24 May 2011

Community Composting One Year On

Our little recycling project has completed its first year of life. It has been the subject of a two-page article in a local newspaper, the topic of a small project for some Master degree students in a local university and the object of two talks to environmental education classes in a local high school. Conversely, it has survived workers stealing the bamboo infraestructure, smear campaigns from neighbors, being associated with an infestation of rats and a long, wet rainy season. After all of this, it seems to be emerging stronger than ever, ready to prosper and grow.

The project languished for about two months when many neighbors associated it with the infestation of rats and as the rains kept the whole place wet and somewhat muddy. During that time, only two families contributed regularly, down from seven during the rest of the year. Then, it occurred to me that instead of fighting their erroneous notion about the rats, it would be better to solve it beyond any doubt and allay their fears.

On the Internet you can find lots of compost projects, but they are all either for one family (in an enclosed bin) or huge, industrial deals inside large areas. Very few are outside, and those are mostly for leaves, cut grass and small branches, with very little kitchen waste. Putting the whole operation within an enclosed area would be too much work and expense. So, I figured that rats only like the fresh stuff and if we could decompose the fresh waste in a closed environment, then they would have no reason to come around. Once it gets hot enough and the waste decomposes beyond recognition, then it can be poured out into the open air bins to be finished.

So, we bought several new garbage bins and drilled holes all around them. The procedure is to fill up one bin with waste and leaves and once it is full (which takes 1 to 3 days), then put the top on it tightly and start filling up the next bin. Once they are all full, then the first one is emptied and it is ready to be filled again. Because there are 7 families participating and we only have 4 bins, each bin stays full for a little over a week until it has to be dumped into the outside compost area. Of course, one week is not quite enough for the kitchen waste to become unrecognizable, so we need more bins. However, during that week, the waste inside each enclosed bin really heats up and the volume is reduced by approximately 30%, so a lot of action takes place in there.

The bins in the back are full and so are waiting their turn to be emptied and filled again.
The grey bin in the foreground is getting filled up.

Here are the 4 spaces for compost.
The second one, where the rake is,  is currently being filled up.

This is how the garden area looks now.

This has convinced some of the sceptical neighbors and they are participating once again! With this resolved, I see no reason the project can’t start growing considerably. For this second year, I would like to double the number of families participating (from 7 to 14) and double the amount of kitchen waste and leaves we recycle this year (from 320 to 640 bins). Further, I would like to consider this as a model method for enclosed housing developments around the city and the country. If this idea comes to fruition, I would like to make an introductory video in Spanish, put it up on youtube, and use it to see if other housing developments would be interested in starting small projects. Of course, this is just an idea, we will have to see how things unfold this coming year.

Soon, I will post news about our third compost harvest, about the little vegetable garden that has been started up with our soil and some amazing statistics that I have been compiling about how much kitchen waste is produced in a typical house around here each week and month.