Last week we took part in the Food & Hotel Myanmar expo in Yangon, a huge event with hundreds of chefs vying to be the best. The hotels, restaurants and resorts of Myanmar were gathered in the huge venue to soak up the inspiration — get new ideas and make new contacts.
Watching these chefs at work was amazing! 400 of them were competing in the 6th Myanmar Culinary Arts Competition, producing some spectacular dishes. But not only did we get to watch, we were invited to take part and support them.
Our Bokashi Myanmar team was there from early in the morning to late in the evening doing what we do best – collecting food waste. We put one of our trademark blue barrels at every work station, and trained the chefs how to put all their scraps into the barrel. Maung Nan, Inda and Aye Aye from our team kept the process running smoothly, coaching them, checking the barrels, adding bran.
And in the case of Aye Aye, sampling everything that was on offer!
It worked surprisingly well! We provided plastic rubbish bags for plastic and other rubbish, but in a competition like this there are huge amounts of food waste (the best part of a ton over three days, 46 barrels). And ALL of the food waste ended up in our bokashi barrels.
The chefs were amazed, and surprisingly supportive. We were worried we would be getting in their way, adding to their workload and complicating things. But quite the opposite, in fact.
Apparently this is a world first. We got some excellent feedback after the event from Tony Khoo, Chief Judge at the event on behalf of the World Chefs Association. Immediately afterwards he wrote:
I have not seen in any salon culinary competition which I have judged around the world where there is a waste organic blue bin for competitors to throw away their trimming waste and this will be turned into recycle food fertilizer organic waste.
We’re excited about this, as it means our concept of managing food waste and turning it into high quality soil is a winner. It fits perfectly with the vision of the world chefs association to work for Zero Hunger and Zero Food Waste. They want to take this concept further, out into the world. Makes us happy!
How we will commercialise this vision and get the hotels of Myanmar to support it is another story. Collecting food waste bokashi-style is not the least complicated, but it can’t be done for free (transport! handling!). Currently, food waste collection in Yangon is more or less invisible: hotels, restaurants, companies of all sorts, simply throw out their rubbish, YCDC collects it, it disappears.
But even if the real cost is hidden from the books, it is very real in daily life. All waste from YCDC is trucked to one of the landfills around the city and dumped. No sorting, no methane management, no modern handling at all.
This is how you build a methane bomb. And occasionally it ignites.
Untreated organic waste decomposes badly. It doesn’t make soil, it does not make compost, it becomes a toxic mess that creates the worst possible greenhouse gases. This is because the immense piles of it prevent it from decomposing in a healthy way.
The anaerobic decomposition creates methane, a greenhouse gas at least 25 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide. The gas builds up deep down in the landfill mountain, so that if a fire starts it is enormously difficult to put out.
Fires like this are obviously terrible for the environment. They are also devastating for the people of Yangon, and every other city in the country that burns their waste intentionally or otherwise. These fires cause health issues that can’t be repaired.
So how can the hotels of Myanmar help?
Hotels produce huge amounts of food waste — a five-star hotel with three or four restaurants will generate five to eight tons per month. TONS PER MONTH.
And at the moment, all of it will end up at landfill. Where it will rot and smell, but even worse produce methane that damages the atmosphere and causes people to be sick.
No single hotel can of course save the world, but every one of us has a part to play. We can stop food waste at source by finding smarter ways to use it in the kitchen. We can see to it that the food waste is diverted from landfill and is instead made into valuable soil.
Doing this – making fertile soil from food waste – completes the circle beautifully. It means that old food is used to form the base for growing healthy new food. Totally circular. And logical.
We’re talking to a lot of hotels around the country – the interest is strong, no doubt about that. But the subject is relatively new, and there hasn’t previously been a practical solution to the enormous dilemma of organic waste. Food waste has not been high enough up on the agenda.
But now it is sailing up the list. And from our side, we are determined to offer a solution that can work for as many hotels as possible, wherever they may be in the country.
Huge problems like this aren’t solved overnight. But everything begins with a solution on one hand, and a will to change on the other.
And that’s what we are hoping will make all the difference in Myanmar.
This madness has got to stop.
/Jenny and the Bokashi Myanmar team
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