More people interested in reducing kitchen waste

Courtesy of Mie Matsuda
Mie Matsuda puts kitchen waste in her composter on her balcony.

Increasing awareness of the need to reduce kitchen waste is fertilizing new efforts and novel methods of recycling what commonly goes into the trash. Examples of this include composting that uses microorganisms to recycle kitchen scraps and supporting local farming with compost materials that don’t get used in the household.

Every morning, Mie Matsuda, a 33-year-old jewelry designer in Tokyo, puts skins and other scraps of vegetables and fruits from the previous day into a bag-shaped composter called the LFC Compost (priced at ¥4,268) on her balcony.

All she has to do next is to mix the contents using a scoop.

Up to 300 grams of kitchen scraps can be put in the composter each day for about two months. Once the bag is full, the contents need to mature for two or three weeks to become garden compost.

Since last summer, Matsuda has been cooking at home more often, and she quickly became aware of the odor of kitchen waste.

Around that time, she learned about the bag composter via social media. The product is targeted at urban residents and has a stylish design. But more importantly, it seals up tightly to keep odors in and insects out.

“I enjoy balcony gardening using the composter. Now I always try to reduce kitchen and plastic waste,” she said.

According to Local Food Cycling, a Fukuoka-based company that sells the LFC Compost, more than 20,000 people have bought the product since it was launched in January last year. Users can find advice on how to use it through the Line messaging app’s chat function.

Yuiko Taira, the president of the company, said: “Urban residents in their 20s to 40s are mainly using the composter, and 90% of them are beginners. I guess a new cycle of recycling is now emerging.”

Reducing kitchen waste from households is a pressing issue. Many countries, like Germany and South Korea, sort such waste and recycle it as a resource, while in Japan, most municipalities handle kitchen waste as burnable trash.

According to a survey by the Environment Ministry, about 80% of the 42.74 million tons of waste discharged in the country was incinerated in fiscal 2019. Kitchen waste is said to account for about 30% to 50% of all waste in many municipalities.

In order to reduce kitchen waste, composters have been used for years, mainly by elderly women.

Recently, more young people are showing interest in composters partly due to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Yukiko Miyaki, chief researcher for the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute Inc., said: “The coronavirus crisis has led many people to start home vegetable gardens. There is growing interest in using composters to recycle kitchen waste, because it is an easy way to protect the environment.”

Community efforts

Several initiatives to reduce kitchen waste are also catching on at the community level.

In October, Minato Ward, Tokyo-based publisher The Orangepage Inc. and others installed a community composter at the ward’s Sakurada Park.

People living within a 2-kilometer radius of the park collect compost made from kitchen waste from households or offices and bring it to the park, where the compost is jointly managed and further matured.

When the composting process is completed, they plan to hold an event to transplant flowers using the finished compost.

Similar efforts are underway in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, and in Kyoto and other parts of Japan.

In July, the Kawasaki municipal government launched a project to use compost from household kitchen waste at farms and other places in the city, because some residents say that they have no way to use compost they made at home.

Eight partner farmers grow vegetables using compost brought directly to them by Kawasaki households. The farmers reward the donors with their vegetables and sell their crops at farmers markets to promote local production and local consumption.

Some participants have said that they are looking forward to having vegetables grown in their compost, according to the municipal government.

Rumi Ide, a journalist familiar with the issue of food waste, said: “We need to be aware that what we have thought of as waste is actually a resource, change our behavior and build a circular society. I hope people will think about it through composting and other methods.”

Cooking vegetable scraps

The skin, calyx and core of vegetables are usually discarded as kitchen scraps, but people are catching on to the idea of cooking the scraps to make “veggie broth.”

By adding seasonings to the broth, people can make a soup or use the broth to make curry or stew. Since almost all parts of the vegetables get used, it helps reduce kitchen waste.

About 340 veggie broth recipes are currently available on the cooking recipe service Cookpad, and the number of searches for veggie broth recipes has increased nearly seven times from 10 years ago.

For example, the Kyoto Prefectural government has posted a recipe for “Yasai Somurie” (vegetable sommelier) veggie broth.

The recipe says the skin and seeds of vegetables should be preserved in a freezer, and when 300 or 400 grams of such scraps are collected, add a cup of water, a tablespoon of sake and then cook the scraps over high heat.

When the mixture comes to a boil, lower the heat and simmer it for 20 to 30 minutes, then strain the mixture.

The color and flavor differ depending on the kinds of vegetables being used.

Although variation is one of the attractions, vegetables that are bitter or too strongly flavored are not recommended.