Tuesday September 11, 2012
Wanted: Kitchen scraps
FOR the past two months, Jason Boehle has been pushing a wheelbarrow around Kampung Pulau Perhentian and calling out to the residents, “Ada sisa makanan?” (Do you have any food waste?).
“Sometimes we get pure food waste but some households are not quite sure what to put out and they give us a mixed bag of rubbish,” said the Texan who is interning as a volunteer coordinator at Ecoteer, which runs a “voluntourism” scheme whereby tourists pay to be involved in community and conservation projects.
Part of Ecoteer’s outreach includes imparting the concepts of sustainability to the village at Pulau Perhentian Kecil, with a population of close to 2,000. Other than its army of eager volunteers, Ecoteer has a unique teaching tool in the form of a composting machine. With this machine, it hopes to highlight the importance of waste segregation and composting as a way to manage solid waste properly, among villagers and schoolchildren.
The RM26,000 composting machine was purchased with a United Nations Development Programme-Global Environment Facility grant received by the Perhentian Island Business Operators Association and arrived on the island in February.
Ecoteer founder Daniel Quilter said the initial intention was to place it at one of the resorts but none wanted it, fearing the need to maintain the machine, as well as possible odour and pest problems.
The machine then ended up at the only school on the island, SRK Pulau Perhentian. This turned out to be a suitable venue as the machine can be used as a teaching and demonstration tool.
With a capacity of only 25kg per day, it is loaded with food waste every day, except Sundays, which is the day off for Ecoteer staff and volunteers. All the collected food waste will be “cooked” by the totally enclosed machine until the mixture turns into a sterile compost mix 48 hours later. The school covers the cost of the electricity to run the machine.
Quilter said the original plan was to help supplement the income of some villagers by having them do the food waste collection, composting and sale of the compost to the resorts. However, there were no takers as the job was deemed “dirty and smelly”.
Now, the job is left to Ecoteer volunteers. Other than playing their part in reducing slightly the volume of organic waste from the village, volunteers who go along with Boehle to collect food waste get to interact with the villagers as they do their rounds.
Typically, Boehle would lead one or two “voluntourists” along the network of narrow footpaths that runs through the village, going door to door. But he is now sufficiently experienced to know which house will have the kind of waste he wants. “I also use the opportunity to familiarise myself with the locals and practise my Malay.”
Operating the machine has its problems, however; it has broken down twice since it arrived.
“The downtime came up to several weeks on account of the distance from technical support. The first instance of breakdown was caused by motor failure, most likely brought about by the unstable electricity supply coming from the generators used on the island,” said Long Seh Ling, Ecoteer project leader on Perhentian.
The compost is now used at the herb and vegetable gardens set up by Ecoteer or given away to villagers, so there is none left to sell. The gardens, cultivated with lemongrass, curry leaves, ginger, turmeric, watermelon and sweet potato, are to show villagers the possibility of farming on the island but the harvest is currently very low and all produce is consumed by the volunteers, though the villagers do occasionally help themselves to some herbs.
To promote the idea of recycling, Ecoteer has organised a competition among students in Year 4 and 5 for the largest collection of recyclables.
“We recently collected 176kg of stuff and managed to sell them, though the person who comes in to collect the recyclables is very picky on what he wants,” said Long. The group is also grooming 12 “green ambassadors”, students who tag along whenever the food waste wheelbarrow goes on its daily rounds.
It is still too early to judge whether attitudes towards waste has changed as freshly tossed diapers can still be seen floating near the village jetty.
“Some kids still throw food wrappers all over the place,” said a contracted cleaner who sweeps the village daily. On the bright side, things have improved slightly within the school compound.
“There are fewer instances of littering in the school now,” said headmaster Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Mahmood, who is supportive of Ecoteer’s effort in educating the villagers and schoolchildren on the value of composting and keeping the village clean.
Sprucing up Perhentian