Gurdwara food waste goes upcycle! Kuala Lumpur shows the way

It's working! Sentul gurdwara matured compost is placed in huge storage containers. Sanggat members can take them home free of charge, using own containers.

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By Jespal Singh Sidhu | ENVIRONMENT |

We Sikhs are all well aware of Guru Ka Langar. Food is prepared at all Sikh gurdawaras. What happens to the waste generated when we prepare food or langar? Do we give a thought to this? The vegetable skins, peels, cutoffs of rotten parts, onion skins, fruit skins and peels, used tea leaves and last but not least the balance food left on the plates of the Sanggat (congregation) which we usually call “jooth”. We can place these into two categories :-

  1. Unavoidable food waste (peels, skins, rotten cutoffs, used tea leaves)
  2. Wastage of food (leftover food off the sanggats’ plates as per pictures below)

Usually it is packed in garbage bags and it ends up at the landfill only to increase the greenhouse gasses effect.

I was trying to kick off a project to upcycle this food waste to compost at the gurdawara since 2016. Why? This is because 18,000 tonnes of food waste (SWcorp stats) is thrown onto the landfills per day in Malaysia. That is why every little bit that we can save from ending up at the landfills will make a difference. This includes both unavoidable food waste and wasted food.

Many discussions and meetings and emails were sent but nothing came. In 2019 when a Sikh gentleman Sardar Gian Singh proposed this to the current President of Sentul Gurdawara Dato Rajpal Singh and this was the beginning of the composting project at the Gurdwara Sahib Sentul. Sardar Gian Singh managed to get the green light and I was excited. With my experience in commercial composting I spoke to Gian Singh and the project was kicked off during the 550 years Guru Nanak celebrations at the Sentul Gurdwara in November 2019.

UNDERSTANDING COMPOST

What is composting? In simple terms it is the breakdown of organic material (food waste, garden waste such as dried leaves, grass clippings, green leaves with the help of fungus and microbes into a soil like substance called compost. The process requires three main components:

  • Moisture (the right level of moisture for the microbes to work their magic)
  • Air (aerobic process)
  • Effective Microbes (which are added at the beginning in the starters).

Over several months, the composting project gathered the interest of the young ones too as can be seen from the pictures. They were thought the finer points of composting of what can and what cannot be composted and the role that the black soldier fly larvae plays in the composting process.

Youth participation in Sentul gurdwara compost project – Photo: Supplied

A system was put in place to separate out leftover food and vegetables skins, peels, tea leaves from kitchen and the washing area and these are placed in designated buckets. Wilted flowers from the darbar sahib together with the never ending supply of dried leaves became the “brown” components. The project is still going strong despite the MCO in March 2020 and the current CMCO. As mentioned it is an aerobic process so the compost pile is turned over twice a week usually every Wednesday and every Saturday.

Sentul gurdwara compost project: Food waste being added to the compost pile – Photo: Supplied

There is strong support from the golden citizens of Sentul who come every Wednesday and Saturday (strictly adhering to the Covid-19 SOPs) and treat the turning over of the compost as exercise for themselves and also sewa. There are also some young gentlemen that come on a regular basis to assist.

Sentul gurdwara compost project: Golden citizens adding water to ensure moisture level of the compost pile is just right – Photo: Supplied

Since November 2019 it can be estimated that about one and a half tons to two of compost (wet weight) has be produced. Since the MCO and CMCO there has been little or no cooking at the gurdwara so the active volunteers actually collect fruit skins and peels from fruit sellers and they bring their non-meat based food waste from their respective homes to be composted. These families have embarked on the journey of reducing organic waste ending up at landfills. Let’s hope that this article inspires our community to collectively start composting at gurdwaras and the waste can come from homes too.

At the moment the matured compost at Gurdwara Sahib Sentul is placed in huge storage containers and the sanggat is informed to take this compost free from these containers using their own containers which is also to reduce the usage of plastics. Compost is a soil enhancer and if used frequently it conditions the soil to be more “healthy”. The project requires funding to be further improved and we do hope to get the committee’s approval for the amount of about RM 9,000.00 to lay concrete at the composting area and to place a roof above the storage shed. Currently the idea is to upcycle the waste thus reducing carbon footprint, greenhouse gasses and also touching on many of sustainable development goals (SDGs) agenda.

Jespal Singh Sidhu, a real estate negotiator and an avid gardener, produces compost on a commercial scale which he supplies to farms, fruit orchards and home gardening enthusiasts. He is passionate about sustainability, waste management, separation at source organic waste management and environmental related topics. He is available to guide Gurdawaras to reduce carbon footprint. He can be contacted at compost.sprout@gmail.com

 

RELATED STORY:

Finding Guru Nanak: An environmental message for humanity (Asia Samachar, 16 Nov 2020)

 

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