Rot and Return

nutrients to Earth.

When we rot or make compost from organic waste such as veggie scraps, fruit peels, dry leaves, used coffee grounds, tea leaves, hair, nails, and paper, they break down naturally and return as nutrient-rich soil that grows our food. The wonderful circular design of Mother Nature.

I am mostly out and about in Malaysia, so I often eat out and rarely cook at home. Also, I stayed with housemates who were not entirely receptive to having a compost bin filled with rotten food, creepy crawlies, flies, and so on at home. Hence, starting a compost bin was far from reality. How did I practice Rot then? I stored what little food waste I got, mainly fruit peels, in the fridge or freezer (if I’m going to keep them longer) and dropped them at the community garden’s compost bin instead. Easy peasy! I usually contribute my food waste to the Free Tree Society, which I volunteered for on some Tuesdays, and Kebun Kebun Bangsar.

(Left picture) Fret not if you do not want to start a compost bin or cannot start one for whatever reason. Freeze and collect your food waste before dropping them off at a nearby community garden’s compost bin instead. (Right picture) Food waste donated to Kebun Kebun Bangsar compost bin during Malaysia’s lockdown. They were collected and stored in the fridge for a few days.

When I returned to Singapore, our nation had just entered Circuit Breaker (CB) mode. I had to serve the compulsory Stay Home Notice (SHN) at one of the hotel facilities. After spending two weeks in a ‘luxury prison’ (I will share how I reduce waste when I cannot refuse waste during the 14 days SHN in a separate post), I was exhilarated to be home to execute all the ideas I have in mind; to repaint my bedroom walls, regrow edibles, and start composting! I found two unused IKEA bins from my bedroom since I’ve stopped buying and throwing away tissue papers and cotton pads. Though small, they are perfect for me to start composting with.

2 unused IKEA bins at home turned into compost bins. Dried leaves are readily available below my block. I found a big one perfect to ‘cover’ one of the compost bins.

During this time, I also attended a few composting workshops to familiarize myself with the whole process. It seems simple. A ratio of dry (carbon) and wet (nitrogen), one is to one. Leave it for two months, aerate the bin once in a while, and let nature do the rest. I cook almost every day at home during CB, so Rot or compost completes my zero waste lifestyle. The compost bins are filled quickly within the first month, so I started freezing my food waste instead. Soon, my freezer was packed to the brim with food waste! I posted the photo below on FB shoutout for help! “Anyone needs food waste for composting?” One person responded, and I sent my food waste to bless her debut composting process right away!

Houston, we have a problem.
My freezer is back to regular operation. Thanks to the power of FB universe. My frozen food waste is donated to a FB friend who wanted to start a compost but does not have enough food waste, to begin with. I sent my food waste to her right away!

Shortly after, I jog past a community farm – City Sprouts. What are the odds! Contacted them via IG and was thrilled to know they accept food waste. Plus, they are just a stone’s throw away from home! A short walk uphill, a mini hike to donate my food waste. Win-win.

Collect by freezing your food waste before dropping them at any nearby community garden’s compost bin. Be sure to contact and check if the community garden accepts food waste before your visit. I reached out to Edible Garden City and was surprised to know they do not take food waste. City Sprouts accepts food waste! They have a massive compost heap called Heappie! Donate your food waste to them.

Corona season has taught me one vital lesson: Grow my own food. Over 90% of Singapore’s food supplies are imported. We are lucky to have enough reserves this time around, and imports and exports are still allowed during the pandemic. What if the next one is far more contagious than Covid-19 and imports and exports ceased? We seriously need to rethink our food security and focus more on self-sustainability as a nation. We need to start growing our own, one way or another.

At the beginning of 2020, I have drastically cut down on meat consumption, especially red meat, since agriculture is the worst industry that pollutes our planet, more than oil & gas and fashion industries combined. When I cook at home, I handle vegetables primarily, and I start to regrow or replant what I eat. One more R is added before Rot – Regrow.

Regrow before Rot.

Whenever I encounter seeds during my food preparation, I’ll chuck them into the pots of some dead plant’s soil left behind by my previous housemate. Within days, the seeds sprouted! From the end of April till the end of July, I managed to regrow tomato, pumpkin, lime, orange, chili, green pepper, papaya, sweet potato, garlic, parsley, carrot,… and the list goes on! It’s so encouraging to see them flourish. Cactus and succulent, the easiest plants to have, both died in my hands. Can you imagine? Now, I’m multiplying these edibles! So keep trying. Don’t give up. Also, the sunlight and natural conditions outside my corridor seem to work very well for my plants. Thank God!

I have been regrowing a few edibles and some other plants since the end of April 2020.

I believe the future of food is to grow your own – the most organic, sustainable, and trusted way. Instead of creating 100,000 PMET jobs for the unemployed, seniors, and fresh graduates, breed urban farmers and make compost! Though it can be challenging and laborious work that requires a lot of attention and patience, it’s undoubtedly fulfilling and honourable to grow food to feed our nation. Good for our environment and well beings too! Besides, I would much rather get paid to work with plants than play office politics! That’s just me.

Repurpose before Rot.

Before I toss my food waste into the two mini compost bins or donate to City Sprouts’ massive compost heap, I divert and repurpose some to make veggie stock, eco enzyme, multipurpose cleaning solution, and coffee scrub. I will share the recipes soon!

Make nutrient-rich vegetable broth from kitchen scraps. Freeze essence in an ice tray to keep and use later as vegetable stocks for cooking. I can certainly do with a more decent-looking ice tray!
Repurpose food waste into useful cleaning products such as (picture above) eco enzyme, (picture below) multipurpose cleaning solution and beauty products such as body scrub!

Road to Zero Waste Nirvana Recap:

  • Rethink – your consumption habits.
  • Refuse – what you don’t need.
  • Reduce – what you do need.
  • Reuse – resources and materials over and over again.
  • Reusable – switch all disposables to reusables.
  • Repair / Re-gift / Repurpose – or up-cycle before recycling.
  • Recycle – responsibly, recycle right.
  • Regrow / Replant – before rot or compost your organic waste.
  • Rot – and return nutrients to Earth.

Follow these Rs in sequence, and you will be left with zero waste!

It’s been more than two months since I started composting. My food waste now looks like this:

Result of composting – dark brown or black material to enrich the soil, some call it the sweet-smelling black gold.

I’m happy to be able to return these nutrients to nature!

Published by jsmntuan

A self-confessed shopaholic, hoarder, collector and a well organized one, Jasmine Tuan, a designer, a creative brand consultant, co-owned and ran a fashion concept store in Singapore featuring the best of Asia designers, went from having a walk-in wardrobe, downsized to a rack full, to zero shopping on new fashion items in 2018. She also began her zero waste journey the same year, by applying the 5Rs principles in this order: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot daily. She added 'Rethink' in front of the 5Rs as she believes everything begins from the head.

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