Finding Gold in the Trash

It can be easy to ignore all of the basic things we should do to protect our precious Earth. By composting old organic products, we can help reduce our waste and create healthy, clean soil to grow better products and sustain our planet far into the future.

1016_healthAt this very moment in Dongguan, armies of people are throwing their vegetable and food scraps directly into the garbage. Far from the dinner table, eventually all this nutrient-rich waste will end up at one of the city’s many incinerators. There it will be burned and later, trucked to landfills already packed with our leftovers. What you carelessly threw away is now condemned to an eternity of uselessness. Remember, the contents of an incinerator are often extremely contaminated with heavy metals and these remaining ashes will never be beneficial again.

By now, we all know that fossil fuels are limited and non-renewable. Once our quickly depleting supply of oil is gone, we cannot just make more. Still, for some bizarre reason, we do not see our precious gardening soil in the same light. Just the same, once the dirt needed for growing is gone, we cannot simply make more. Scientists say that at least half of the world’s topsoil is now gone. Forever. So, why do we continue to neglect our soil by throwing away the nutrients that could make it more valuable? So, what’s the solution?

For thousands of years, people have understood the necessity of composting. I remember my own mother tossing food scraps and old coffee grounds directly into the garden. By adding food waste to the soil, you not only add nutrients, but you also aerate it, which makes it more water soluble and more bacteria friendly, all key for a good product.

Remember that composting will eventually reduce the total waste to about 5% of its original weight, so a couple of composters can go a long way.

There are numerous, easy ways to compost. The simplest is to dig a small hole and bury any organic waste. Each summer, my family travels to our vacation home in France. Along one wall in our yard, I bury all our unwanted leftovers and paper waste before leaving for the next year. When I return the following summer, I find that not only is the waste gone, but the dirt loves me for it. Since doing this for the past twelve years, the spot where I compost has gone from a depleted, dull-brown to a rich, black soil.

Of course, most Dongguan readers do not have the luxury of finding an outside area to bury their undesirables. Therefore, I suggest buying one or two composters off Taobao. These products use the powerful appetite of red worms that can eat half their body weight each day and multiply extremely quickly. Remember that composting will eventually reduce the total waste to about 5% of its original weight, so a couple of composters can go a long way in shrinking your output.

If you work at a school or large organization, composting pits are one great way to go. Where I work, at ISD, we compost around 120 barrels of vegetable remnants per year, plus a similar amount of paper and an unbelievable amounts of grass and lawn clippings. Our compost pits, with the help of our wriggling worms, easily handle the task.

The final soil product is then used in our recently created, healthy garden beds. It is incredible how expensive good soil is here in Dongguan. Really, by creating huge amounts of this compost soil, we have saved a lot of money. Of course, the additional benefit is that our cafeteria will continue to give us rich nutrient compost for years to come. Even more importantly, our students are being taught using convincing evidence how to be good environmental stewards for an Earth that is constantly being pushed to the brink.

To get in touch with Jim for any information or questions to start composting, send us a message at Remember to stay current on Jim’s monthly environmental advice and concerns by following our Official HereDG WeChat or by heading to to read more.