For me, food waste is about carbon. Our chickens and compost close the carbon-intensive loop
Story was by Mark Stockley | @internetofhens
Image by Erin Chapman | @erins_illustrations
We live in a part of the UK where food waste is collected weekly from the kerbside, along with the rest of the household rubbish. It is either composted industrially or fed to an anaerobic digester that produces compost and methane-driven electricity.
It’s great. It’s easy to use and it closes the loop on domestic food waste at scale. But we don’t use it.
We don’t put our food bin out because no food waste ever leaves our property.
There are many good definitions of what constitutes food waste, but for me food waste is anything that it incurs a carbon cost to dispose of or replace. Good as it is, industrial waste processing requires transport and energy, and that carries a carbon cost. We have found a solution that not only closes the loop on waste, but also makes the loop smaller and zero-carbon.
We are lucky enough to have space for a vegetable garden and chickens, both of which need to be fed. Food waste in our household feeds both – hence never leaving our property. Meat, dairy and cooked food goes in a bokashi bin, and everything the chickens can eat – salad leaves, apple cores etc – go into a smaller caddy bin.
After leaving the bokashi system, the now-pickled food waste is either buried in the ground where we’re going to grow food, or it’s added to a compost heap in the chicken run.
The chicken caddy is emptied into the chicken run every day so that the hens can turn it into eggs and chicken poo. The stuff they don’t eat rots down on the chicken run floor, which is then mined with the poo in the winter to provide soil for the vegetable garden. Then the vegetable scraps feed the chickens, and the loop is closed!
As well as operating a zero-waste system, we reduce our carbon emissions by bypassing industrial waste processes and sequestering carbon in our garden.
Food waste is a potential source of compost, soil fertility and soil carbon (soils rich in organic matter are a great carbon sink) and chicken poop enriches the system. By keeping food waste in the ground or in our chickens, we’re increasing our soil fertility, using it to grow food we won’t have to buy, and sticking some carbon in the ground.
If we didn’t use food waste like this, we’d probably have to find another source of soil fertility, such as buying in compost. That seems a bit like buying your food, sending the waste away in a truck, and buying the food again (in the form of compost).
Of course, not everyone has space or time for composting and keeping chickens. I personally think food waste collection is great, and when that’s working everywhere, we can always overlay local schemes to shorten the waste loops. Closed waste loops are great, but shorter loops are better! But the big win is just closing the loop in the first place, and everyone should have access to that.