Bokashi: Dealing with Kitchen Waste

PRICE HK$ 399 for the system and 1 bag of the micro-organism (lasts 1 to 2 years).

PRODUCT RATING Good only if you have a place to bury the “compost”. This system is imported from Australia (where many homes have backyards) so it’s not very suitable for Hong Kong apartment dwellers.

GREEN RATING Quite Green. By separating kitchen waste, we went from throwing out 3 to 4 bags of garbage per week to only 1 per week.

AVAILABLE AT Greeners Action 

We were initially quite excited to learn about the kitchen waste “composting” program  at Park Island. Residents can pick up plastic container from the doorman, fill it with kitchen waste and return it to the doorman. Our understanding was that it would be processed by an on site kitchen waste “composting” machine and we naively assumed the compost would be used in the surrounding gardens. After attending a residents meeting, we learned that the compost was not used in the gardens because landscaping was outsourced to a company that did not use compost. We soon learned that it was actually being released to the sewage treatment plant. So electricity is used first to turn kitchen waste into sludge and then again by the sewage treatment plant to deal with this sludge. It would be hard to find a more ludicrous or damaging form of greenwash. Park Island is supposed to be a green community, which is not only greenwash but is hogwash, but that is a story for another day.

After realizing this, we bought a Bokashi “composting” system (the reason we keep putting the word compost in quotations is because none of these solutions are truly composting). The model we purchased is essentially two buckets, one nestled into the other like Russian dolls. The inner bucket, which you put your kitchen waste into, has holes at the bottom allowing liquid to drain out. The outer bucket collects the liquid. The latest model “Bokashi One” instead has a tap for draining the liquid, making it much more convenient.

Its quite simple to use. You simply put your kitchen waste into the bucket, sprinkle a spoonful of the Bokashi micro-organism on top, and seal the lid. The sticker on the bucket tells you its ok to put “all leftover food, fruit and vegetable peelings and scraps, coffee grounds filters and tea bags, cooked and raw meat and fish” into the bucket. It’s not ok to put in milk, oils, soups, juices, or packaging. Cooking at home for 2 people about 5 times per week, It takes us about 2 weeks to fill up the bucket. After a while there can be a bit of a smell when you open the bucket, though it’s not too unpleasant (smells a bit sour). The micro-organism seems to pickle the food waste, neutralizing decomposition and minimizing smell.

Once it’s filled, you lift out the inner bucket and pour the liquid thats in outer bucket into the drain or dilute it with water to fertilize plants. The question then is what to do with this bucket full of “pickled” kitchen waste. First, I buried ours on our rooftop garden. When that got full, I buried it on a hillside nearby (which may not strictly speaking be legal). After removing the organic matter, you’ll need to rinse out the buckets.

If you do have a place to bury the contents, this system is very environmentally friendly. Not only do you reduce the number of garbage bags you send to the landfill, but by keeping organic matter out of the landfill you reduce the amount of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) that is released into the atmosphere.

Making real compost (the dark, rich organic matter that can be used as a soil conditioner for plants) takes at least a few months. I doubt many people are ready to keep kitchen waste in their apartments for that long. Small home based machines that use electricity to heat up the kitchen waste and speed up decomposition are quite costly. The large estate-based “composting” machines that are currently subsidized by the government not only consume lots of energy but can result in very perverse consequences (as described at the beginning of this piece). What we need is a government policy that encourages waste separation at source. There is a public consultation regarding waste reduction.  You can send your suggestion to the government here.

2 thoughts on “Bokashi: Dealing with Kitchen Waste

  1. The community Bokashi program sounds like it would work easily where arrangements were made through a suitable contractor, staff member, community gardener, etc. What a shame it didn’t come off. There will be many further efforts, I’m sure. Systems like this are coming in across the whole world, on large and small scales, started by individuals through to government agencies.

    I am Australian, but I’m sure Hong Kong can eventually have products produced there. No point using Bokashi to ferment scraps (maybe only for nicer landfill – I never thought of a situation where you would do this, but I guess it’s better than nothing) and then sending ships and planes across the world. People can maybe use a homemade equivalent.

    Many people in apartments have a soil box on their balcony so they can bury their own Bokashi ferment. Once it is finished (in a few weeks, usually), they can than use the compost in pot plants. Maybe the residents could start their own garden?

    Great to see a start being made to look at waste reduction. Will be very interested to follow the progress.

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