Every day, 25,000 to 30,000 tons of waste is generated in Malaysia. Over 90% of it is not recycled. Of that, 45-60% is organic waste.
That means that an average of around 15,000 tons of organic waste go wastefully (and harmfully) to landfills every day. That’s the weight of 15,000 cars, or 7,500 elephants, per day!
That’s just the official stuff. Near our farm, illegal dumping continues every day. Painfully, we watch truck after truck of waste drive past us looking to unload at the next quiet valley, many of which hold the scarce biodiversity remaining in our city.
FOLO dreams that one day, all of this organic waste can be transformed to produce microbes-rich compost so effectively that we can heal our precious land, grow healthy food and drive chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides out of Malaysia. It will take a public-private-community movement to make this happen.
Right now, we are acting on this dream in Johor Bahru, by aiming to collecting 1 elephant (around 2 tonnes) of kitchen waste every day to make compost for our veggies. We drive our own FOLO truck, provide our own FOLO bins, and work with like-minded partners who separate their waste including our own homes, restaurants, food businesses and hotels. We take all these to our own FOLO composting centre, carry out our own aerobic composting, wash all the bins and return them to our partners.
The work is quite unglamorous and time consuming. We also need to continually educate, communicate and build trust with partners to separate their waste effectively. At such a small scale (1 elephant per day), it is also more expensive than purchasing other compost and fertilisers in the market.
But why are we doing it?
1) We do it for our kids. We want to leave a Johor Bahru and Singapore that is better and cooler for them. We want to show them that they do not have to run anywhere to find meaning.
2) We do it for our veggies and the health of our loved ones. Processed in the right way, kitchen waste can be transformed into not only compost, but one of the best, most nutritious and microbes-rich compost for the farm environment and the vegetables that grow from it. Collectively, we believe – and science is increasingly showing – that physical exposure to our farm and sustained consumption of our vegetables can nourish and heal us.
3) We do it because it is the right thing to do. Transforming waste to something of value to society makes social, environmental and business sense. Other countries are doing it at a national level. But we are mindful that building the momentum requires institutional and cultural change, which in turn require commitment and venture philanthropy. To get to where we are today, we are grateful that the FOLO community of friends and supporters have donated land, machinery, time, money and networks.
Meet Pierre Loisel, our mentor. He’s a 75 year old ex NASA engineer and tech pioneer who fell in love in Taiwan 50 years ago and never left. When his wife had to recover from breast cancer, Pierre decided to make his own compost to nourish her with the best vegetables he could grow. We are very grateful for his inspiration and his advice ☺
Pierre at TEDx Taipei in 2013. Notice his ginormous cabbages ☺
Pierre composting at his farm.
FOLO team and Pierre during our recent composting and recycling visit with the amazing in-house farm team at Donghai University in Taichung.
What is composting?
We leave it to the Germans for a good definition ☺. Incidentally, they are one of the most advanced composting nations on our planet. Currently about 50% of German households are involved in the separate collection of biowaste (bio-bins/bio-containers). Approximately 8 million tons of biowaste are treated in 800 composting plants to produce 5 million tons of compost EVERY year. That's 2.5 million elephants of food for their veggies. Here’s what they say about composting:
Composting is a biological decomposition process for organic waste, in which the material is broken down by microbes and micro-organisms under aerobic conditions. The end product is compost, an organic plant nutrient and humus supplier. Composting is a natural biological degradation process that is controlled and accelerated at a composting facility. Composting is the transformation of biologically decomposable material through a controlled process of biooxidation, which results in the production of carbon dioxide, water, minerals and stabilised organic matter (compost or humus).
The composting process can be divided into three phases:
♣ A degradation phase important for sanitisation (weed seeds and pathogens, thermophilic bacteria, actinomycetes and fungi)
♣ A conversion phase temperature drops and other bacteria and fungi complete the decomposition
♣ A maturation phase bacterial activity slows down (presence of earthworms, springstails and mites)
It's all about microbes
At FOLO, we apply our values of Inclusivity and Embracing Diversity into our composting work too. That means that we take great care to provide conditions for as many types of microbes as possible to flourish in our soil, including those that we do not know about.
We want to encourage all our loved ones to be exposed to the diversity of microbes at our farm, fueled by our compost. Latest science is beginning to show how this is good for our health:
“It’s tricky to add up all this early evidence into a prescription for lowering your child’s risk of asthma and allergies. I’d sum up the recommendations like this: have a dog (but make sure you start early, ideally prenatally), live on a farm where your kids are exposed to cows and straw, avoid antibiotics early in life, and perhaps take probiotics and breastfeed (although the evidence for those last two is preliminary at present). In general, exposure to diverse microbes, whether through older siblings, pets, or livestock — or through good old-fashioned playing outdoors — seems to help, even if scientists are still sorting out the specific microbes involved. It may be that diversity itself is most important.” – Rob Knight, world-renowned microbial ecologist
Our first hotel partner in JB – the boss is personally taking charge of waste separation and recycling with FOLO ☺. True leadership.
Composting our first batch of kitchen waste
Our elephant collection tool ☺
For more information on composting, we recommend reading:
Composting our first batch of kitchen waste