This Is Why I Started Composting My Waste
Unsegregated garbage is a worldwide environmental and humanitarian crisis.
The intense stench of a month's worth of degrading vegetable and food waste hit me in the face like a bus. It was a hundred times worse than driving past one of those garbage dumps across the city which would start emanating toxic foul smells whenever it rained. It was revolting, nauseating, and downright disgusting. I almost gagged.
Well, who asked me to let it rot inside there for so long in the first place?
I had opened my wet waste bin for the first time ever since moving into my new rented house, to see how much I could carry on without having to hand it over to the municipality workers. The stench was so strong, that it lingered inside the house an hour after I closed the kitchen utility door and retreated to my room. Such was the amount of waste that had accumulated, rotted, and decomposed in it. It contained everything from coffee grounds, to banana peels, groundnut shells, along with all other kinds of organic vegetable waste.
I hadn’t cleared it for more than a month, initially because I had social anxiety to go out and hand it over to the workers, and later because an insane amount of waste had accumulated there. The stench was beyond nauseating to be handing over such a thing to another human being while looking them in the eye.
No way was I going to subject another unsuspecting human to that. Even if their day jobs meant collection and disposal of said refuse.
But my laziness had it its peak, and so did the contents of the wet waste bin.
If I let this continue for another week, I wouldn’t be able to open it myself. And much like many other big decisions in life, I had to choose between suffering now or suffering later. I was faced with two choices. I could either buy a composter and empty all the contents of the bin into it and let the composter do its job. Or I could buy some plants and feed them the contents of the wet waste bin as manure.
I’d always wanted to purchase plants ever since I’d gotten here. So I did the latter.
(I did order the composter later online, but that would take time to arrive, and all that waste had to go somewhere!)
Why compost your organic waste in the first place?
The environmental problems with unsegregated waste:
As per the ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change (MOEF), India generates more than 1.5 lakh metric tonnes of solid waste daily. This unsegregated waste, disposed off haphazardly in open landfills, blotching the cityscape with ungodly sights of garbage with smoke constantly rising out of them, turns into a biohazard and is never picked up by municipal corporations, poisoning the air, land, and water over a period of time.
Further to this, The India water portal says:
“Mounds of garbage are a common sight today. Waste thrown is omnipresent in the form of rotting piles that dot our landscape, foul our rivers and pollute our wells and lakes. Even the idea of a quaint, clean village is no longer true because trash has overcome the rural-urban divide very successfully.”
To eradicate this menace, many waste management initiatives have popped up across the country helping people to either individually contribute to the cause by composting their own wet waste at home, or stop contributing to the problem, by handing over only segregated waste to the municipality.
Other than these, large and small scale initiatives like Waste compaction, Biogas generation through the use of bio methanisation or anaerobic digesters, setting up of composting pits, and large scale processing of wet waste at hotels, restaurants, hospitals, and educational institutions are also on the cards.
A Human biohazard and human rights violation
While the municipality has mandated segregation of waste at source in many cities, not everyone follows the rules and a lot of mixed waste falls through the cracks.
Besides, even if the corporation did order separate collection of household wet waste from that of non-biodegradable dry waste, this is a health hazard in itself for sanitation workers who collect this waste on a mass scale from hundreds of households on a daily basis. This isn’t a “job” in the remotest sense of the word, and is no way for someone to be earning their living.
If I myself couldn’t tolerate the stench of rotting food waste, how could I expect someone else to be okay with it? And secondly, why should they even be doing so?
No human should be rummaging through mountainous heaps of wet rotting waste, breathing in the noxious gasses of the leachate emanating from it, destroying their bodily health in the process as it gets in through their nostrils, skin, eyes, and mouth.
Just because we have a system set up for the exploitation and suppression of human beings, doesn’t mean we take advantage of it!
In one particular study, it was found that workers involved with the daily municipal collection, transport, and segregation of waste were suffering from a host of illnesses like the common cold, diarrhea, parasitic infections, as well as skin and respiratory infections.
“Here people often suffer from diseases like- diarrhea, malaria, dengue due to unscientific and unhygienic
standard of living. Their mode of living is very unhygienic as their living place is very close to the open landfill thus
facilitating the way for the infectious organisms”
No personal protective equipment is provided to the workers, and they are left to fend for themselves, making an opprobrious living by collecting and off loading waste at filthy landfill sites every day.
It is high time that we, as highly educated working professionals, realize that our waste is our problem. A municipal worker earning minimum wage just to keep a roof over his head and feed his family shouldn’t be made a scapegoat in cleaning up after civilization's blunders.
No sanitation worker should be sifting through my pile of discarded cardboard boxes, bottles, food wrappers, plastic, and discarded rotting kitchen waste. No one should be forced to breathe the toxic fumes emanating from mountains of leachate piles of unsegregated garbage in this day and age.
And you know what’s the most ironic part?
We don’t even need technology to solve this problem. We never did.
All that was needed was a bit of planning and forethought with all stakeholders involved. All we needed were end-to-end solutions. Everyone, right from farmers, to producers and retail distributors to wholesale manufacturers of processed food, to consumers who cook and discard the food, and the ones who collect waste for recycling must be involved and sit at the same table to discuss solutions.
As long as we all work selfishly without coordinating with each other, we’ll keep running into problems over and over, solving them only from isolated, detached and selfish standpoints, without ever addressing the root cause of them.
This short-sighted approach has been tried over and over again, and has never worked!
The emergence of on-site composting as one of the viable solutions
Years of civic apathy, lack of personal responsibility among people, and no inclinations to solve the problem from a unified standpoint has led to one single solution to this entire menace: On-site composting.
At homes, residents utilize compost bins of various sizes and configurations with different working apparatuses to compost all their biodegradable organic waste on-site. Those who have access to backyards use compost pits to get rid of their kitchen waste and bring new life to their gardens.
Likewise, restaurants utilize bio methanization plants to generate electricity and quickly jump over the whole composting process to directly get to the fresh compost (manure) in less than 26 days, which can then be sent to their farmers to be used as fertilizer for their crops.
“Hotels and restaurants produce a much higher quantity of waste daily and their involvement in processing waste at the site removes a significant portion of the wet waste transported to the city’s overflowing dumping grounds. Taj Lands End in Bandra, which produces 2.5 metric tonnes of waste per day — the highest bulk generator of wet waste in H west ward — has set up an organic waste convertor which processes as much as 1,000 kg wet waste every day. The organic waste converter produces at least 400 kg of manure which is used as fertilizer for the plants and nursery set up on their premises.”
The idea is simple. Since decomposition takes time along with a bit of effort, it would take at least 2 months for all the food waste thrown into the composter to get converted into fine, usable, fresh compost. Houses, as well as bigger industrial food processing plants, can then sell that fresh compost back to farmers as fertilizers for their crops, use them in their own backyard gardens, or scatter them in green spaces across the city.
Since not everyone would be ready to take up composting on their own, neither having the time nor energy to do the same, the city decided to formulate a multipronged approach to solve the problem. Bio-methanization units were set up across the city, and segregated organic waste handed over to sanitation workers on specific days would be put into it to be turned into methane fuel.
However, this solution also requires the exploitation of humans, as garbage still has to be collected door to door and then fed into the bio-methanization unit.
We must adopt a multipronged approach in solving this problem. Utilizing compost bins and compost pits to get rid of kitchen scraps at home isn’t a viable solution for large scale industrial institutions, and vice versa.
Hence, it would be prudent to follow a customized approach in solving the issue based on its size and scale across various locations.
Whether it is the faster on-site composting of wet waste utilizing technology at bigger industrial units, or slower home composting without the use of electricity using bins and pits followed at individual houses, or the use of bio methanation plants in converting organic waste into energy which is then fed into the electric grid of the city, customized and size-appropriate measures must be adopted in tackling the gargantuan menace that is unsegregated waste.
Any solution that we intend to apply to the problem must fall on the intersections between human rights, animal rights, planetary health and citizen health.
Do let me know your thoughts on this in the comments section to the side.