Organic waste is produced wherever there is human habitation. The main forms of organic waste
are household food waste, agricultural waste, human and animal waste. In industrialised countries
the amount of organic waste produced is increasing dramatically each year. Although many
gardening enthusiasts ‘compost’ some of their kitchen and garden waste, much of the household
waste goes into landfill sites and is often the most hazardous waste. The organic waste component
of landfill is broken down by micro-organisms to form a liquid ‘leachate’ which contains bacteria,
rotting matter and maybe chemical contaminants from the landfill. This leachate can present a
serious hazard if it reaches a watercourse or enters the water table. Digesting organic matter in
landfills also generates methane, which is a harmful greenhouse gas, in large quantity. Human
organic waste is usually pumped to a treatment plant where it is treated, and then the effluent
enters a watercourse, or it is deposited directly into the sea. Little effort is made to reclaim the
valuable nutrient or energy content of this waste.
In developing countries, there is a different approach to dealing with organic waste. In fact, the
word ‘waste’ is often an inappropriate term for organic matter, which is often put to good use. The
economies of most developing countries dictates that materials and resources must be used to their
full potential, and this has propagated a culture of reuse, repair and recycling. In many developing
countries there exists a whole sector of recyclers, scavengers and collectors, whose business is to
salvage ‘waste’ material and reclaim it for further use.
Where large quantities of waste are created, usually in the major cities, there are inadequate
facilities for dealing with it, and much of this waste is either left to rot in the streets, or is collected
and dumped on open land near the city limits. There are few environmental controls in these
countries to prevent such practices.
There are a variety of ways of using organic waste and in this technical brief we hope to outline a
few of the principle methods used for putting it to good use. The three main ways of using organic
waste that we will look at are for soil improvement, for animal raising and to provide a source of
Organic waste – types, sources and uses
As mentioned earlier, there a number of types of organic waste which are commonly discarded.
Below we will look at the types and sources of organic waste and some examples of common uses
for this waste.
Domestic or household waste
This type of waste is usually made up of food scraps, either cooked or uncooked, and garden waste
such as grass cuttings or trimmings from bushes and hedges. Domestic kitchen waste is often
mixed with non-organic materials such as plastic packaging, which cannot be composted. It is
beneficial if this type of waste can be separated at source – this makes recycling of both types of
waste far easier. Domestic or household waste is usually produced in relatively small quantities. In
developing countries, there is a much higher organic content
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