We all have organic waste coming from our homes: banana peel, watermelon rind, egg shells, tea bags, corn cobs … and strawberries. So what? Just chuck it in the bin like in this video, right?
The short term problem
For me, I noted that organic matter sitting in the kitchen bin occasionally attracted fruit fly into the house and, in general, stunk the place up a little. A few days later, you take it outside to your wheelie bin where it sits rotting for another week, potentially attracting more flies and stinking things up even more. Then it’s taken away by the weekly rubbish collection, costing you and your council money. And the cycle continues each week … and probably in most other homes across Freo.
Our food future
Our farms are so far away from the supermarkets, that it’s a case of out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Through my role at Landcare Australia I see some of the most degraded farmland in Australia. This land has been farmed to the point of destruction, just to sustain our hungry population. I’m not preaching, I too am guilty of having a punnet of strawberries go bad in my fridge, but I feel terrible knowing that these strawberries came from our fragile West Australian farming soils. If we take from the land, we have a duty to nurture and responsibly mange these soils which sustain us. It’s irresponsible for us to directly transfer nutrients from these soils, through our supermarkets, directly into landfill.
Degraded farmland in the Western Australian Wheatbelt (CSIRO, 1981)
The nutrient cycle problem
A farmer grows their crop, pouring valuable water and nutrient resources into the soil. In WA, our soils require significant boosts of nutrients and water to produce a crop. Each time that crop is harvested, all these nutrients are taken away with no possibility of returning to the soil in which they grew. Instead, the nutrients that aren’t consumed, that aren’t stinking up our kitchens, will end up in landfill – what a waste!
The nutrient cycle in farming systems. Note the red arrow, showing where nutrients exit and potentially going direct to landfill (FLRC, 2014).
The landfill problem
If your kitchen scraps are tied neatly into a plastic bag when they enter landfill, it’s almost impossible for these stored nutrients to re-enter the nutrient cycle. If these nutrients do somehow escape the plastic bags, inorganic contaminants in landfill rule out any future composting options. Instead, your waste will slowly breakdown over the next 20+ years releasing biogas (methane and carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere and contributing toward our greenhouse gas problems … what a waste!
With the above problems on my mind, I considered getting a worm farm. Sure, worm farms don’t directly help sustainable agriculture or rehabilitate our farmland, but:
- they ensure the precious nutrients taken from the land aren’t totally lost or wasted
- there wouldn’t be food scraps rotting in my kitchen bin anymore
- the wheelie bin wouldn’t need to go out each week (it’s more like every 4-6 weeks now)
- there will be less landfill and biogas
- there’s no need to spend money on soil improvers for my garden anymore
Realistically, we cannot transport our scraps back to the farms, and government legislation means we cannot on-sell bulk composted kitchen scraps. So perhaps building our own backyard worm farms is an individual measure toward reducing our footprint, saving money (for ourselves and our council), saving water and making us more conscious of our food future – plus our gardens love us for it!
Check out May Freo Pages for ‘How I made my worm farm and what to feed them’
Massey.ac.nz. (2018). Fertilizer & Lime Research Centre Home. [online] Available at www.massey.ac.nz/~flrc/shortcourses/SNM_information.html
Scienceimage.csiro.au. (2018). CSIRO Science Image – CSIRO Science Image. Available at www.scienceimage.csiro.au/tag/land-clearing-(activities)/i/4036/salinity-in-the-western-australian-wheatbelt-near-bruce-rock-wa-/
Cover image sourced from Jaishila Dabhi Thorpe, j. (2018). Research Groups | Research Environment | Research |] University of Central Lancashire. Available at www.uclan.ac.uk/research/explore/groups/earthworm_research_group.php