW ENDS UP IN LANDFILL…it will be costing between £8 -17 per tonne to be landfilled, added to which there is now a landfill tax of £18 per tonne, which is set to nearly double to £35 per tonne by 2010 – both charges being passed on to you in annual council tax rises. And once buried will produce landfill gases (LFG).

LFG consists mainly of methane and carbon dioxide (both greenhouses gases). LFG also contains NMOCs and VOCs, compounds associated with stratospheric ozone depletion, air quality issues, eg. smog, and react to sunlight to form ground-level ozone. And organic acids in your 59 per cent decomposing BDW dissolve heavy metals in the landfill site creating a potentially toxic cocktail mixture or leachate, that at very small quantities can cause serious damage to the environment, plants, soil life, water life and many other organisms…

AND IF INCINERATED…will be costing your council upwards of £47 per tonne, and result in fly ash that can contain dioxins, which are extremely toxic – particularly to infants and unborn babies.

OR POSSIBLY YOU:

…HAVE KERBSIDE COLLECTION OF YOUR BDW…
Unlikely given that most councils refuse to collect household food waste since the Animal By-Products Orders (ABPO) was enacted in 1999 (a direct result of the foot and mouth epidemic). Even if you do, home collection still means driving 59 per cent of your waste around in polluting lorries.

…THROW YOUR BDW INTO A KITCHEN WASTE DISPOSAL UNIT…
This simply diverts your BDW ‘problem’ from landfill to a water treatment works. What’s more, it will not recycle your cornflakes box, uses electricity to operate it, and uses one invaluable resource; water, to flush another invaluable resource, BDW, away.

…GARDEN COMPOST IT…
OK, provided you manage the compost properly otherwise the food waste will build up, attracting flies and vermin. For this reason, most people do not compost their food waste.

SO, WHAT’S LEFT? WORM COMPOSTING
Worm composting your BDW uses no energy ■ Means fewer waste collection journeys = lower C02 emissions; reduced road congestion; lower exhaust pollution; less noise pollution ■ Less landfill gas – methane and CO2 = reducing climate change ■ Reduced leachates = cleaner water sources and surrounding countryside ■ Less incineration = fewer dioxins; less energy used to burn waste = less CO2 emissions ■ Less land needed for landfi ll sites ■ You’ll become a farmer! More connected with nature and the natural processes of life. And you are making a difference – feeling of empowerment ■ Fall in love with your worms – it can be addictive as you want to make sure they are happy ■ Lower council tax bills – certainly lower landfill taxes and lower gate fees ■ Produces the best soil in the world for yours or your neighbours’ plants ■ Increase your crop yields – why buy when you can grow? ■ Have beautiful healthy blooms and be the envy of your neighbours! ■ Save money on bagged compost and chemical fertilizers ■ Educate your children live! ■ Less water and less time spent watering – more time for relaxing in your garden! ■ There’s no excuse not too – it’s easy.

What goes in?

All your BDW including: Bread, pastry, biscuits, cereals, pasta, flour products, breakfast cereals (and their boxes), cakes and puddings, fruit and veg peelings, dried foods, chocolate, casseroles, stews and soups, leftovers from breakfast, lunch and evening meals, onions and their skins, coffee grounds, tea and tea bags, (even worms enjoy a brew!) AND cardboard – from egg boxes to loo rolls, cotton, wool, old clothes, grass cuttings, dead flowers and tree leaves, wood sawdust and shavings, newspaper and a lot more besides!

Between entry and exit: a natural miracle?

As up to 59 per cent of your household waste or BDW passes through your worms’ guts, microbe numbers massively increase. And these microbes are of paramount importance in the recycling of nutrients in the soil, such as nitrogen, sulphur, phosphorous and trace elements. It is only through the actions of soil microbes that nutrients in organic matter are broken down and returned to the soil, liberated for plants and for use by other microbes. Life on earth depends on this process, and a single gram of healthy fertile soil contains upwards of a million microbes. And it is these microbes massively increasing in the guts of your worms that speed the decomposition of your BDW, without which it takes a very long time. Quite simply: No BDW, no microbes – no microbes, no worms. None of either, no living soil. In essence your worms, and the BDW you feed them, are performing a natural miracle – transforming expensive polluting waste into living soil... WOW!

End product = vermicompost

Vermicompost is a fine textured, dark peat-like material with excellent structure, porosity, aeration, drainage and moisture-holding capacity that has a similar appearance and many of the characteristics of peat (without having to destroy peat bogs to obtain it). Benefits include:

Increase in plant yields: Research data shows that vermicompost has increased yields of 14 per cent in lettuces, 40 per cent in broccoli, 80 per cent in tomatoes, and 259 per cent in carrots.

Contains natural plant stimulants: Vermicompost contains natural plant stimulants/hormones, eg auxins, which promote root formation and bud growth.

Helps to fight plant diseases: The high concentrations of humus in vermicompost helps to prevent harmful plant pathogens, fungi, nematodes and bacteria. Vermicompost also suppresses diseases such as club root and white rot.

Encourages rapid seed germination: Research has shown that cauliflower seed emergence was uniformly earlier, with hardier, bigger seedlings ready to plant out up to two weeks earlier, with greater resistance to downy mildew.

Best imaginable potting soil for greenhouses: Being a natural product, it does not burn plants or their roots, or even the most delicate of flowers. And having water-soluble nutrients, the benefits are immediately released to plants after watering as they slowly leach down to the roots.

Increases mycorrhizal fungi activity: In several crops vermicompost was shown to increase the uptake of Vesticular Arbuscular Mycorrhizal fungi (VAM), fungi that live in the soil and form mutually benefi cial relationships with plants.

Produces and promotes a healthy root mass: Trials clearly showed a four-fold increase in root mass, length, girth and secondary development when grown in vermicompost. The plants also established much quicker with such a strong healthy root structure.

Improves soil structure: Vermicompost contains a high percentage of humus, which helps soil particles bind together into clusters, creating channels for the passage of water and air. Worms also produce mucus and this is deposited in the vermicompost, again giving it a friable and crumbly structure; meaning less watering as it remains moist for longer, and is capable of holding two to three times its own weight in water.

Produces a liquid ‘Golden Soil’ – Vermi tea: A brew of vermi-tea, made from fresh vermicompost steeped in water for a short period, is full of nutrients, beneficial microbes and has been found to bring natural fungal disease-suppressant qualities when sprayed onto the leaves of plants.

Conclusion

The battle for the earth begins with you at home, in your house, kitchen and garden. Recycling your food waste, and perhaps even growing some vegetables with the vermicompost, is a small but beautiful step in the right direction. Why should we pay through direct or indirect taxes to clean up our landfill BDW problems when we could use the valuable resource for our own use?

This article first appeared in the Ecologist February 2006


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