Sat, Apr 19, 2003 - Page 16 News List

Turning waste into gold

Composting as a way of dealing with organic waste goes back a long way, but Taiwan is only just rediscovering how this age-old method could benefit the environment

By Peggy Lim  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Every other morning, Pierre Loisel takes his truck out to collect organic waste, which he makes into fertilizer that he uses on his plot and shares with local farmers.

PHOTO: PEGGY LIM

Pierre Loisel (劉力學), a long-term Canadian resident of Taiwan, pulls out of his driveway in the darkness of a 3:30 morning. Every other day, painting red lights green on empty streets, he heads from his coastal plot of land in the outskirts of Taipei's Sanchih County towards Taipei City. In Neihu District, he collects dark green bins and loads them onto what he affectionately calls his pun truck. Pun is Taiwanese for leftovers, organic waste such as chicken bones, rotten vegetables, and miscellaneous plate scrapings.

Collecting kitchen waste to feed pigs is an ancient but somewhat diminishing practice in urban Taiwan. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, less than 4 percent of nation's daily 6,000 tonnes of organic waste gets recycled in that way. Most organic waste, which makes up 20 to 30 percent of an average household's daily garbage, gets treated like regular garbage -- dumped in landfills or sent to incinerators.

Loisel, a former computer scientist who has spent the last several years of his retirement investigating alternative garbage uses, says this is a waste. He advocates that organic waste, besides that which is fed to pigs, be recycled through composting. Arguing that composting can and will be implemented across the island, Loisel says, "It's more a matter of time now, than whether it can work. With the independent backing of groups as diverse as the Homemakers Union and Foundation, Taiwan Formosa Plastics Corporation, and the Environmental Protection Agency, recycling kitchen waste into organic compost may not be so far around the corner.

Problematic pun

Several years ago, Loisel and his surrounding community began using a small incinerator sponsored by the EPA to clean up the area. The incinerator released safe carbon dioxide and steam byproducts, but was unable to handle large quantities of organic waste. The high water content of organic waste mixed with ashes creates a "big cake" at the bottom of an incinerator. "An incinerator is not a cooking stove; it's made not to boil, but to burn garbage," said Loisel.

Learning that the government had had no luck solving the "pun" cake problem with its larger incinerators either, Loisel looked for alternatives for dealing with the organic waste. After consulting National Taiwan University Agricultural Chemistry professor, Wu Sun-ho (吳三和), he learned that besides feeding pigs, one could compost the waste, using microorganisms to decompose it into nutrient-rich soil. Loisel set out to collect pun on a larger scale and began experimenting ways of turning pun into a lucrative business.

By 5:40am, Loisel has by himself amassed over a ton of pun. Back at his home property, Loisel mixes the pun "which includes everything from pineapple cores to clam shells, wood shavings and rice husks." Free from local farmers and furniture makers, the husks and shavings provide the crucial carbon-rich material to balance out the high nitrogen levels, which gives the decaying matter its stench. In three months, the compost is ready for use. Loisel has so far shared this compost with other farmers or used it in his own garden.

He jokes that if he, a single foreigner, can handle one ton a day, the Taiwanese government should certainly be able to do more.

Organized support

The President of the Homemakers Union and Foundation (主婦聯盟環境保護基金會), Chen Man-li (陳曼麗) agrees. She applauds the example that Loisel has provided, but says that what he is able to achieve is still limited. To reach a greater scale, Chen argues, "We need the government to step in."

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