When I was beginning this initiative of encouraging all around me to learn something new as it does wonderful things to your brain; a good friend Tamanna Sharma (based in New Delhi, India), suggested the topic Composting as a start. I had never seriously thought about composting, unlike her, who thinks very deeply about it. So I thought why not! So here are a few questions I shot at her and she very kindly responded in detail. Have a read and get to know a little bit more about composting and maybe talk more about it.
Why did you start composting in the first place? How did you get introduced to the idea of composting?
Till the age of 18, I was doing what most households in India do. Throwing my waste in the trash can and then forgetting about it. It did not matter because what’s out of sight is out of mind. My parents taught me to not litter but I did not question others actions like throwing away disposable items out of a running car, into the bushes, into a cluster of garbage on the road or quietly leaving it under the chair at weddings. It was a way of life. Nobody questioned, “Where does it all go?”
It was during my under graduation days where we were encouraged to ask questions. My very first encounter with waste was while analyzing Clean Yamuna initiatives as part of my college project. It lead me to visit the Ghats of Yamuna. What I witnessed there was a turning point in my life. It brought me face to face with the extreme waste management problem we’ve put ourselves into. Once presented with the problem, I explored the solutions and found composting to be one of the solutions that are not only important but really easy to incorporate in our lives as well. 50 % of waste generated by Delhi is compostable but lands in the landfills and in the rivers. (Fact link: Indian cities are faced with a severe waste management crisis)
What do you cherish most about composting?
I am very proud to able to compost at home. Composting brings me closer to nature. In this world where convenience is given priority, where we’ve created so much that doesn’t have an end to its life cycle, composting helps me make choices based on product life cycle. Every component of Earth is born to end someday and regenerate. Composting helps me integrate that in my life.
What were the challenges you faced when you started composting?
Challenge number one was the thought of putting effort into this process. We are so used to convenience, that to stop tossing your trash and instead going out of your way to segregate your waste and compost, no matter how easy the whole process is, requires effort. Once the decision is made – next challenge is to find out the amount of waste you generate, how much space you have, whether you live in an apartment or an independent house and the method of composting that suits you according to those factors.
When you talk about composting to others, what is their response?
The response depends on person to person. The ones who already know about composting find it encouraging to compost when I tell them about the process and how easy it is. They just look for someone to follow, to solve their doubts. The ones who don’t know about composting or have never given a thought to waste segregation require a little more coaxing. They are not aware of the waste problem to begin with, so the first step is to introduce them to the problem and then lead the way towards composting. The response and actions are two different things. A majority of the response is positive towards composting but a very small number are actually composting. The folks in rural areas have always composted. The usage of leaf plates to eat food made it convenient for them to throw all of it together and let it naturally disintegrate. But with the introduction of Styrofoam/plastic disposables, the waste is getting mixed and hence composting is not happening as much as it did before.
What do you have to say about the philosophy behind composting?
Composting is the magic of nature right in front of our eyes. The circle of life cannot be explained better than the process of composting. We grow food, we eat it, it is composted, once composted it becomes manure and the manure is used to grow food again.
What is the relevance of composting in today’s date?
Composting did not require much effort in the past. Just dig a hole and toss your organic matter (greens) and dry leaves (browns) in it. Eventually, it goes back to earth. Today however food is tossed in plastic and non-biodegradable packaging without been segregated, that leads to obstruction in composting. Food just lies there and eventually releases methane gas that contributes to greenhouse gasses and can lead to spreading of health hazards for humans, animals, marine life, soil, and air. Intentional composting is more relevant today than it ever was and if not taken care of, it will lead to much bigger problems soon because we are running out of space to throw things away. There is no away!
Do you think the fast paced younger generation can be persuaded to get into composting? If so how would it make their lives better?
The Younger generation can be pursued with three main benefits of composting – environmental, social and economic benefits. Environment benefits as our trash cans do not include any wet waste and that means the dry waste does not get contaminated and hence is more likely to be recycled instead of ending in landfills. Uncontaminated waste brings higher returns to the recyclers/kabadiwala and segregated waste reduces health hazards for them and people who handle waste. We get economic benefits through reduction in manure procurement for tending the garden and when sold, uncontaminated recyclable waste is more likely to give higher returns.
Is composting relevant to a non-gardener also? How?
Absolutely, even if a person doesn’t tend to a garden, the benefits mentioned above will still make sense to them. The manure produced post composting can be simply taken to a nearby park and can be spread under plants and trees or on dry soil to enrich it. It works perfectly as a soil conditioner, something we desperately need as we’re facing soil erosion and desertification all over the world.
How is composting better than sending the garbage to the dump (assuming it’s in separated bins and going in the right place)?
Unfortunately all over the world, most often than not waste is dumped together even if an individual or household segregates their waste. But assuming it stays segregated throughout the process till it reaches a treatment Centre, why should some still compost at home? By composting at home, we make sure it’s not getting dumped or mixed by any chance and we also save transportation costs and take off pressure from the treatment Centre as more than 50 % of total waste in New Delhi itself is food waste. But observing and treating food waste at home, we develop a better outlook towards our food waste and are more likely to reduce it.
What effect would you think composting has on families?
Apart from the three benefits mentioned above. For families, it is a brilliant opportunity to bring up their kids in an environment that helps them respect and understand nature. According to a study: How to raise an Environmentalist Encouraging children to form an emotional attachment to nature may be key to protecting our planet’s future.