Collecting food waste from homes on a bicycle to feed earthworms and make compost (vermicomposting) may not seem like the most glamourous way to spend your time. However, this seemingly simple waste management solution by The Compost Kitchen has garnered the attention of the United Nations while bringing South Africans together to protect vital resources, water and soil.
We spoke to Founder, Himkaar Singh, to find out more about The Compost Kitchen, Vermicomposting, getting the world’s attention and what we can do at home to make a difference.
A lifetime of research, study and thought is what led Himkaar to start The Compost Kitchen. After the drought of 2017, Himkaar was reminded of a warning he heard twenty years ago on a primary school excursion to Rand Water.
“…they warned us that severe water shortages would be coming in the future if we don’t conserve water. I thought they warned us 20 years ago but nothing has been done. Of course, we had done a lot, but what we were doing didn’t seem to be hitting the nail on the head. So, I decided to resign from my well-paying civil engineering job and pursue a Masters in Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) abroad to find the real solution.” said Himkaar.
Water and Soil Matter
It was during his studies that Himkaar fully realised the vital relationship between water and soil. “… the soil’s impact on the water cycle is the most significant out of any other factors related to water. Everything that happens downstream is determined by what happens when a raindrop hits the soil. There is one critical aspect of soil that is particularly important and that is its organic matter content. Organic matter is what enables the soil to act as a sponge and gives food to all life in the soil. Intense agriculture techniques and urbanization are destroying the soil’s natural organic matter cycle and breaking its ability to hold water. In fact, 60% of land in South Africa has soil with very low organic matter making it conducive to degradation and low productivity.” explained Himkaar.
With the problem identified, Himkaar developed The Compost Kitchen’s unique business model, collecting food waste from homes and using vermicomposting as a way to get the organic matter back into the soil. “We need to get our fundamentals right so that any measures we implement later are more likely to achieve their intended impact,” added Himkaar.
Food Waste to Garden Boost
Every week, The Compost Kitchen team collect food waste from registered households. The waste is then recycled into vermicompost using thousands of earthworms and delivered back to customers every month. “[Vermicompost] is known as the best type of compost because it is biologically rich and nutrient dense. Our customers’ gardens see significant health boosts when they add vermicompost each month.” said Himkaar.
For those living outside of Fourways, The Compost Kitchen has a number of composting solutions and products to help you start composting at home. Himkaar suggests using vermicomposting for kitchen scraps and hot composting for garden waste. You can also find support and learn more about composting on The Compost Kitchen’s Composting SA Facebook Group.
Worms with Benefits
Bokashi Bins and “worm tea” that helps your garden bloom have been available for quite some time. So, what makes vermicomposting different? “Vermicomposting is the use of special composting earthworms to accelerate composting of organic waste, especially kitchen waste. It results in a biologically rich compost which enhances soil health. Bokashi composting is an anaerobic process that relies on inoculated bran to ferment kitchen waste, including meat and dairy, into a safe soil builder and nutrient-rich tea for your plants.” explained Himkaar.
The bonus of vermicomposting is that it is easy to take care of, compact and doesn’t smell. This makes it possible to use a worm composting bin in any size home with an outdoor area or balcony. Bokashi Bins can also be used at home but require a collection service when full.
Get Paid for your Food Waste and Help a Farmer
In a global first, The Compost Kitchen are developing the “Vermi Buy Back” model where they will pay you to make vermicompost that they will collect to help repair soil for agriculture.
“We’re trying to rethink the way we do waste management. We think that we shouldn’t be trucking around waste, but rather moving a finished product from the source to the end-user... So instead of them paying us to collect their waste, we pay them to collect vermicompost from them. This is the model we think we can cross borders with. Interested parties can sign up on our website.”
Winner at “The Oscar Awards of Sustainability”
Thanks to their innovative solutions and impressive business model that advances the Sustainability Development Goals, The Compost Kitchen has been selected as a winner of one of the Top 300 best Practices on Sustainability in the World by the United Nations’ Entreps programme. Described by Himkaar as “…the Oscar Awards for Sustainability…” they were selected as a winner of this title out of an initial 5000 candidates worldwide!
“A previous recipient of this award was Airbnb so although we are a small business in Fourways, we are seen as having massive potential. It means that we are on the right track. There are so many challenges on the way to developing a new model but when the world recognises our vision then it is a confidence booster. We’re so grateful to South Africans and the world for rooting for us and we’d appreciate if more can show their support by liking our Facebook page.” concluded Himkaar.