By Fatima Mohammed
A sturdy solution: Organic waste inside a compost pile. An increased effort by Jamaicans to compost can curb food loss and waste management problems
The essential three meals per day is a luxury for many families. Yet, food is the largest category of waste disposed of by people to be later taken to landfills where it produces methane; a form of hazardous gas that contributes to global warming.
A 2017 report by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) shows that 30% of national food production in Jamaica is lost annually; an equivalent loss of $7 billion worth of food with fruits and vegetables having the highest loss rates.
Organic waste is the biological term for bio-gradable materials consisting of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and other consumables.
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Rather than being disposed of as a result contributing to food loss and waste management problems, organic waste can be concealed for days in a separate container and kept moist. It is then applied to the soil in farms or gardens as nutrient and alternative to chemical fertilizer. This process is called composting.
Waste management hassles
Despite the strong presence of agriculture in Jamaica, the majority are not composting their organic waste. Customer relations officer at National Solid Waste Management (NSWM) Manchester, Candice Hayles stated that 80% of waste collected and dumped in landfills is an organic waste.
According to Hayles, this category of waste creates difficulties for garbage collectors at NSWM. She complained that it takes more than an hour to clean Mandeville market which is filled with organic waste. Garbage collectors are left picking rotten food off the ground.
Hayles urged Jamaicans to practice separating their organic waste and composting it because it will lessen NSWM’s burdens. She shared that the goal is not just for people to adopt composting, but to see less waste taken to landfills.
“Only if people adopt sustainable practices like composting can garbage collection be saved in Jamaica. NSWM alone cannot be tasked with the responsibility of waste management. Individuals also have an important role to play in how their garbage is disposed of. The less waste we take to disposal facilities the fewer problems we face and the healthier our environment becomes,” said Hayles.
The presence of organic waste in our landfills poses a significant threat to the environment. Professor in the Department of Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences at Northern Caribbean University, Dr. Patience Bazuaye-Alonge says: “Organic waste in landfills decomposes and releases methane and carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere. Both are greenhouse gases which contribute significantly to global warming, but methane gas is by far more powerful than carbon dioxide. It is lethal to our environment.”
She added that scientific researchers are concerned regarding the rising presence of methane in the atmosphere. The step to making a change she believes “it is up to people to save the environment by reducing the amount of waste in the landfills.”
Compost to make fertilizer
Manchester parish manager for Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) Gary Dixon believes that persons are not aware of the benefits to be derived from composting. He stated that generally household waste is disposed of without separating the biodegradable materials from the non-biodegradable ones.
Dixon presumes that the few that are familiar with composting are reluctant to practice it because it is perceived as a slow method. However, due to the continued global growth in the food waste management market, a faster method for composting has been introduced.
Organic or compost fertilizer which is the product of composting is applied as a nutrient to the soil for plants to grow strong and healthy. According to Dixon, there are few differences between chemical fertilizers and organic fertilizer: “The main difference between chemical and compost fertilizer is that with chemical fertilizers you are looking to add a specific kind of nutrient that your plant is lacking. Therefore, you will have to first identify what is wrong with that plant then you buy that particular chemical to replenish it. Whereas with compost fertilizer you are basically adding a rich mixture of nutrients to the soil. Also, with compost fertilizer, you add it to the soil and allow it to degrade then you can plant your crops. While with chemical fertilizer, you already plant your crops and then you add it to the crops.”
Further, he said both chemical and organic fertilizer work effectively. However, organic fertilizer is environmentally friendly because it is natural and does not contain any chemicals. The use of chemical fertilizers requires farmers to wait a certain period of time before harvesting their crops. This is to allow the chemicals to wear off as a result making the harvest safe for consumption.
He assured that RADA is there to advise and guide those who are interested in learning how to compost.