There’s a new routine in the kitchen at Evelyn Page when it comes to disposing of food scraps.
Every time the level in the food scrap bin rises by 10cm Chef Clem von Ellerts-Martinoli reaches for a special bag of bokashi zing and adds two scoops.
“We’ve had to play around a little with the amounts,” said Clem. “We found it worked better every 10cm rather than every 16cm which we started off with.”
The zing is a mix of micro-organisms including lactobacilli which ferments the scraps into an odourless, or slightly vinegary smelling matter which can then be used as compost. This technique is known as bokashi composting.
The mixture cannot be too runny so everyone contributing to the food waste pile, from kitchen staff to caregivers, has to be in the loop around not adding too much liquid, says Clem, adding the zing (above).
“We started small and it took a while to get everyone on board because it’s crucial that all the caregivers on all the floors are up to speed,” he said.
“It can’t be too watery or runny for the zing to work so all the tea or hot chocolate has to be tipped away and even things like the plastic lids from the butter packs, we have to make sure those don’t end up in there either.
“It was a bit of an uphill battle in the beginning but it was actually much easier to get to this point than I thought it would be!”
Chef Clem got the idea after a resident in the village read an article in the local paper about the City to Farm Composting Pilot – a trial programme being run by Hibiscus Coast Zero Waste (HCZW), with research assistance from Massey University Palmerston North and a grant from Auckland Council.
Clem, who is originally from Switzerland, immediately jumped at the idea: “In Europe we always had ways of diverting it but here we didn’t have anything.”
David and Betsy Kettle with Evelyn Page Chef Clem.
After getting the go-ahead from Ryman Healthcare management, Evelyn Page joined Whangaparaoa’s Two Spoons Restaurant in becoming the first clients and guinea pigs on the programme.
Betsy and David Kettle from HCZW supply the village with the bins to put their food waste in and collect the bins each week after they have ‘composted in place’.
In the first seven months since signing up they have collected roughly eight tons of food waste.
“That’s eight tons that have been diverted from going to landfill where they would generate harmful greenhouse gases like methane,” says Betsy.
The waste is taken to a nearby farm in Waitoki where the farmer has converted former dairy pasture into a banana plantation.
The land is formed into undulations known as swales, with the bokashi-ed food scraps deposited into the troughs.
There it becomes very hot before eventually cooling down, allowing for soldier flies (which don’t spread disease) to come in at around 30 degrees. Their larvae then eat the food scraps and the compost worms then come in and break it down further.
“After nine weeks at the farm the food scraps have all gone and you can put layers on top,” says Betsy.
“Because the land is on a gentle slope, the rainwater washes the nutrients into the swales and the swales hold the nutrients, allowing them to soak into the soil.
“Bananas are very heavy feeders so they like the very rich composting that occurs from this process.”
HCZW is now hoping to get more schools involved: “The kids really want to do something to help climate change. Reducing food waste is listed as the third highest action humanity can do to draw down greenhouse gases from the atmosphere,” says Betsy quoting research published in th the book ‘Drawdown’.
“Auckland Council wants to be zero waste by 2040 and food scraps have been a big stumbling block.
“We think our solution is better than what’s currently being done,” Betsy adds.
Clem said he was really proud of the village’s participation in the project and hoped it might inspire other Ryman villages to tweak their food waste practices.
“We have just quietly done this which has been amazing, but it could well be something that Ryman Healthcare does better than others.”