The last week into this compost challenge and now is when the learning actually begins. When I took on the Compost Challenge, it was a project out of a civil responsibility I felt towards my city. So much I have learnt over Week 1, Week 2 and Week 3, I am hooked on! Read on about this twist in my compost challenge story.
Day 20 – Day 30: When Disaster Strikes in the Composter
If there were no windows in your car, in the stuck in traffic example in Part 2, wouldn’t you immediately be overcome by a stuffy, sweaty and congested feeling. Why do you think… because there is no air. The holes in the composter and dry layer of leaves let air circulate between the layers of wet waste, what you felt in the car – the stuffy, sweaty, congested feeling – that’s what happens in the composter, giving birth to stinky microbes that cause the smell like that of an open drain. I made this mistake on day 25. We had a big family dinner, which meant a lot of wet waste the next day. I usually use kitchen waste water for the plants but this time I stuffed the composter with the wet waste from the day before and dunked it with all the kitchen waste from yesterday. I did not follow the system – one part wet, one part dry. I did not leave it air to breathe. Result – the birth of anaerobic microbes – by Day27, that layer of the composter was smelling like an open drain.
Damage Control Ideas Kick In
Now I am obviously panicking; the stink heightening my displeasure of having to deal with this mess. But I remind myself of what I had read, what to do with composting gone wrong. “Simply empty it into a planter” (the process of emptying it will let the container and the waste breathe), replicate the layered system i.e one part wet waste, one part dry waste and within hours the composter would start smelling sweet as rain again.
Correcting that stupid error took time and a lot of courage. (Actually it took just 20minutes, but comparing it with the 2 minutes it took every day to chuck the wet waste, 20mins felt like a lot of time) Dealing with the smell was the worst part. 20 minutes of torture of having to deal with the smell like that of an open gutter in my home. That was huge.
But then as the ordeal was over, I thought of the hundreds of people across India and other countries whose job it is to deal with our daily garbage. Who have acres and acres of piles of mixed waste staring, stinking in front of them each day waiting to be segregated, a terrible terrible job, an inhumane job..
By Day 24 I was all cocky in the knowledge of how cool I was to have taken up this challenge and how successful it was all turning out to be. I had been rewarded with magical glimpses of the forest eco system, all in a small terracotta bucket in my home. I had planted 3 seeds that had sprouted during those 24 days (they are safely planted and are happily growing in one of the fancy planters in my room) But seeing the magic of the forest ecosystem gave me a sense of wonder yes, but it was also an ego trip.
Mastering and Innovation: Disaster Averted
That mistake on Day 27 was very humbling. You have to respect the ecosystem of the forest. The system doesn’t ask much, and if followed it will reward you with much. I went through that 20 minutes of stench but I learnt much, I went beyond following a system shown to me by Green Souls and Christopher and created a simple version out of things at home. How?
I engineered a simple airy composer out of an unused fruit basket (albeit plastic, but recycled) I followed the first aerobic principle by puncturing air holes into the newspaper I lined the basket with. I then placed a thick layer of dry leaves on it followed by the smelly compost waste. Already the smell had receded. I then layered it with some more dry leaves and topped this with some compost from the first week. This was on a Sunday afternoon and by the next day, Monday morning I bent down cautiously and the sweet smell of fresh rain greeted my senses!
I have retained this as the last stage of the compost system, the composter is a little deep and steering it right till the bottom sometimes does get missed out. So this shallow container is a great last mile approach.
This 30 Day Compost Challenge gave me a glimpse of the forest eco system. I got to witness the depths of how the forest floor functions, how every organism seen and unseen, it is quite magical and I am in love!
Having come a full circle and successfully completed 30 days, I am happy to report, everyone in the family has transitioned smoothly, I am happier that 70% of the waste we produce, we segregate and treat at the source. But this doesn’t mean the garbage truck doesn’t visit any more. The 30% that I still have to find a solution to includes:
- Tender Coconuts
- Plastic and Aluminium packets of groceries, medicine wrappers
- Sanitary pads/ Tampons
If it weren’t for the accident in July and me having to think of ways to connect with the outdoors while staying put in the city, I wouldn’t have made time for this project. But I am glad it happened and I did. It was an experiment that now everyone at home as adopted as a practice (thankfully). It wasn’t easy, it needed time, like any new project does. But the results are mind blowing! A seed or two from each batch of compost sprouts roots and when I empty one layer into the other I have delicately transferred the growing seeds into planters in my room. I am in love and my plants are happier souls.
If I can replicate nature’s eco system in a small terracorra composter in my flat in an urban city existence, that is happiness for me.
It’s taken just 30 days to go from 100% to 30%. Give me a few more months to figure the dry waste issue out. I will report back about having become a Zero Garbage home soon.
And what’s driving me to do more?
We are in December, its been 3 months since I successfully completed the Compost challenge and it now runs on autopilot mode at home.
And since the time I got my hands into the game, I keep coming across sprouted seeds, mushrooms, and a zillion elements that give me glimpses of the forest ecosystem. And there’s more.
There was an expo recently about Garbage and waste management that I happened to attend. Most of it was about large mechanised shredders for dry waste and most international companies were there to attract Indian buyers or to set up their plants here in India. But I happened to be there at the time when the Himachal municipal corporation showcased its example of community garbage segregation and composting. I have shared a recording of her talk, though idealistic in most parts I don’t see why it can’t happen here in Bandra, Mumbai.