OGAWA, Saitama Pref. – Farmers and consumers here are trying to establish a recycling-oriented society by promoting the use of biogas as part of efforts to protect the environment.
Biogas is a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide produced by the decomposition of organic waste and used as fuel.
Raw garbage from some 70 households in the town is pumped into a gas plant, which produces biogas by fermenting the waste so one farm family nearby can use it for cooking and heating water.
The plant also turns out liquid fertilizer as a byproduct, which is used by local farmers. The number of biogas users is expected to increase in the future.
“Raw garbage generates the biogas and fertilizer,” said Mamoru Kuwabara, leader of the nonprofit organization Center for Ogawa-Bioregion.
“Farmers use the biogas as energy for their agricultural activities and living, while the fertilizer returns to the soil to produce food, which will be sent back to the fields again by consumers as a resource. We aim to set up such a recycling process.”
The group kicked off the effort in cooperation with town officials in June 2001 after building the biogas plant, which carried a price tag of some 1.3 million yen.
It costs around 40 yen to incinerate 1 kg of garbage, while only 20 yen is needed to turn it into biogas and fertilizer, leading to savings on the incineration fee.
“Introduction of a recycling-oriented society will contribute not only to environmental improvement but also to savings of taxpayer money,” Kuwabara said.
To show appreciation to consumers for their efforts to separate garbage and reduce incineration costs, farmers and the local government provide the 70 households with “vegetable coupons” worth 3,000 yen that can be used in exchange for produce at the town’s agriculture fair. Farmers are able to cash in the coupons at the town office.
The coupons are paid for through the savings that come from not incinerating garbage.
Ogawa resident Yuko Takahashi, who regularly provides raw garbage, said: “We consumers feel secure, as we are involved in the recycling process ourselves and can directly see the production process under which our garbage turns into biogas and fertilizer to produce vegetables.
“We also have gradually become aware that even garbage can become a resource and we can make use of it by taking part in the efforts leading to a recycling-oriented community.”
The farmers now hope to issue local “currency,” which they will use to purchase raw garbage from consumers to generate biogas and fertilizer for use in turning out their produce, including pumpkins, spinach and carrots, while consumers can buy the produce with the currency.
“Planned circulation of the currency will indicate that our community is becoming recycling-oriented, instead of focusing on the incineration of raw garbage,” Kuwabara said.
Organic farmer Yoshinori Kaneko has already put the biogas and liquid fertilizer produced by raw garbage and cow dung into practical use, after setting up a gas plant at his farm with the help of Kuwabara.
He uses the biogas for cooking and heating, and solar panels and heaters for bathing and agricultural purposes. Cooking oil consumed at his house ultimately becomes fuel for his tractor.
Kuwabara became interested in biogas use in Nepal, where he worked as a water-resources researcher in the mid-1980s, and then learned about biogas technology in China.
After returning to Japan, he started working to spread the technology and eventually settled in Ogawa, which is known for its organic farmers, including Kaneko.
Having built several biogas plants for individual use, he said, “I wanted to see how the biogas technology would work in actual society.”
Although he had not intended to become a farmer himself, he ended up starting his own farm in the town. “I went for wool and came home shorn,” he said, chuckling.
The group leads an excursion to the town’s recycling system once a month in a bid to promote further use of biogas and recycling.
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