As reported by VNExpress, Saigon has run out of land to dump its own trash. And it turns out, after scientists crunched the numbers, that 65% of the city’s solid waste actually comes from food production. Food industries around the world have always been beset with wastage, but in Saigon, the Mecca of street food, the problem is exacerbated by the love of fresh ingredients and the lack of trash separation. Burying waste indiscriminately, as the city has done, releases a huge amount of greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide as well as a horrid stench that even the upscale Phu My Hung neighborhood has filed a complaint about.
“Zero waste is a utopian fantasy, especially for an F&B establishment,” observes Ale Sorti, green living crusader and owner/chef of The Organik House, a vegan restaurant. Yet, despite his sobering admission, Sorti might just have helped spark a movement to reduce waste in the industry. In April, with the help of Gagaco, an urban agricultural company, Sorti set up a compost bin in front of his restaurant as an experiment to find out if it would work for a food business. The science is ancient: if you mix kitchen refuse such as peels, egg shells, vegetable scraps, a waste group called green materials, with the brown materials – dried leaves, sawdust, and branches, after a while, everything would decompose into an organic matter called compost.
This nutritious fertiliser replaces the greenhouse gases with a wonderful earthy aroma and is therefore a far superior alternative to burning and burying trash. After four months, Sorti confirmed that it worked exactly as predicted: the bin was almost filled to the brim with compost. “Once it is full, we will probably plant some herbs on it and let them go wild.”
Afterwards, Sorti won’t carry on composting himself, but instead he plans to give the tiny amount of trash his kitchen produces to farms. “We set this up as an example. Now I think bigger restaurants should lead this initiative.” Already some restaurateurs have taken up his challenge. After visiting The Organik House one day, Nicolas De Gersigny, head chef of L’Usine, a chain of European styled cafés in D1, became interested in composting and ordered a bin for his main kitchen. “We bake all of our bread here, so we have a lot of egg shells, which we just throw into the bin and leave to decompose.”
Unlike the basic bin at Sorti’s place, the one for L’Usine is covered with holes, which have been filled with soils and herbs. After the shells are reduced to compost, they in turn fertilise the coriander and basil. The effort to maintain one, it seems, is minimal. Susanne Meletzki, owner of Green Around The Corner, a vegan café in D2, agrees. “We just throw in the peels, coconuts, coffee ground. Sometimes, we cover the pile with some paper to avoid fruit flies. There’s actually no work involved.”
Regardless, this solution is not yet widely implemented, in part, Meletzki thinks, because of the unfounded fear of extra responsibilities. “Living sustainably takes more steps. Even when everything is ready-made, someone in the restaurant still has to be responsible for the bin. People don’t quite know yet what they can do.” Along the same line of thought, Sorti has decided to channel his energy into educating children on composting. Working with Organik House Go Eco, the restaurant’s adjunct environmental company, Sorti is in talks to put compost bins in a few private international schools and let the students maintain these bins. “If a business is not sustainable, people can refuse to support it, but we can’t avoid going to schools and other public spaces.” Teaching young citizens about green living, Sorti believes, is the right path for the future. “Since we’re already living in such a polluted environment, this will be a good educational project. I hope it will help young people grow up into responsible citizens.”