A huge quantity of organic matter, so valuable in farmland, is considered waste in a city
I n rural households, vegetable peels, plant clippings, coconut husks and other organic waste are all tossed under a tree or into a trench and eventually find their way back into the nutrient cycle of the garden. In the city, we are more fussy about what parts of a vegetable we use; we throw out vegetables that have wilted and rotted because we forgot about them. We have no cows and chicken to eat the food we won’t eat, so we accumulate much more vegetable waste.
Wealth from waste
Now multiply all that by the number of flats in your apartment block or by the number of houses on your street. A huge quantity of organic matter, so valuable in farmland, becomes waste in a city. And yet a city also has its trees and gardens and potted plants, all of which would be greener for a healthy dose of organic matter.
Householders who live in a bungalow, even with very little land, do not need to throw out kitchen waste or garden clippings. At the very least, they can greatly reduce the amount they hand over to a municipal sweeper for disposal. The simplest method is to dig a small, shallow hole in the ground and bury your kitchen waste. Cover it with soil to discourage rats and stray dogs. Dig a hole just next to that one for the next day.
If your soil is healthy, you can come back to the first spot on the seventh day. Apart from cabbage stems and other very hard matter, you will find most of the waste absorbed into the soil. If your soil does not have enough earthworms, just give it two weeks’ time (14 holes). Gradually, the organic matter will make your soil porous and healthy and waste will degrade more quickly. If your lot is mostly paved, you can do all this with two large rectangular cement planters.
People who live in a flat can do the same in the common garden area, if the number of flats is small and things are kept tidy enough not to bother other residents. Or all the residents can cooperate in the composting.
For flat-dwellers who don’t have that option, there are balcony vermi-composting kits that can break down your kitchen waste. As you use a kit, you learn how to keep it healthy and when to harvest the compost for your potted plants. Even if you have to rest the system once in a while, you will have greatly reduced the amount of organic matter going out of your house.
An even simpler system involves four or five pots half full of soil, in which you add kitchen peels, cover them with a layer of soil, repeat, and move on to the next pot. Put saucers underneath to collect the rich vermi-wash to fertilise your plants. Tea grounds and coffee grounds can often simply be mixed into the soil in your potted plants.
If you live in a flat, kitchen composting can sound overwhelming. But don’t get anxious about what can be done with each little thing. Just start with a simple target: instead of giving a full bin of kitchen waste to the sweeper every day, you will give half a bin or less. Then less and less. It will certainly get easier as you go along.
(This is a series about how to live sustainably every day. The next article is: A thriftier kitchen)