|The Art of Composting|
|The compost heap|
|The core player|
According to Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Administration, people in Taiwan generate about 13 million pounds of kitchen waste per day such as fruit and vegetable scraps and leftover cooked food. People may simply cook more than they can eat, and the leftovers either go directly into the garbage, or they are first consigned to the refrigerator and then later get thrown out.
Tzu Chi has engaged in recycling for two decades. Realizing the benefits kitchen waste recycling can bring, a group of volunteers at the Xintian recycling station in the Tzu Chi Tanzi Complex in Taichung, central Taiwan, have taken on the challenging task of making compost out of kitchen waste, despite having no experience whatsoever.
In the recycling station stands a workshop dedicated specifically to this purpose. Volunteers gather there every day to cut up scraps that have been delivered to the workshop from the kitchens of nearby Tzu Chi facilities, including the Tzu Chi Taichung office, and from individuals who care enough about Mother Earth to take action.
In food waste recycling, volunteers cannot wait till tomorrow to process what has come into the workshop today. What arrives at the workshop each day gets completely worked on that same day because food spoilage does not wait for anybody or anything. Twenty-four teams of volunteers take turns working in the workshop.
“Recycling kitchen waste involves much more than simply piling up scraps,” said Lin Shu-jiao (林淑嬌), one of the founding members of the workshop. “Though it is a messy process with many nuances, in about 40 days troublesome garbage is converted into soil-nurturing organic fertilizer.”
As soon you walk into the workshop, you see buckets filled with food refuse placed on a long stainless steel table. Volunteers on either side of the table cut or shear the contents of the buckets into uniform sizes appropriate for the type of food. “We’ve found that cutting food waste into pieces too slender or too big is actually detrimental to the composting process,” Lin said. “Proper, uniform sizes work best. Air circulation in compost bins boosts the ability of microbes to break down the refuse more quickly. And the more varied the kitchen waste, the higher the quality of the compost.”
There are many other wrinkles or characteristics in the composting process that were not at first discernable to the volunteers. For example, too many pineapple rinds make it harder for a compost heap to decompose, but the richer enzyme content makes the compost especially fragrant. Though egg shells do not break down easily, they do somehow help with the composting process. Even things as hard as corn cobs can be broken down in composting if they are split lengthwise into quarters or thinner and then cut into pieces about five centimeters long.
Also, it turned out that in composting, cooked and raw food scraps do not mix too well, and cooked food needs to be rinsed in water to rid it of excess cooking oil and salt. Processed food, such as tofu and imitation meat, is acceptable so long as it does not contain too much salt (which is added to processed food as a preservative).
Once raw scraps have been cut to size, cooked scraps have been rinsed and drained of water, and all the other preparation work has been completed, the ingredients are ready for the compost heaps.
In the back of the workshop, there are four long shelves on which a total of 120 large 88-liter (23-gallon) green plastic containers are neatly lined up. At about 15 centimeters (6 inches) above the bottom of each container lies a layer of screen—chicken wire wrapped in a mesh fine enough to keep out mosquitoes—that serves as a separator between food scraps and liquid. The scraps are held above the screen so that microorganisms can break them down while the resulting liquid drips through the screen and collects at the bottom of the container.
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