Given the many advantages of the circular economy model, it is concerning that we still primarily operate in a linear one. Every year, the world produces 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste, with at least 33 percent of it being handled in an environmentally harmful manner.
In the East Asia and Pacific area, the majority of this waste is organic. Organic waste management presents a significant challenge for many countries in Asia. Although biodegradable, it often adds to disease transmission risks and, while decomposing, releases methane, a gas that adds significantly to global warming.
Despite being a leader in recycling solid waste, Taiwan has long struggled to solve its food waste problem. Home to 23.31 million people, it generated approximately 1.327kg municipal waste per person per day last year, one-fifth, or 19.25 percent, of which is organic waste composed of food waste and garden trimmings.
According to the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), 75 percent of Taiwan’s food waste undergoes underwater treatment to make pig feed, a method being reconsidered as it might raise the risk of an African swine fever outbreak. To some, this approach is insufficient, expensive and even inadequate to catch up with the huge daily volume of organic waste.
The challenging reality is not lost on Taiwanese green entrepreneurs. The Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research’s Center for Green Economy last year honored some of them at its Taiwan Circular Economy Awards. Their enterprises are redressing processing technologies, which are one of the major factors behind Taiwan’s battle against organic waste. As innovators, they are turning waste into value-added resources and adding to the global green movement.
Prominent microbiologist and entrepreneur Young Chiu-chung (楊秋忠) and his company Tetanti Agribiotec have cracked the code to address the problem of kitchen waste disposal with their first-of-its-kind technology.
Developed over several years, their state-of-the-art target enzyme technology is used to treat organic wastes to produce high-quality organic fertilizer. Unlike the two to four months needed for traditional composting, the innovative technology turns waste into soil-enriching fertilizers within just three hours. With its short processing time, the technology’s overall emissions are less than 100kg of carbon dioxide per tonne of organic waste, compared with 450kg per tonne in traditional composting and 750kg per tonne in landfills.
The company says it “possesses over 8,000 strains and 2,500 species of functional bacterial stock, which are the source to various targeted enzymes.”
It also says it is able to customize the mixture of targeted enzymes to meet the requirements for different kinds of organic waste, such as poultry manure, kitchen waste, plant residue, sludge and traditional Chinese medicinal plant residue.
With the core idea of “circular agriculture,” the enterprise not only solves the problem of organic waste disposal, but also implements innovative technology in environmental regeneration to improve soil degradation and make agriculture sustainable.
Organic waste is also used by Ju Tian Cleantech, a company founded by Huang Chien-chung (黃千鐘), as resources for environmentally friendly products. Launched last year, its Renouvo brand processes sugar cane bagasse, coffee ground, bamboo slag, tea dregs and other agricultural waste to produce biodegradable homeware products.
Seeking to replace petrochemical plastic, the enterprise launched sugar cane straws as its first product in 2017. Now their inventory includes tableware, cups, cup lids and food containers that can be decomposed and returned to nature. Using energy-saving clean technologies and limiting the carbon emissions during the process are integral parts of the brand’s identity.
As a social innovation organization, the brand collaborates with grocery and convenience store chains such as 7-Eleven to reduce the usage of plastic cups. Internationally, the company has assisted several businesses in reducing the usage of about 400 million disposable plastic items. With Taiwanese technology at its heart, the firm’s green innovations serve 25 countries across five continents, with Europe the primary market.
Founded in 2010, Stonbo Creative uses insects to dispose of food waste that would have otherwise been incinerated or composted. The hero in the company’s fight against organic waste is the black soldier fly. The firm has four complementary divisions assisting the integration of sustainable development, ecological conservation and healthy life. It operates a research-and-development unit focused on black soldier flies, a unit that creates educational videos, a bed-and-breakfast and an organic farm.
Headed by Shi Cheng-jen (石正人), an honorary professor in National Taiwan University’s Department of Entomology, the Dragonfly Stone Organic Ecological Farm cultivates seasonal organic vegetables, raises pheasants, grows shiitake mushrooms, and rehabilitates butterflies and fireflies.
Food produced on the farm is used at the Dragonfly Stone B&B in Yilan County’s Dazhou Village (大洲), a cornerstone of Taiwan’s farm-to-table movement, where black soldier flies at all stages of their life cycle are used to dispose of organic waste, produce animal feed and create organic fertilizer. Black soldier fly larvae are rich in protein and, when fed to chickens, pigs and fish, increase their resistance to diseases.
Using this natural recycling relationship, not only greenhouse gas emissions are lowered, the waste recycled by black soldier flies immediately enters the environment. At present, about 100kg of kitchen waste, bean dregs and other kinds of organic waste are being handled by the mechanism, reducing the amount of emissions and environmental pollution generated during the traditional organic waste treatment process.
Shi believes that the black soldier fly ecosystem provides the best solution to Taiwan’s organic waste problem in terms of reducing its carbon footprint. He aims to introduce the methods to communities and schools in the near future.
In the past few years, the EPA has led several initiatives to limit the generation of food waste, urging people to “only order what you can eat” and promoting “green eating” at dedicated events. New policies have also been discussed to use organic waste for energy generation.
Five local governments said they are “operating, constructing or planning for such facilities.”
However, the solution to the organic waste crisis lies in addressing all the stages. Local entrepreneurs engaged in repurposing organic waste are an essential part of the battle, but a more democratic and bottom-up engagement of their enterprises could boost a collective action against organic waste in Taiwan.
Naina Singh is a project research assistant at the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research and a doctoral candidate in National Chung Hsing University’s Graduate Institute of International Politics.
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