Bokashi Your Yard Waste!

We’ve been talking a lot about all kinds of things related to bokashi.  In our last blog we spoke of Diogenes (the Dog) and summarized in our view how being uninformed or applying science inappropriately results in very devastating results  (Prairie Dog Science….Curbside Food Waste, Kitchen Scraps, Green Cones, Composting & Heavy Metals!).  I couldn’t help but note the beauty in the tiny  Dog violet (Viola conspersa),  which is considered a common weed.  This touches again on that interesting and peculiar way we try to tidy up in our minds how the world should be characterized.  I wanted to know how people go about defining a weed.  So here is the Wikipedia explanation.

weed is a plant that someone thinks is bad, because it is growing in the wrong place. Trees are not often called weeds, only smaller plants.

Someone may grow a plant because it has beautiful flowers, but other people may think that this plant is a weed for some reason. This may be for one of these reasons:

If someone is farming a plant and it then moves outside the farm, the plant may then be called a weed.

Some plants are very hard to stop once they start growing. These are called invasive weeds.

Weed is also a name for any wild plant, one that people do not use for anything.

Speaking of a tidy up world………it is clearly evident more and more people are being told they have to change the way they manage their food waste.  Are they being given the best advice?

San Francisco will fine Food Waste Violators…

According to the San Francisco chronicle, residents in and around San Francisco are being told they have to make a change in the way they handle their food waste.

San Francisco Chronicle

The Board of Supervisors voted 9-2 Tuesday to approve Mayor Gavin Newsom’s proposal for the most comprehensive mandatory composting and recycling law in the country. It’s an aggressive push to cut greenhouse gas emissions and have the city sending nothing to landfills or incinerators by 2020.

“San Francisco has the best recycling and composting programs in the nation,” Newsom said, praising the board’s vote on a plan that some residents had decried as heavy-handed and impractical. “We can build on our success.”

This is a little like the weed problem…….by whose definition is it the best recycling and composting program in the nation?

They are correct that something has to be done about reducing greenhouse gases and food waste going to a landfill is not good.  The policy is heavy handed and probably impractical too.  The irony is that no one has shown in the analysis that the volume of greenhouse gas produced by composting is truly less than that which would be produced in a landfill.  Although it is true that a lot of methane is produced in the landfill which is far more heat producing than carbon dioxide, it is not clear that all of the food waste in a landfill is oxidized or methane converted.

We know that in composting on an industrial scale all of the food waste is set to be oxidized as efficiently as can be managed.  It is quite possible the total amount of carbon dioxide produced with industrial composting exceeds that which would have been produced in a landfill.  I’m not advocating putting food waste into landfills……..just pointing out that we are once again making assumptions without true measurements.

But lets be clear…….there is a superior alternative that was not even considered.  Bokashi fermentation is far easier and more efficient.  Every resident could side step the problem and the city planners would be happy.  With bokashi fermentation the food waste is put to better use and the greenhouse gas problem related to residential food waste goes immediately to zero.

As we’ve demonstrated in experiments and practice, when the food waste is processed in a fermenter where all the oxygen is excluded under acidic conditions with specialized microbes, a pickled food waste is acquired within a very short time ( about 1 week).

That pickled food waste is then placed in the ground where soil microbes take over.  They rapidly metabolize the pickled food waste converting it to a soil rich in nutrients and microbes that are beneficial for your plants.  By fermenting (pickling) your food waste you diverted it from the garbage cans or bins (no possible fines folks) putting it to good use.

What are the benefits?  No smelly food waste, no vermin, rats or insects.  The immediate elimination of greenhouse gases because none of the food waste is being oxidized.  It is 10 times faster than composting.  Now you get a credit back on waste hauling because you reduce your can size and schedule for pick up.  No turning or working a pile.  No petro fuel is needed to run the equipment and machinery involved in composting.  Now there is an alternative!

I want to commend those who see the need to change our ways.  But I hope they will expand their knowledge and become better informed about how we can do it better.  There are great and simple solutions to this food waste problem.

Myths and tips…

I’d like to touch on a few myths and give a few tips to those who are discovering how easy it is to bokashi ferment their food waste.

Almost everyone now understands that we’ve got to get away from landfills.  The food waste problem will never go away.  It’s going to get a lot worse.  Diverting to composting seems to some people a logical solution.  It might be even more attractive if we were all vegetarians.  But we aren’t and a lot of the food waste now being diverted to composting sites will putrefy.

Sites are smelly.  Rats and vermin are always attracted to these sites.  A lot of land is wasted because it must be dedicated to the process and that land is essentially a toxic dumping place.  You don’t want a composting site to be near your house.  Are these sites safe and non-hazardous?  They are polluting on a massive scale………so the idea that they are good because they produce compost for our gardens and parks is pretty silly.

The oceans are now being acidified.  Carbon dioxide is absorbed into the ocean forming carbonic acid and this subtle but increasing level of acid (lowering of the ocean pH) profoundly changes the ocean environment.  Coral reefs and sea life in general will be subject to impacts that are destructive and most probably not going to make the world a better place. Global Scientists Draw Attention To Threat Of Ocean Acidification

One of the world’s largest compost facilities was established in the state of Washington near the city of Everett which abuts the large body of water directly communicating with the ocean waters just off the state coast.  I can’t help but wonder if part of the explanation for the recent findings just off the coast for large changes in ocean acidification are related to the massive (tons) of carbon dioxide being produced at this site adjacent to all that salt water in the straights of Juan de Fuca. Oysters in deep trouble « Ocean acidification

It is frequently suggested that composting is good because it “sterilizes” a pile killing microbes.  We touched on this topic as well in our earlier blogs (Prairie Dog Science….Curbside Food Waste, Kitchen Scraps, Green Cones, Composting & Heavy Metals!)  It is very probable with the increased food waste entering into the compost feed stock pathogens will propagate and spread in the pile.  E. coli and Salmonella can do very well in a warm, moist and dark environment.  You may pasteurize but you certainly can not expect to kill these microbes at the non-sustained high temperatures insufficient for true sterilization that is characterized by composting.

When you bokashi ferment food waste, the pathogens even if present can not propagate or survive because the media is acidic and anaerobic.  Pickling food makes it safe because microbes that harm us can’t survive those processes and can’t grow in the acidic media.

Composters like to say it is a natural process.  It is not.  It is a man made process and I would ask anyone who believe otherwise to show us the evidence where this occurs naturally in nature.  We’ve addressed this issue many times (The Naked Truth About Compost).

Some people suggest that bokashi fermentation, because it is anaerobic probably produces methane too just like a landfill so it can’t be good.  This is false reasoning based on misinformation.  Bokashi fermentation occurs anaerobically (oxygen is excluded)…..that is true.  But the conditions are hugely different from the anaerobic process resulting in methane production.  Methane is produced by organisms called methanogens and these can only function at neutral pH.  In the acidic environment no methanogens can survive and they are never seen.  Actual measurements prove no methane is produced.

A few tips…..

Remember you can put anything organic including meat, bones, egg shells, or even paper in your fermenter to pickle and then feed the soil.  Crush your egg shells when you put them in the fermenter to make it mechanically easier to pickle.

Napkins and light paper waste materials should be wetted with water and then spread out in the fermenter like a leaf to make it easier and faster to pickle.

Corn cobs are larger items should be cut into pieces to make it process more efficiently.  It will still ultimately be metabolized by the soil microbes but you speed the process by getting if fully fermented before it goes into the soil.

Many paper plates are coated with a thin film of plastic and this will interfere with the pickling process.  Some papers have a lot of clay imbedded making it hard for the enzymes to attack the cellulose.  Soak them in water first and do some small experiments to prove they are properly being processed if you want to metabolize these paper items.  Keep in mind that certain inks have metals that would accumulate in the soil so try to minimize that problem.

Finally, I often hear people who live in high rise buildings are flats without a backyard the complaint that they can’t ferment their food waste.  You’ve got to be creative….think about your friends and neighbors.  You might be surprised at the possibilities.  Take a look at this balcony and tell me you are not impressed. (What to do with your Bokashi when you live in a flat).

I’ve been doing a lot of work to prove that we could just as easily bokashi ferment our yard waste.  Why not keep that green nitrogen rich waste on our land and put it back to good use.  It takes only 1 week to ferment all of the grass clippings and weeds.  We’ll talk more about this in the future.  But I’m going to save any dog violets should I be lucky enough to find one!

Diogenes would be right at home…even in today’s world.

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