Even more urgent to rethink waste management policy now

Harbir Gill, founder and chief composter of Ground Control Sdn Bhd

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For Harbir Gill, founder and chief composter of Ground Control Sdn Bhd, a company specialising in providing compost, soil conditioners and creating edible gardens for clients, the Movement Control Order has been a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, orders for compost and soil conditioners have been phenomenal as people, stuck at home, go back to nature, so to speak, and are keen to create their own gardens and grow their own food.

“But logistics has been a nightmare. My guys couldn’t get machinery because Port Dickson (which houses its composting facility) is kind of blocked off. So we had to turn the compost, sift it and bag it by hand,” says Harbir.

The other major problem is that with the lockdown, the company has not been able to get its hands on the raw materials needed to create the compost. “We haven’t been able to collect the raw materials from the municipalities, either in Port Dickson or in the Klang Valley when we make deliveries of compost. We will start to see the effects of that, in a month or two.”

Ground Control makes compost, which it turns into soil blends. “Compost is the base but we turn it into blends for gardening. For instance, we put a certain percentage of compost and other materials to make a potting mix.

“There’s been a huge increase in people wanting to garden and set up gardens. Now, we need to be able to produce more compost to drive prices down, so that good quality soil becomes more accessible to people,” he points out.

In an earlier interview with Enterprise, Harbir had mentioned that compost is so expensive in Malaysia that soils over here are usually enriched with chemical fertilisers. “We are too dependent on chemical fertilisers… overuse of chemical fertilisers could decrease soil fertility, strengthen pesticide-resistance, cause air pollution and even release greenhouse gases.”

To create compost, one needs carbon, nitrogen, water and air. Harbir has land in Port Dickson and he finds it difficult to source enough raw materials for production because the country chooses instead to send waste to landfills. 

According to the Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Corporation, Malaysians generated 38,142 tonnes of waste per day in 2018 — an increase from 19,000 tonnes in 2005. Almost half (44.5%) is food waste, which includes organic materials that can be composted.

The only way to bring down the price of compost, he pointed out then, was to become part of the waste management system. This is something he feels even more strongly about now.

“When it comes to urban gardening, it is all about the soil; good quality soil is what people need. The nurseries over here have been getting away with murder for too long, selling poor quality soil,” he says.

He adds that during the MCO, people had more time on their hands to check out YouTube videos to “look, learn and understand”. “Yes, there is a huge opportunity in this, but there needs to be political will to drive this home now.

“Composting needs to become part of the waste management infrastructure and composters like myself, who are very small, need to be able to have access to, among other things, the raw materials,” he says.

Harbir says the MCO has helped people understand that they need to get back to the earth in their own homes and apartments. “Now is the opportunity to try and drive this forward to make sure that we stay the course.”

The course being — stopping the environmental degradation wreaking havoc throughout the country. “My biggest fear though is that with the economy being in such bad shape, we’re going to be cutting forests more ferociously than ever to make up for lost ground.

“But now is the opportunity to realise that we need to protect the environment and do things to help it even more,” he says. 

And recycling food waste into compost and keeping it out of landfills where it produces methane and increases pollution is one of them.