The magic of Bokashi composting as a solution for school food waste

by Ethan D, Global Development Studies student

It was January 7th, 2021, and I was unaware of the rigorous, yet fruitful work that lay ahead of me and my teammates to enhance sustainability at our school.

Josh, Kendra and I gravitated towards food for our semester project in Global Development Studies. Specifically, we were drawn to the idea of food waste and making a change in this area. We had heard from a Global Issues Network group that our school had a food waste problem, and that we should all be more aware of how much food we were eating and throwing away. This group was  achieving some success in lowering our school’s food waste numbers by running their awareness campaign; however, the numbers were still unacceptable and we decided we wanted to do something to help.

We decided to devote our time to understanding more about composting as a sustainable practice and solution. Essentially, we were enriching ourselves to better understand how we could use our knowledge to further the level of sustainability at Concordia. We spent close to a week researching composting methods, tools needed, location requirements, the amount of food waste that can be composted, and more. I felt enlightened and motivated to plan something brilliant for our community.

With more research, Bokashi composting (a type of low maintenance composting that has the ability to break down food in short periods of time compared to other methods) became the key solution we wanted to adopt, and we dove right in to our planning.

The next few weeks would be some of the most rigorous of our academic year because we would create banners to promote awareness, work with the Concordia Operations team to clarify our plans, travel to local farms to create partnerships for using our compost, and write articles and proposals about our work. Whatever the task was, our team bonded well and I think that was one of the biggest parts of our success. Because of our positive teamwork, we collaborated in a robust manner and I think the work we did paid off in helping us achieve our goals.

Our biggest challenge was finding local farms that could take the volume of food waste that we produce. The GIN team is hoping to continue bringing our food waste numbers down, but we are still producing, on average, approximately 180-250 kg of food waste each day. That’s a lot of food waste and will produce a lot of compost, so it was a challenging task to figure out how we could distribute our food waste in a sustainable way. We met with two local farms, visiting their sites (one about 20 minutes from school and another on nearby Chongming Island) but knew we were a long way from finding an outlet for our volume of food waste.

Aramark, our school’s food service provider, reached out to their farm partners and found one farm that could take a significant percentage of our food waste. When we heard that news, I cried, quite literally. Our team was ecstatic to hear that our project would be able to continue.

From this point on, our priorities included ordering the composting bins, continued communication with the farms and more farm visits, and the funding of the project (many thanks to the Concordia Fund for approving our application for funding). In addition, we also developed an educational aspect to this project so we could explain to everyone in our community how composting can reduce our carbon footprint.

Finally, here we are. Five months of working on a sustainability project about Bokashi composting and we are finally ready to order our first bins and start working with our partner farms. We have work to do over the summer to secure more farm partnerships, but we’re excited to begin with phase 1, with the hope that phase 2 will come on board sometime in semester one of the next school year. Our goal, at this point, is to have the full school-wide composting program running by December 2021.

This project Global Development Studies was eye-opening and helped us develop a greater understanding of the principles of sustainability. In an age where climate change is a major problem, we need solutions, and we hope our project has a role to play in making things better.