When we think of climate change, some of the solutions that come to our mind are shifting to green technologies in industry, agriculture, transportation, energy coupled with legal binding climate enabling policies at national and international level. These macrolevel solutions no doubt are vital to address climate change. However, the moot question is what you and I can do to mitigate the current crisis. Some of the steps that we can take is to reduce the wastage of water, food, drive electric car, use energy efficient gadgets and more. But it’s not enough to reduce the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.
We, the human species are responsible to a large extent to the current climate crisis. The way we live, eat and act matters a lot. Rehumanizing the connection between humans and nature is becoming more important in the current context. No animal produces as much wastes as human beings generate. Lets take the example of household wastes. What do we do with them? Conveniently we dispose our wastes into a trash can, which gets into a larger trash can that gets picked up by the city municipality which further gets into landfill, a much larger trash can. Landfills have a limited capacity to hold wastes, eventually it gets filled, after few years new landfill sites are identified and the same process continues.
If you have visited landfills, they are not pleasant sites. Whenever we drive pass landfills immediately we turn on the air recirculation button to avoid the stench getting inside the car. Landfills liberate several gases and the liquid that comes out of degrading wastes (leachate) is toxic to environment and pollutes water bodies. In addition, landfills are the breeding ground from rodents and animals. Most of the problems in the landfills are due to the biodegradable wastes that we throw in the trash cans. The common household biodegradable wastes are food wastes, vegetable and fruit peels and garden wastes. Instead of throwing these wastes they can be transformed into sweet smelling compost. It doesn’t require compost turners or special bins. If you have a small garden you can bury these wastes in the garden during spring and in winter you can compost in any container in your garage or outside.
Personally, I manage my household kitchen wastes and try to motivate my friends to manage their wastes. I would like to share a story of my friend Mr. Shreyas Nayak who lives close to my residence in Fairfield, Iowa. Shreyas and his wife Reena got interested into turning wastes to wealth and they share their experience.
Household Kitchen Waste composting journey- Experiences of Nayak family in Fairfield, Iowa
Our journey on composting our kitchen waste started in May of 2020.This was after the first COVID-19 lockdowns and gatherings of up to 10 people were allowed. We invited Dr. Thimmaiah to a barbeque on our deck wherein we decided to try making rice pancakes (dosa) on the grill. It was a super duper successful effort and we enjoyed the gathering.
|Shreyas and Thimmaiah|
|Making rice pan cakes (dosa) on the grill|
And that is how our endeavor to prevent our kitchen waste from entering the Iowa landfills started and it has now become an obsession.
We selected a couple of containers, with tight lids on them, to store all our kitchen waste of a few days (usually a week or so). These included all vegetable and fruit peels, cut off unusable pieces of bread and other foods gone bad. It really included everything you can literally think of including coffee and tea grounds, juices and milk products gone bad, paper napkins, etc , but excluded plastic, metals, aluminum and other non-biodegradable products.
Once we’ve collected enough waste, say in about a week or so, we would go to our vegetable garden patch and dig a hole about a feet or so deep. Drop in all the kitchen waste and cover it back up with soil completely (the one that came from digging the hole).
|Digging a shallow pit (1 feet deep)|
|Kitchen wastes in the pit.|
This felt very fulfilling and mentally rewarding when we began and the joy lasted for about 2 to 3 weeks. Then the trouble started. Living in Iowa which is full of critters like ground hog, gophers, squirrels, raccoons, etc, one day when we went to work on our patch, we realized that the critters had sniffed out our waste and started digging out our composting waste. So we had to think about reinforcements to prevent the kitchen waste getting raided by the critters.
Fortunately we had some wood planks lying in the backyard. We figured that strong / hard cardboard pieces would also do the trick. We started covering our composting waste with wooden planks and laying some bricks on top of them to prevent the critters from getting into the waste.
We were diligent in the effort from May 2020 to November 2020 and could really tell the difference it was making to our soil and our plants. The plants started having thicker stems and providing us a lot more produce, not to forget a much healthier produce than the past. Plus the land and the plants did not need as much watering as the plants got a lot of their food/nutrients from the kitchen waste buried in the soil.
Middle of November or so, the ground started freezing up as temps went below 32F here in Iowa. We thought that it was the end of our composting of kitchen waste till next spring. The next batch of our kitchen waste that we had collected was about to give into our garbage can and then onto the landfill but before doing that, we decided to check with Dr. Thimmaiah if there were any other options available to us.
As usual, Dr. Thimmaiah’s brilliance shone thru. He said that we could compost our waste in buckets inside our garage. The temperature in our garage ranges at about 45F and Dr. Thimmaiah said that at that temp there should still be some microbial activity to allow for composting of the kitchen waste. At these cold temperatures breakdown of wastes is very minimum.
He shared the following pic with us on how he was doing it and that is all we needed to embark on this journey. Dr. Thimmaiah explained - Use a burlap bag in a bucket. Start with 1 to 2 inches of soil or compost. Add your kitchen waste on top and cover it up with 1 to 2 inches of soil or compost or potting mixture. Keep repeating to the top of the bucket.
|Composting in a burlap bag during winter|
|Covering the wastes with compost or soil|
So, we used one of our garbage cans for this effort.
|Composting in a garbage can|
|Wastes covered with soil or compost|
We are glad and surprised that because the waste is covered with the soil, there is absolutely no stench at all.
So here we are at the middle of February 2021. Since May of 2020 to present – there has been no kitchen waste going into the landfills of Iowa from the Nayak household.
This has now become such an obsession that we look forward to burying our kitchen waste into the soil every week. We collect our waste for the entire week and bury it in our soil on the weekends. When we get back into spring, March / April timeframe, we look forward to taking this fertile soil and spreading it on our vegetable garden patch for another awesome crop in 2021.
Myself and my wife both have full-time jobs that require about 9 to 10 hours of commitment each day. Apart from that we also spend an hour or so meditating each day and then another hour or so working out. We also cook and eat at home most if not all the time. If with such a schedule, we are able to accommodate composting kitchen waste in our soil, we think most others should also be able to do it.
Do take on this journey. It will be one of the most fulfilling endeavors of your life.