C… Compost

Depending on which side of the effort you are, you can either treat it as a noun or a verb. Either ways, it is one of the most effective ways of managing and using organic waste and ensuring we are a part of or at least closer to a natural system which is circular – what we take from the earth, we give back to the earth. 

According to India Water Portal, MSW or municipal solid waste contains 51% organic water. The problem starts as a majority of this waste is not segregated and all of it is dumped in the open landfills. The decomposing waste generates leachate and gaseous emissions (instead of biodegrading) besides causing nuisance in the surrounding environment. Leachate contaminates the groundwater as well as surface water in the vicinity and gaseous emissions contribute to global warming. Read the full report here.

Composting reduces green-house gas emissions, improves soil quality, saves money, saves resources.

Can we do something to be a part of the solution from our homes in our own little or big ways? The answer is a Yes!

There are several tools and methods which have evolved over the years to treat organic waste at the source itself. But we will focus on one which is the easiest to do at home without any specific tools and one which uses a specific method called stacking or ‘Khamba’. I am glad I was able to catch up with a few khamba owners and they happily agreed to share their stories… watch one while we discuss the khamba later in this post.

First off, organic waste is any material which is biodegradable and comes from plants or animals. Organic waste from urban homes include kitchen waste — vegetable and fruit scraps, cooked food, garden waste, and human waste (poop! you heard it right). And if are the privileged ones to also own farm animals in urban cities, include their waste to the list – cow dung, chicken poop, goat poop etc.

*Note – when doing this for the first time, avoid using cooked food or bones etc. as they may cause odor and a slightly more complex treatment of the waste. 

Pot composter

  • Segregate your waste into wet and dry. Wet is waste from the kitchen (can include eggshells, avoid cooked food and bones)
  • Put the kitchen waste in a pot and add the same amount of dry leaves.
  • Sprinkle buttermilk or any compost you may have from a previous packet. These are accelerators or starters that start the microbial activity and the breaking-down process.
  • Turn this every day.
  • Add to the pot every day and repeat the process. Keep the pot covered with a lid.

The pot can ideally be a clay pot or even a garden clay planter. In case they are unavailable, try plastic however the plastic may leach after some time.

If you have access to a garden or open soil, you can dig up a small pit and follow the pot process. The simplest is to cover the scraps or leftovers with soil, just like if you were to bury the organic waste. Once the pit is full, cover it with dry leaves.

Stack composter (Khamba)

  • 3 terracotta pots (A, B, C) can be placed one on top of the other vertically. Use one lid to cover the top pot.
  • Drill holes on the sides of the three pots and at the bottom of two of the pots. The two pots with the bottom holes will be rotated and the one without the bottom hole will stay at the bottom of the stack.
  • Cover the bottom holes with a newspaper so nothing goes though except a leachate (liquid).
  • Start by filling the pot A with kitchen waste. You can use a similar process as the pot composting here as well.
  • Once pot A is 3/4th full, switch with pot B in the stack and pot B is on the top. Repeat the process.
  • By the time pot B is 3/4th full, pot A’s contents would have settled. Switch with pot B so pot A is on the top now… repeat the process until the pot B is 3/4th if full and converted, empty into pot C (bottom most pot). 
  • Start the process for pot B all over again. 
  • Repeat the process until pot C is full. 
  • Sieve the contents of pot C in a separate pot. The bigger pieces left after the sieving can be put back in pot A for further decomposing. 

The entire process may take up to 90 days. 

The Daily Dump is a wonderful organization spreading the culture of home composting in urban homes. Here is a story from one such family…

What you will need for either of the two processes discussed above:

  1. Kitchen waste
  2. Dry leaves, cardboard shreds, coconut coir
  3. Buttermilk or ready compost
  4. Water

Keep in mind:

  1. Follow a sandwich technique – dry leaveswet kitchen wastedry leaves
  2. Do not let the mix become too dry or too wet. Add dry browns (leaves/cardboard/coir) when too wet or a little water when too dry
  3. It is ok to see worms or cobwebs in the pot
  4. Cover the pot with a lid to avoid flies

Additional resources for your read:

Composting solutions and videos on YouTube to start with… 

All the best!!

Love and Grace.

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