“The complete food circle” – a project to lower climate change in Aarhus

By Lucia Camblor, photos by Guki Giunashvili

Two young entrepreneurs aim to revolutionize the future of agriculture composting the food waste of 100 households till November

The city of Aarhus has set an ambitious goal: it wants to be “CO2 neutral by 2030”. However, one of the challenges the city is still facing is how to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions that are caused by the incineration of waste. Every year, approximately 92,400 tons of trash from households, gardens, parks and construction sides are collected, fired, and transformed into electricity for the district heating system. To have a comparison, this means the capacity of around 7,700 garbage trucks ending up burnt with its consequent impact on the atmosphere.

Against this gloomy prospect, new initiatives are lighting up the urban way, not only with smiles but with commitment and persistence. This is the case of “Komposten”, an idea founded by Nynne Juul and Clara Sølvsteen.

What was born as a student proposal for their third-year at business school, has become a pilot project, financed by a private Norwegian fund, and approved by the Aarhus Municipality’s Waste Department and the Food Administration. “It started in September 2016 with the dream of getting a stronger balance between our daily life and the planet Earth, and giving our society the opportunity to actually have a good impact on the ecosystems”, says Nynne. The concept is simple: collect food waste and give it back to the soil. But, the black container that occupies a space in Aarhus Ø-garden serving as an office for these young entrepreneurs, would not be there if the process was just traditional composting. Some element must make it special. In their case, it is a microorganism that comes from Japan, works as an organic fertilizer and it is called “Bokashi”, which means “fermented organic matter”.

Black container, which serves as an office for the Komposten project (photo: Guki Giunashvili)

How do they do it?

Nynne springs into action: she wears other extra trousers, a mask, and gloves. After weighing a bucket that contains almost 23 kilograms of food waste, she grinds it and adds the Bokashi. The process consists in adding these microorganisms to the food waste, 7 grams per kilo of households food waste, and they start a fermentation, which takes two weeks. Later on, the result is laid into a soil factory, where it gets ready after two more weeks. This is a much faster process in contrast to a normal composting that would take up to 8 months. Also, it does not produce methane. The mixture between soil and this particular compost is called “humus”, and it is one of the bests CO2 storages. Nynne clarifies it with a comparison “it is similar to what trees do when they transform CO2 from the air into oxygen”, and she adds “humus is actually better at doing that job, it takes in CO2, and creates glucose and oxygen instead”.

Nynne Juul preparing for composting the food waste. she needs to grind it (photo: Guki Giunashili)

Although “Komposten” got the inspiration from Maria Ehlert, an “urban-farmer blogger” who brought this technique to Aarhus, their ambition is to implement it on a larger scale. “We want to lower climate change in Aarhus by using Bokashi yeast composting in all farms”, states Nynne. Now they have their opportunity to prove that this system can be used in agriculture without drawbacks such as poisons or few amount of soil nutrients. The test started the 1st of October and will continue until the end of November. In order to examine if this initiative can revolution the future of agriculture, “Komposten” is collecting waste food from 100 households. “From the beginning, we have experienced a lot of support which has shown us the big need from the citizens of Aarhus to have the possibility of solving their food waste problem. Because, right now, if you don’t have a garden you don’t have that option”, argues Nynne. At the moment, they have around 45 households delivering their food waste from Aarhus Ø, and the reason why they can do that is that they are collecting the food waste, composting it and using the compost within the same limited area.

The next step remains unclear, Nynne and Clara will not know what they are allowed to do until the pilot project is done, and the end product tested in the search for diseases, as well as verified by the Food Environment Ministry around January 2018. But they have a clear aspiration: “what we are hoping for is that we can sell the concept to Aarhus Municipality, and we have also applied for funds to keep on working on the project as a business”. Also, they wish their case serves as an example for young generations living in Aarhus “you have the power, and just because the municipality is not living up to your expectations, does not mean that you cannot change something”, Nynne says, and finishes “we set out to do this despite knowing that it was quite a complicated process, and we are standing here today. We have collected many kilos of food waste, we are carrying the first large scale of Bokashi composting in the world”.

Only 7 grams of Bokashi yeast is needed per kilo of households food waste (photo: Guki Giunashvili)

Why Aarhus needs these actions?

“It is important to think globally and act locally”, explains Dr. Eugenio Molina, a researcher at Aarhus University. Asked about how to increase people’s awareness about climate change, he maintains that it is a requirement that governments and organizations “spread the message” of the things that are actually happening in the world. However, he specifies “this message has to be scientific, not sensationalistic”, and he adds, “it is similar as when you are talking to children with a ridiculous voice, it does not work like that, you need to speak to them as if they were adults. The same happens to society when you address climate change. Do not be dramatic, support its significance with scientific facts and figures”.

Still, he wants to remain optimistic and claims that nowadays citizens are better informed, in contrast to two decades ago when almost anybody knew about climate change. “It is all about citizens being aware of their impact on the world and the place we want for our future generations. When people become conscious of how our lifestyle is impacting the world, then they tend to be more environmentally friendly”, concludes.

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