Hotel food waste is history!

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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.

Costs nothing.

Landfill fires

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.

Zero food waste

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.

So how can we make this work?

Two ways:

  1. Food waste can be collected, in Yangon at least, by our bokashi team. We have a program for this (our Hotel Food Waste Service, see below) which makes it convenient and affordable. All food waste collected in this way becomes healthy, fertile compost that is returned to organic farms and gardens in the city. We train your staff in the segregation process but we then take care of the rest.
  2. We can also train hotel staff to process the hotel’s own food waste using our bokashi process for speedy urban compost. We run regular training sessions for this in our bokashi yard in North Dagon. This is actually the better alternative for hotels and restaurants with their own gardens, as it cuts out the transportation and helps you revitalise your own gardens.

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

Want to learn more? Please contact us!

And you’re welcome to download and share our hotel food waste service brochure now!

Exciting new projects and a new bokashi yard!


Read about our project so far, it’s interesting! The November update here, October here, the September one here, and the back story here.

Our mantra is that organic waste IS. NOT. TRASH. 

Every day it gets clearer to us just how important that is. The streets and backyards of Yangon are filled with trash. And the tragedy is that it’s the same story every you look. In cities, towns and villages in Myanmar, and in many other parts of Asia. 

We’ve gotta do something about it. 

Here. Now. Fast.

Lots of people are talking about plastic. We’re drowning in it, and we can no longer ignore it.

Here in Yangon we’re seeing a lot of good initiatives on many fronts — Thant Myanmar is working with awareness and education, Trash Hero and Clean Green Yangon are two of many spirited groups working with cleanups, organisations like Conyat Create are working to create the conversation that for too long we’ve not been having, companies like RecyGlo are getting involved on a commercial scale with recycling. 


But it’s all about plastic (apart from RecyGlo who are working on many fronts).

And plastic, although it’s probably the most disgusting part of the waste stream, is just part of the story. 


Photo: Jenny Harlen
Huge amounts of organic waste are generated every day at markets all over Yangon

More to the story


Our story here at Bokashi Myanmar is ORGANIC WASTE. The soft, wet stuff that comes in some way from plants and food. Stuff that can perfectly well be returned to the soil, returned to nature, because that’s where it came from in the first place.

Organic waste is perfect for recycling!

It’s not complicated like plastic, that has to be sorted into many different categories before it can be recycled in the most effective way. It’s not complicated like metal, glass, batteries, electronics, building materials, that all have to be sorted and moved on to a responsible processing plant for rational and clean recycling.

Organic waste is easy. 

Everything goes back to the soil. No sorting needed, no special knowledge or technology, or advanced processing plants. 

The trick is to just give it back to the soil. 

Soil food

But NO ONE is doing this! And you can only imagine how sad this makes us. Because the soil is screaming out to be fed and we are wasting the seemingly endless supply of “soil food” that we could be feeding it with. 

Two-thirds of the waste that goes to landfill in Yangon is organic. The other one-third is non-organic, the fractions like plastic, glass, metal and so on. That’s TONS** of organic waste that ends up on the tip every day.

Another huge amount, we have no idea how much, just lies and rots at the roadside or ends up in the nearest river.

Which, even if it disappears, is absolutely not recycling. 

All of this organic waste should be used for feeding the soil.

We can do that by making compost, by fermenting and digging it down into the soil, by making organic fertilisers or liquid nutrients.

There are various options, but they are different versions of the same basic equation: what comes from the soil should go back to the soil. 

So. Why has this not been done before? Why is it not being done now?

(**2,000-3,000 tons per day, in Yangon alone)

Photo: Jenny Harlen
Making good soil is the starting point for everything

Organic waste is “too difficult”

We’ve spoken to a lot of people about this.

The general conclusion is A. that it’s too hard, and B. that no one knows how to do it. 

And making matters worse, people generally don’t see the difference between the two basic forms of waste: organic and non-organic. The first step in this process will always be to separate the two. Because the recycling approach is totally different.

Here at Bokashi Myanmar, we have a completely different mindset.

We’re not interested in sorting out the issues related to recycling plastic, glass and metal — we’ll leave that to the many experts in the field. For us it’s way too complicated anyhow. 

But we are good at recycling organic waste. In fact, we think it’s quite straightforward from a practical point of view. Logistics and education are another story, but actually making a great organic fertiliser or super healthy soil is, for us no big deal. It’s what we do.

And we really want to get the whole Myanmar involved in this part of the waste puzzle. Because it’s something we can do on every street corner, balcony, back yard, urban farm, or even “real” farm. 

Bokashi is hardly rocket science, anyone can recycle organic waste using this method, but it needs to start happening in real life.

Soon. Now. 

End of speech. How about our projects here in Yangon?

They’re going great! 

We’ve had a busy few weeks starting up new projects and moving our existing ones forward. You can read more about our waste management project in the Ward 67 community and our partnership with recycling startup RecyGlo here, in our November update. 

This month we have three exciting new stories to tell, and I want to tell you about a gourd.


The RecyGlo team — daring to break new ground

School garden!


First story: we are starting up a school garden project at Dulwich College, one of the leading international schools here in Yangon. A very cool project, as the students (the school has all ages) already have a nice kitchen garden.

But the soil? It’s good, but it’s all been brought in from outside and needs regular fertilising. Nothing circular about that. 

Meanwhile, the school is working towards environmental certification in the form of a “Green Flag”. Recycling of dry fractions is underway and that leaves the wet. One of the teachers, Matt Grace, is now bringing bokashi into the school canteen. 

All food scraps will go into the bokashi barrel from now on, the students will learn about how this works and why it is important, and then the different classes will add “their very own” bokashi fertiliser to their class garden beds. 

So smart and inspiring. And there’s an educational angle at every turn. We’ll keep you updated how it goes! (And we have more international schools asking us to help them with this approach, makes us happy!)


One of the beautiful garden beds at Dulwich College. They just need to be fed!

U Thant House, an inspirational oasis


One of the most respected men in Myanmar history is U Thant. He was Secretary General of the United Nations from 1961 to 1971, a complex period of nation-building in which he provided a strong and clear leadership worldwide. 

His house, here in Yangon, has long been abandoned but is now being restored by a family trust into a museum and educational center: the values he most stood for are those at the core of this new museum project. 

U Thant House is an oasis! 

The garden is one and a half acres of calm and shady peace here in the middle of Yangon. Next step, now that the house is more or less renovated, is to restore the garden into a true Myanmar-style haven. With indigenous trees and plants, and a totally sustainable message running through every part of the garden.

Like everywhere else in Yangon, the soil in the garden is poor. Sandy, undernourished. Like most other parks and gardens, the garden waste has been sent off to landfill or left languishing in a corner. 

Our job, which we volunteered for within 5 minutes of visiting the house, is to help restore the soil, and to add what we can to help bring the garden to life. 

We started a few weeks ago, working with the garden team at U Thant House a day or two per week to get the ball rolling. Ultimately, we hope to be able to share the bokashi story there with visitors, show what we’re doing, talk about why this is a valuable part of the sustainability story, help them learn if they wish.

To start with, we structured up the compost yard. And had so much fun in the process! We now have a very space-effective garden compost going that will produce compost for the garden, based on our bokashi methods (there is a difference to traditional composting; it’s faster, easier and more nutrient-dense. And extremely compact).

Next step, starting this week, is to start collecting food waste from the nearby market and next door school, and start building soil for U Thant House’s new kitchen garden with that. As well as boosting the compost no end with this essentially free and very valuable addition of nutrients. 

It’s a brilliant circular story, sustainability at best, so we will work with getting it right. May take a while, but this is a fast-moving team with a lot of passion, so I suspect it will go faster than any of us think.

Some of the team at U Thant House after one long day’s work

New bokashi yard!

Our next exciting news from these past weeks is that we think we have a new bokashi yard! Super exciting! We’re doing the last negotiations, Myanmar style, at the moment and hopefully it will all be clear this week. 

It’s close to our existing yard, totally overgrown, but is twice the size with no house. So we have lots of space to work and can start receiving organic waste from the local markets (we have two), start making bokashi, and gradually start producing some organic compost and fertiliser products for sale. 

We’ll also receive the bokashi barrels collected by our partner RecyGlo from corporates and households, swapping their full barrels with clean empty ones ready to go back to their customers for another round of food waste.

Cross your fingers this goes well! 

And we’ll tell you next time how it’s all shaping up.


Photo: Jenny Harlen
Our six kilo gourd, it’s a beauty!

6 kilo gourd


Oh, and the gourd story I promised? 

The other day we harvested this beauty. 6.2 kilos (we had a guessing competition, Inda won). It is grown in bokashi and sand and nothing else. 

Our yard is a kind of desert, like many other houses in monsoon-drenched Yangon it has a half-meter thick layer of construction sand. Infertile and hard to grow anything in. But all the bokashi we have been digging down these last months, made from waste from the local market, has paid off. We’re harvesting these beauties every few days at the moment, and handing them out to the neighbours. Because there’s only so much gourd you can eat…

They taste great!

Amazing, really

And, when you think about it, it’s kind of revolutionary. No fertiliser, no tricks. Just sand and bokashi. If we can do this, anyone can. Any old piece of land can be made fertile with the right approach. 

Which means anyone can grow food anywhere. Even in an urban desert. 


We’re happy.

/The Bokashi Myanmar team

And! Super thanks to our colleagues at Bokashi Norway! They amazed us this year with a Christmas donation to our project that will be a huge help in renting our new yard and setting it up. We really appreciate the global teamwork, and all the heart that goes with it. Hugs to you all! 

Photo: Jenny Harlen
We work hard and we have a lot of fun here at Bokashi Myanmar!


Photo: Jenny Harlen
In what was once an urban desert, we’ve created a little oasis. Complete with pineapple hedge!


Tea leaves = fertiliser



Here’s an inspiring story.
On a spare corner of a community wasteland (=dump, basically) in Mandalay this guy is drying used tea leaves. He collects them from local tea shops on a regular basis and brings them here to dry.
Then he packs them all up in rice sacks and sells them as fertilser.
It’s a micro business but it’s a genius idea, so much more of this would be needed.

ရပ္ကြက္ကလူေတြ အမိႈက္ပစ္ၾကတဲ့ေနရာရဲ႕ ေထာင့္တေထာင့္မွာ ဒီလူႀကီးက သံုးၿပီးသားအခ်ိဳေျခာက္ေတြကို ေနလွန္းေနရဲ႕။
ရပ္ကြက္လၻက္ရည္ဆိုင္ေလးေတြကေန ပံုမွန္သြားသြားယူလာၿပီး ဒီမွာေနလာလွန္းတယ္။
အေျခာက္လွမ္းၿပီးသားေတြကို ဆာလာအိတ္ထဲထည့္ၿပီး၊ ျခင္ေဆးေခြလုပ္တဲ့ေနရာမွာရယ္၊ ေျမဩဇာအျဖစ္ရယ္ ျပန္ေရာင္းသတဲ့။
ဒီစီးပြားေရးေလးက တကယ့္ေသးေသးေလးပါ။ သို႔ေသာ္ တကယ့္အၾကံေကာင္းေလး။ ဒီလို အိုင္ဒီယာ နဲ႔ လုပ္နည္းေတြ ပိုပိုမ်ားလာဖို႔ လိုတယ္။

#bokashimyanmar #foodwaste #sustainablemyanmar #makessomuchsense

Kindness not plastic.


( 😊ေအာက္မွာျမန္မာလိုပါေသးတယ္ေနာ္ )

Feeding animals with kindness not plastic! This is from our friend Lee in India, he showed us how people leave their food waste outside their houses for the cows, goats and dogs. Nice and neat, no other rubbish.
We can make bokashi out of food waste, or any kind of organic waste really, but the animals should always get the best bits!

ၾကင္ၾကင္နာနာနဲ႔ တိရစၦာန္ေလးေတြကို အစာေကြၽးေနတာ။ ပလပ္စတစ္ေတာ့မပါ။ ဒီဗီဒီယိုေလးကို ေလာေလာဆည္ အိႏၵိယ ႏိုင္ငံမွာေရာက္ေနတဲ့ က်မတို႔မိတ္ေဆြႀကီး Lee ပို႔ေပးတာပါ။
ေခြး၊ ႏြား၊ ဆိတ္ စတဲ့သတၱဝါေလးေတြအတြက္ လူေတြက စားစရာအက်န္ေလးေတြ၊ စြန္႔ပစ္ပစၥည္းေတြကို သူတို႔အိမ္ေတြအျပင္ဘက္မွာ စုပံုထားေပးထားတာကိုျပခ်င္တာပါ။
ေကာင္းမြန္သပ္ရပ္ပါတယ္။ တျခားအမိႈက္လည္းမပါပါဘူး။
အစားအေသာက္အႂကြင္းအက်န္ေတြကေနေရာ၊ တျခားဩဂဲနစ္ စြန္႔ပစ္ပစၥည္းေတြကေနပါ က်မတို႔ ဘိုကာ႐ွီ ျပဳလုပ္ႏိုင္ပါတယ္။ သို႔ေသာ္ အဲဒါေတြထဲက ေကာင္းတာေလးေတြကိုေတာ့ တိရစာၦန္ေလးေတြ စားရေစခ်င္တာက်မတို႔ ေစတနာအမွန္ပါ။

#bokashimyanmar #bokashi #foodwaste #noplastic

Making soil count.

THIS is why it’s so important to get organic material back into the soil where it belongs.
And THIS is why we’re starting Bokashi Myanmar.
Because it’s one of the most important things we have to do at the moment, here on our home planet.

ဩဂဲနစ္ပစၥည္းေတြကို သူပိုင္ဆိုင္ရာအမိေျမႀကီးဆီ ျပန္ပို႔ဖို႔ ဘာေၾကာင့္အေရးပါတာလဲဆိုတဲ့အေျဖက…ဒါပါပဲ။
ျမန္မာျပည္မွာ ဘိုကာ႐ွီပေရာဂ်တ္စတင္ရျခင္းရဲ႕အေၾကာင္းရင္းကလည္း ဒါေၾကာင့္ပါပဲ။
က်ေနာ္တို႔ေနထိုင္ရာအိမ္သဖြယ္ျဖစ္တဲ့ ဒီကမၻာေျမႀကီးေပၚ အေကာင္အထည္ေဖာ္ဖို႔ လတ္တေလာအေရးႀကီးဆံုးေတြထဲကတစ္ခုလည္းျဖစ္ပါတယ္။

#bokashimyanmar #makesoil #compost #bokashi #foodwaste

At the end of the day.


Behind the scenes. Yangon is a big city, the markets are huge, and every day great loads of produce come in from the surrounding countryside.
By evening, there are waste piles by every stall. Mixed organic and non-organic, all headed for landfill.

ရန္ကုန္ကၿမိဳ႕အႀကီးႀကီး။ေဈးေတြကလည္းတကယ့္အႀကီးႀကီးေတြ။ ေန႔တိုင္းပဲ အနီးအနားေက်းလက္ေဒသေတြဆီကေန ထုတ္ကုန္အေျမာက္အမ်ားကဝင္လာေနၾက။
ဆိုင္တိုင္းဆိုင္တိုင္းရဲ႕ေဘးမွာ…ေအာ္ဂဲနစ္ေကာ ေအာ္ဂဲနစ္မဟုတ္တာပါ ေရာေႏွာထားၿပီး
အမိႈက္ပံုထဲေရာက္ရမယ့္ အပယ္ခံပစၥည္းေတြကတပံုတပင္။

#bokashimyanmar #yangonmarkets #foodwaste #bokashipotential

And after the sugarcane juice…?

(😊ေအာက္မွာျမန္မာလိုပါေသးတယ္ေနာ္ )

Sugar cane juice! So damn nice on a hot day. But the leftovers, where do they end up? Taken off to the tip, I assume. Which is a pity, we could make great bokashi from them. And one day we will!