Bokashi composting has been gaining popularity among households in South Africa and around the world. Bokashi is a composting system that you can do inside your home using buckets. The term “bokashi” is a Japanese word meaning “fermented organic matter”.
Planet Natural describes bokashi composting as an anaerobic fermentation process which relies on inoculated bran to ferment kitchen waste, including meat, dairy and cooked foods, into a safe soil builder and nutrient-rich “tea” for your plants.
Anaerobic fermentation, which is common to all bacteria and eukaryotes, is a metabolic process that converts carbohydrates (sugars) to organic acids, gases or liquids under anaerobic conditions.
Sarah Alsen, executive director of Durban-based not-for-profit organisation Bioregional SA, is working toward the sustainable commercialisation of bokashi composting.
They aim to scale up an existing pilot bokashi composting project to other users, to compost local food surplus and waste from not only a hotel in downtown Durban but also other suitable sites.
“Food waste, when treated with bokashi and mixed with green and brown organic waste, creates a high-quality compost product that can be used by landscapers, the municipality, sold at plant nurseries or DIY stores,” said Alsen in an interview.
The bokashi composting pilot project is in an existing food garden started by a group of homeless individuals during the initial lockdowns in 2020, on a municipality-owned piece of land behind Southern Sun’s Elangeni Hotel on Durban’s North Beach. The garden is named ‘Sisonke’, or ‘We are Together’.
The composting pilot was initiated by Bioregional SA, which provides support to the garden project in the form of managing its social media platforms and collaborating with partners.
Their aim is to grow the number of urban food gardens and divert more waste from landfills by establishing localised compost sites. After 18 months of growing food at the Sisonke Garden, the soil quality had diminished and there was a need for compost to improve the soil’s condition.
“Bioregional arranged for deliveries of compost to the garden site from a stable and a commercial composting operation, but found that the long distances that needed to be covered for the deliveries were unsustainable and costly.
“We then had the idea to approach the Elangeni Hotel, which is literally across the street from the garden, to begin the composting pilot project using their food waste,” Alsen explained.
Bioregional assisted with Southern Africa Food Lab’s analysis of food waste in eThekwini in 2021, which showed that the average food waste produced at Durban hotels and malls can be anything up to 38 tons per month per hotel. The company calculated that if this waste were composted, it would yield a minimum of five tons of compost each month.
Bioregional has worked closely with Bokashi Bran, the supplier of the bokashi system, over the pilot period, with Bokashi Bran expressing that it sees a bright future for local composting products in South Africa.
The company said that “a network production model can be easily scaled for replicability, ideal for the South African market needing to create employment and promote entrepreneurship, particularly among the youth, as well as provide a localised solution for food waste as one of many environmental crises, limiting greenhouse gas emissions from landfills and transport involved in disposing of food and garden waste.”
It has been mandated in SA’s National Waste Management Strategy to have 100% diversion of organic material from landfills, by 2030. The Waste Act also specifies source separation so that food waste can be diverted from landfill, thus the imperative is reinforced.
Bioregional SA is supported by the African Circular Economy (ACE) Africa, which is a project implemented by ICLEI Africa (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives) and Stellenbosch University LaunchLab, with support from the Embassy of Finland in South Africa.
“The goal of Bioregional SA,” says Alsen, “is to unlock the potential of the circular economy by supporting and upskilling start-up companies and small businesses that show promising circular economy contributions in African cities.
“The potential of Sisonke composting is huge. Recycling of food waste cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 98%, saves landfill space, creates new jobs and results in a significant reduction in waste collection costs by businesses.
“The hope is that localised small-scale compost production will mean more urban food gardens can be supported, too, which is good for creating livelihoods, shortening supply chains and promoting healthy eating. Become part of the green revolution,” said Alsen.