Preethi Sukumaran says that much of what we carelessly throw into the trash can be composted to produce rich top soil for our plants

We have been reading about several facets of keeping our city clean and green in this paper. Here I would like to talk about the vitally important facet of citizen participation in solid waste management.

The urban Indian citizen generates nearly 700 grams of solid waste per person per day which is nearly 250 kg in a year.

More than half of what we carelessly throw into the trash is organic matter, which if composted, can produce rich top soil for our plants. Unfortunately most of us do not segregate our dry waste from wet waste, which makes composting impossible. The precious wet waste — what can potentially become black gold — remains unusable junk inside our landfills.

Also, by mixing our food waste with our recyclable waste (paper, plastic, metal), we make even our recyclable waste less recoverable.

If we pass on this responsibility to the Municipality without source segregation, we recover abysmally low levels of value from our trash. Due to poor source segregation, Municipalities in India are currently able to compost only 0.21 % of the wet waste we throw away.

The key to a clean, garbage free city lies in citizens doing their civic duty of source segregation and composting.

What is Composting?

Composting is simply the process of breaking down the organic matter (food waste) in the presence of air and water, using micro organisms and small insects present in nature. The end product is called compost which is rich in readily usable plant nutrients forming a part of healthy soil.

Composting organisms require 4 conditions to create compost:

1. Carbon that comes from brown organic matter like dried leaves, sawdust, paper

2. Nitrogen that comes from fruit and vegetable waste, coffee grounds

3. Oxygen which comes from air

4. Water in the right amounts

Landfills are not the ideal environment to create compost, since food waste is made toxic by the plastic and metal waste. Further waste gets piled up everyday like a mountain and the layers below are cut off from oxygen

6.5 easy steps to compost your kitchen waste

1. Separate your edible kitchen waste (vegetable peels, fruit peels, small amounts of wasted cooked food) in a container

2. Collect dry organic matter (dried leaves, sawdust) in a small container

3. Take a large earthen pot or a bucket and drill 4 – 5 holes around the container at different levels to let air inside.

4. Line the bottom with a layer of soil.

5. Now start adding food waste in layers alternating wet waste (food scraps, vegetable and fruit peels) with dry waste (straw, sawdust, dried leaves).

6. Cover this container with a plastic sheet or a plank of wood to help retain moisture and heat.

Every few days, use a rake to give the pile a quick turn to provide aeration. If you think the pile is too dry, sprinkle some water so that it is moist.

Within 2 - 3 months, your pile should start forming compost that is dry, dark brown and crumbly and smelling of earth. There are also readymade composting kits available for those who want to overcome initial resistance to starting composting.

With time and a little patience, composting will become second nature to you.

By segregating, recycling and composting, a family of 4 can reduce their waste from 1000 Kg to less than 100 kg every year. Imagine 90% of all the garbage in Chennai vanishing overnight and a clean, green city- it will help you start your composting journey.

Preethi Sukumaran is the CEO & Co-Founder of Krya Consumer Products LLP

My Chennai My Right, an inititative by The Hindu

Send us pictures of extreme instances of garbage affecting normal life in Chennai.

We would also like to hear about what you are doing to manage waste

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