Compost, or decaying organic matter, tends to evoke impressions of an unpleasant nature: foul smells, swarms of flies and mounds of rotting vegetation. Banish those thoughts. The reality of composting is both easy and pleasant.
Many city dwellers have integrated composting seamlessly into their lives, having found that not only is it a convenient, cheap and odor-free way to reduce their daily outgoing waste, but it can also be done in the tiniest of homes.
The most popular method is vermicomposting, also called worm composting. The system uses worms to accelerate the natural process of decomposition in organic waste. Worms consume organic matter, pass it through their bodies and release it as castings that are rich in nutrients. The worms are harmless and will not bother you or your home, as they are happiest in the environment of the compost bin.
Composting creates soil with micro-organisms that help plants germinate, help the soil retain water, and reduce the need for fertilizers and pesticides. You can even turn composting into a fun, educational project for your children.
Bruce Buntane first started composting when he was living in Nova Scotia, Canada. After moving to Beijing seven years ago, Buntane missed having composting as part of his routine and decided to start recycling his food waste. Many experts recommend only only one type of worm for composting, but Buntane discovered that any type will do the trick. Not enthused by the prospect of hunting for worms, Buntane offered his ayi’s son one kuai for every 10 worms the boy found; pretty soon, he had more worms than he needed. He then located a plastic box to use as a makeshift compost bin, but plans to upgrade to a wooden one soon, as the wood helps aerate the compost and prevents a buildup of excess water.
As an educational experiment last year, kindergarteners at Family Learning House at Jianwai Soho also joined the composting trend. The kids helped make a compost bin and the school ordered the ideal red-wriggler worms from a farm in Shunyi: 20 kuai for a kilo of worms delivered to your door. (Don’t be surprised to find creatures other than worms in your bin; they will aid the composting process.) These days, the kids use the resulting fertilizer for growing plants and vegetables.
1. Find a lidded, wooden or plastic box that is approximately 30 to 40 centimeters tall.
2. Drill holes a few inches from the top and bottom of the box for aeration and drainage.
3. Stack the box inside another one that will collect excess water.
4. Place shredded, carbon-rich substances such as paper, brown leaves, straw or cardboard into the box as bedding.
5. Water the bedding until damp. Do not compact bedding.
6. Put approximately 500g of worms into the bin. You can find your own worms or contact the Shunyi farm (8431 1123, 6570 8415) that the Family Learning House buys from.
7. Deposit your organic waste in the compost bin regularly. For the first few weeks, feed the worms lightly. To avoid smells, bury the food in the bedding and refrain from putting meat, fish and dairy products into the box.
8. Top up the bedding from time to time.
9. Every three months, empty the contents of the bin to collect the compost.
Save Your City
Many Beijingers are aware of the city’s waste disposal problems, but the facts are still shocking. The city’s waste is becoming unmanageable, according to Chen Yong, director of the Municipal Administration Commission. Even as the city generates 18,400 tons of rubbish, it can dispose of only 10,400. And the amount of waste is growing by eight percent each year. Authorities plan to build new disposal plants by 2012, five of which will be for kitchen and restaurant waste in the hopes of encouraging rubbish separation. The government is working hard on the problem, and a basic but important task is to minimize how much garbage is produced. Help curb the growth of Beijing’s landfills by recycling and reusing glass, plastic and paper at home and by turning food waste into compost.