by Kym Kruse, of Free Range Permaculture
Next time you go to throw that banana peel in the bin, stop and think about the environmental impact that action has. As with most things these days, we are quickly running out of landfill space. More than 50% of all household waste, from vegetable scraps to garden waste, can be recycled or composted. By doing this you can not only help your own bank account, but also help the environment by reducing landfill contamination and greenhouse gases.
When organic matter in landfill breaks down it does so anaerobically, meaning without oxygen. This occurs because landfill is compressed, which squeezes out all the oxygen. Anaerobic decomposition produces acids which when mixed with items such as plastic creates a toxic mix called leachate. This poison then leaches into the ground water and from there it’s a short trip to our waterways. Harmful greenhouse gasses such as methane and carbon dioxide are also produced, which contribute to our climate change problems. All of that, just for throwing a banana peel in the bin? The answer is yes, but the other question is “What do we do about it?” The answer to that is simple.
The first step required is a paradigm shift toward so called “waste”. Society’s “waste” can alternatively be thought of as an unused resource. If we view this “waste” as an unutilized source of potential energy, we begin to be able to think of uses for it, rather than unconsciously discarding it. By simply viewing things in a different light we are able to open up a world of potentiality which is only then limited by our creative imagination.
Depending on the type of organic material, we may be able to feed it to a chicken or duck to produce meat, eggs or provide that animal with energy to perform other functions such as scratching for insects or turning over soil. The manure that animals produce further enriches the soil and in some cases can be collected and form part of a compost pile, providing an excellent source of nitrogen and phosphorus. That compost in turn can be placed around our bananas, producing more bananas for us to eat, leaving us banana peels, which we feed to the chicken, which….well, you get the idea.
There are many resources available for learning how to make quality compost. One of the best was put out by the CSIRO in 1979 titled “COMPOSTING – Making Soil Improver from Rubbish”. Only 20 pages long, and available for free online, it explains in precise detail the processes involved in composting and the various methods that can be used. All of your garden waste can be composted, turning landfill into quality fertilizer for your garden and saving you money to boot. The benefits of compost are many. By adding it to your garden you improve your soil’s condition, enabling roots, air and moisture to more easily penetrate. Millions of beneficial microorganisms are present in compost; by adding them to your soil you improve its micro-flora and micro-fauna levels, giving it further stability and growth potential. As compost breaks down further, it slow releases nutrients to your plants over their growth cycle. You can place it around your fruit trees or sieve it and use it for seed raising mix. There is no need for you to continue paying for that “brown sack” anymore. Compost it!
For those of us without the space to have chickens, ducks, or cubic meter compost piles, there is another solution to that banana peel dilemma. Worms. Not the earthworms that live in our gardens but compost worms with names like “African night crawlers” and “Red Wigglers”. Compost worms are capable of eating their own body weight in food each day and expelling it as nutrient rich fertilizer. Compost worms have beneficial bacteria in their gut which helps turn your kitchen scraps into the best plant food money doesn’t need to buy! These kid friendly pets do this 24/7, with no requirements other than an appropriate environment and food to carry out their work. Many commercial worm farms are available on the market but a variety can be made with next to no capital input. From a 52cm polypipe with holes at the base buried 30cm into the ground, to an old bath tub from the dump set on bricks with a bucket under its drain, the options are again endless.
It’s encouraging to realize that the seemingly small things we do can have a major impact on our environment and ultimately our lives. Start a worm farm at the office, get one for your kid’s class at school and if you don’t have enough organic materials yourself, tell your neighbours you’ll take care of theirs. They and the environment will thank you for it.