Why should you start thinking differently about waste?

At Vegware, we want to change the way people think about ‘waste’. This word has connotations of useless, unwanted items that are thoughtlessly discarded. Traditionally, our linear economy has made it easier, faster and cheaper to dump or burn used materials. And the language we use encourages us to become more detached from these processes. But as materials become scarcer and our planet is increasingly strained, we must realise that all products have the potential to become another resource: it all depends on how we treat them.

‘Food waste’ is a perfect example. This material is not waste at all – it is a valuable resource! Not only do our potato peelings and banana peels have the potential to produce gas that can be converted into renewable energy, our food waste can also become a nutrient-rich fertiliser. Composting is the process of handling food waste in a controlled environment, encouraging decomposition by ensuring that the materials have a balance of heat, microbes, oxygen and water. The result: a wonderful, organic product that can be returned to soil and benefit the growth of more food and plants. Dr Anne Bhogal, Senior Research Scientist at ADAS took the time to explain in more detail:

Soils are one of our most precious natural resources, but are under threat due to erosion, compaction and loss of organic matter. Recycling compost back to agricultural land is a valuable way to increase soil organic matter levels and improve soil health which will in turn lead to more sustainable and resilient cropping systems.

Unfortunately, around the world many people do not appreciate the importance of sustaining healthy soil. In the United States, soil is often referred to as ‘dirt’ – which, like ‘waste’, has negative connotations! Few people understand that our ability to grow food is dependent on the quality of this soil. In the UK, our soils are badly damaged: research suggests that with increased soil depletion, there could be only 100 harvests left. We need to protect our soil to ensure food security for ourselves, and the next generation.

Compost has an essential role to play in this protection. Applying compost to land returns valuable nutrients to the soil, that may have been lost due to heavy agricultural practices. As the UK experiences more flooding incidents due to climate change, compost is particularly important as it makes soil more resistant to increased rainfall and stops run-off. But don’t take our word for it! Dr Jane Gilbert, an expert in biological treatment (e.g. composting) processes explained to us why it is so important to increase composting in the UK:

Composting is nature’s way of recycling organic wastes and is as relevant in 2017 as ever before. Britain’s arable soils are suffering from a chronic loss of organic matter and quality composts are an excellent way of helping stem this loss and re-build soil organic carbon. Not only does this improve soil function, it also acts as​ a carbon sink, helping combat climate change.

The research shows that compost can have a key role to play in tackling climate change. The organics recycling sector and agricultural sector have the power to use this valuable resource to restore our soils. But most importantly, we must change our mind-set around organic materials. In nature, there is no ‘dirt’ or ‘waste’. There are only resources that are not being valued and protected. We must change that.

Find out more about the importance of protecting our soils:

ADAS – http://www.adas.uk/

Farmers Weekly (2015) ‘Only 100 harvests left in UK farm soils, scientists warn’ – http://www.fwi.co.uk/news/only-100-harvests-left-in-uk-farm-soils-scientists-warn.htm

Organics Recycling (2016) ‘Combating Climate Change’, Spring 2016: Issue 29, pp. 48-49

WRAP DC-Agri research – http://www.wrap.org.uk/content/digestate-and-compost-agriculture-dc-agri