Bokashi is a centuries-old Japanese method of recycling household food waste into all-natural compost. By employing a special culture of yeast and other microorganisms, bokashi is a compact, odorless process that takes only days instead of weeks or months. Now the Bokashicycle company is breaking the process out of the kitchen and into a commercial-scale food waste recycling operation, in partnership with New Earth Farm in Hillsboro, Oregon.
New Earth Farm takes in food scraps from Bon Appetit cafeterias on the nearby Intel Hawthorn Farm campus, which provides a significant waste disposal savings compared to disposing the scraps in landfills. Waste reduction is one goal, and in an even more sustainable twist the composted soil is used to grow crops for Abundant Harvest, a local consumer-supported agriculture (CSA) store.
The Trick is in the Yeast for Superfast Compost
Conventional composting uses oxygen-fed organisms to break down organic matter. In contrast, bokashi uses a special mix of organisms that thrive without oxyge to ferment the food scraps. The process is similar to that of wine or pickle making. It takes place in a sealed container and it’s practically odorless, making it suitable for small dwellings. Companies like Bokashicycle sell prepared mixes that also contain starter nutrients such as wheat bran and molasses, but do-it-yourself instructions are also available online.
Bokashi on a Grand Scale
New Earth Farm spreads Bokashicycle’s mix on the food scraps it collects, and lets it ferment in a barrel for a week to ten days (to help the process run smoothly, large bones and other big food scraps are first shredded). The contents are then poured onto the ground and covered with soil for another two weeks, during which time organisms that are naturally present go to work. Then the enriched soil is ready to go, either for use on the farm or to be sold elsewhere. If this large-scale bokashi project proves successful over time, it could soon have plenty of company. Prisons and other institutions are rapidly adopting food waste recycling, and the entire city of San Francisco has just committed to a mandatory mega-scale food scrap recycling program.