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LOOK: Introducing a new kind of recycling - Curbside collection for organic kitchen waste

Himkaar Singh started a food waste recycling business with the larger vision of regenerative agriculture, which would eventually lead SA to water security. Picture: The Compost Kitchen/Facebook

Himkaar Singh started a food waste recycling business with the larger vision of regenerative agriculture, which would eventually lead SA to water security. Picture: The Compost Kitchen/Facebook

Published Aug 5, 2021

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Himkaar Singh

Himkaar Singh picks up people’s perishable scraps and gives them back enriched vermicompost to grow fresh food in their gardens.

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In 2017 South Africa experienced major water scarcity issues, so I left the country to study for a Master’s in Water Management in Germany, Vietnam and Jordan for five months to get different perspectives from each on what the solution could be.

I found we needed to repair our damaged soil’s ability to hold water by returning organic matter to soil. I thought the best way to do that was through a business model. I returned to SA to start a food waste recycling business with the larger vision of regenerative agriculture, which would eventually lead SA to water security.

In 2019, I started The Compost Kitchen which collects food waste from households on an e-bike every week, for a monthly fee. The waste is recycled into vermicompost using thousands of earthworms.

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We give the compost to the customers at the end of the month to use in their vegetable gardens to grow food again. The Compost Kitchen completes the cycle of organic waste by giving back compost to the customers who gave food waste.

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This way, the public can be certain their waste has been recycled properly, which builds trust in the recycling industry, making them feel comfortable with paying for the service. These are some benefits that come from circular economy thinking. Our customers were willing to have their food waste recycled but there was no system that served them the way they wanted – simple, convenient, trendy and well-priced.

There were no other curbside food waste recycling services – ours was the first to offer all of these. We provided customers with a convenient way to take action on diverting food waste from landfills and we have received great support for this. During the Covid-19 lockdowns, we were required to halt operations.

Picture: The Compost Kitchen/Facebook

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Graciously, our customers offered to continue paying, even though we weren’t able to collect their food waste. In return for this, we gave them seedlings and vermicompost, so that they could grow food in their gardens.

We consider this our biggest success because it shows that the business plays an important role in people’s lives and it shows that we are on the right path. We have made food waste recycling super trendy, which makes customers share it and talk about it on social media themselves.

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They are proud to be part of it and they encourage their friends to join. I structured the set-up in such a way that every second spent on the business makes meaningful impact. We use thousands of earthworms and, when we give the vermicompost back to the customer for free, we do it in a box with a vegetable plant growing in it so they can grow more food.

Our organisation recently won a big UN award and we were voted one of the Top 300 Best Sustainable Practices at the 5th Global Entreps Awards held earlier this year. This is the Oscar awards for sustainability.

We have grown faster during the time of Covid-19 than at any other time, which proves that a business started with “lean” principles is flexible and resilient – and can navigate challenges in the future.

Picture: The Compost Kitchen/Facebook

4 ways to compost food waste:

Collection service: The easiest option is a collection service that collects your food waste and does the composting for you.

Vermicomposting: Produces biologically rich compost. It is mainly good for raw, vegan waste. It is a great educational opportunity but it needs care.

Bokashi: This is a precomposting process, which is mainly advantageous for cooked food and animal products.

Add food to a compost pile with garden waste: This needs to be at least 1m high to generate enough heat. Note, pets might be curious to investigate.

Did you know

• Although food waste is biodegradable when it degrades anaerobically (in the absence of free oxygen) in landfills, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas.

• A bunch of bananas costs about R30 and one-third of the weight of a banana is the peel. This means you are paying R10 for peels.

• When you throw the peels into the garbage, they go to landfills and release methane, which means you are actually paying to increase climate change.

• We should rather compost them aerobically to prevent this – and to recover the value lost in buying the peels.

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