The Compost Kitchen – A New Model of Recycling
What is The Compost Kitchen?
The Compost Kitchen collects food waste from households on a weekly basis. We then recycle the waste into vermicompost using 1000s of earthworms. We give the vermicompost back to the customer for free in a craft paper bag, which they can use in their vegetable garden to grow food again. Additionally, we sell vermicompost, and we also use it to brew worm-tea, which is a natural pest deterrent.
Why Food Waste?
We believe SA is not going to go far until everyone has enough food to eat. In SA, there is enough food, but the economic access to the food is a challenge due to over 30% unemployment. The easiest and quickest solution is to grow one’s own food.
At the same time, up to 40% of Johannesburg’s municipal solid waste is food waste, which decomposes into methane in anaerobic conditions in the landfill, causing landfills in SA to be the 2nd highest producers of methane. Additionally, the landfills in Johannesburg have about 7 years left of airspace, and thereafter it is not certain what will happen.
This is a shame because the organic waste could be recycled into compost to improve soil structure, especially because our soil is losing fertility and capacity to hold water because of continual disturbance and removal of the natural cycle to replenish organic matter. In fact, 60% of land in South Africa has soil with very low organic matter making it conducive to degradation and low productivity. Some research shows that this poor quality of soil also results in pest infestations, which are conventionally treated with chemicals that have unclear effect on humans.
What is Vermicompost?
Vermicompost is compost made by nature’s earthworms. The earthworms eat organic waste and poop rich compost. This compost is known as the best type of compost because it is biologically rich and nutrient dense.
What is the Vision for The Compost Kitchen?
One of the keys for successful organic agriculture in urban areas is to have soil rich in organic matter, so our vision is to grow large enough so that we have enough compost to condition our own organic farm’s soil, and enough worm-tea to use on our crops. We would process the organic produce into a high value product, using our own biogas, which could be exported to contribute to the national economy.
How is the business doing so far?
We are excited to say that we created jobs for 3 people so far. The business has 31 paying customers (R190/month each) with a revenue to date of over R26,000 since May 2019. We’ve also sold 100% of the vermicompost that we’ve made so far. Additionally, several customers are running trials of the effectiveness of worm-tea as a natural pesticide.
We are also a winner of the Regional Connect competition for the innovative circular model which we created. Furthermore, we have met Minister Barbara Creasy, who heard about our model before we met her!
Our current startup phase is to enable us to grow large enough so that we have enough revenue to obtain our own land for organic farming near informal settlements. Organic farming near informal settlements will allow us to create skilled job when we use labour intensive methods, while the skills could be taken back to employee's homes to grow their own food. Everything in our model has come out of listening to customers, mistakes, experimenting, and reading.
In order to spread this new model, we have given 7 worm talks at preschools and townships so far.
What makes the business innovative?
This is a business model where every second someone spends on it, makes the world a better place. Himkaar believes this is the kind of business that the world urgently needs, but the concept is not too familiar in emerging markets yet.
Himkaar created the business with the intention to break all the common limitations that African entrepreneurs have about starting a business. It was created with recycled items around him, and at a low cost – without calling for funding. African’s can be particularly resourceful, but lack the experience of how to turn their innovation into business, so he hopes to, through The Compost Kitchen, to spark their potential.
The African innovation which we have made already are:
Collection: We collect the organic waste using an e-bike with a trailer made from recycled wood
Processing: We invented a large scale ‘blender’ to shred the organic waste before feeding it to our earthworms
Recycling method: We designed a special box for the worms to do their thing
Full circle: We give something back to the customer made from their own food waste
What are the anticipated end results of your solution
The model will have the following end results:
1. Increased diversion of organic waste from landfill
2. Increased food grown at home
3. Increased urban organic agriculture
One potential negative effect might be an increase in food waste because people may think it’s okay since it will be recycled. To mitigate this, we will always encourage prevention of food waste, while encouraging growing food at home.
Who is in your team?
Himkaar Singh is the founder of The Compost Kitchen. Himkaar was trained as a Civil Engineer at the University of the Witwatersrand. While working in large corporates in Johannesburg and Durban, he gained insight into the broader infrastructure needs of the country – one of the main ones being Water Management. He left South Africa during the recent water crises - not to avoid the problem, but to find the solution. He lived in Germany, Vietnam and Jordan for 5 months each to experience different extremes of water management... He found what is one fundamental solution that we are slow to implement. So he has come back to SA to start a business with a model to improve our soil's ability to hold water, with a larger vision of food security. Past projects: Volunteered on a household farm on Lake Titicaca, Peru; Lead teams with 5 different nationalities in it to study the water system of the Zayandeh Roud basin; Researched water efficiency in rice paddies in Vietnam; Consulted for United Nations office in Hanoi to create an organic waste recycling system for their office; Consulted for Mujib Organic Farm in Jordan to improve their composting system.
Gamuchirai Mutezo is a partner of The Compost Kitchen and is a PhD student at the University of the Witwatersrand and École Normale Supérieure (ENS-Paris), specialising in Urban Biogas Circular Economies. She has more than 7 years’ work experience spanning across the following sub-sectors: urban planning, renewable energy (organic waste-to-energy) and entrepreneurship, all of which underpin her research interests. Some experience is a culmination of formal education while the other is on-the-job training and exposure, learning from good and bad experiences, from partners and clients, as well as observations and conversations. She is also the COO of 22 On Sloane, a Startup Campus, and SAPI Gauteng Interim Chairperson.
Together we are developing a vermicomposting and biogas value chain in townships.
At the moment we are in Dainfen, Lonehill, Fourways and Steyn City areas. In 2020 we will be expanding to other areas, as well as servicing restaurants, hotels and offices.
How can customers get hold of you?