Watch: Is composting the cure for T&T's food waste problem?
Photo: A compost heap being created at the NEW FIRE Public Environmental Empowerment Programme on January 25, 2020. Photo courtesy Alina Doodnath.
Trinidad and Tobago’s blazing landfill fires which cause toxic smoke and fumes may actually have their origins in our very own kitchen bins.
Anne-Marie Rooks, founder and director of JTB Homesteads, explained to Loop News that organic waste from one’s kitchen, when sealed in a plastic bag and tossed into the landfill, actually leads to the production of methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes disproportionately to global warming.
Methane is also highly flammable, and could be part of the reason for the intensity of local landfill fires.
Rooks was speaking at a composting workshop done in collaboration with the Central Pathfinders Environmental Foundation, as part of the NEW FIRE Public Environmental Empowerment Programme.
The workshop was funded by UNDP Trinidad and Tobago through their GEF Small Grants Programme, and was done ahead of the 2020 New Fire Festival, which focuses on zero-waste practices.
Benefits of composting
Aside from making use of grass and tree cuttings, composting also provides a precious resource for farmers – nutrient-rich compost which yields bountiful crops, without harming waterways (which is caused by the use of chemical fertilizers).
Rooks added that contrary to popular opinion, composting can be done in small spaces and, with regular attention, can yield viable compost in as little as 30 days.
Not only would one be able to provide viable compost for healthier plants, one would be cutting down on the amount of organic waste which goes into landfills.
According to a 2011 report by the Ministry of Planning and Development, organics accounted for over one-third of the waste dumped at the Beetham Landfill.
Further, these landfills are past their capacity – the Beetham Landfill has been operating for over 30 years, and is adjacent to the ecologically sensitive Caroni swamp.
Composting would considerably reduce the amount of organic waste dumped on a regular basis as well as help support local food production.
Rooks assured that even with small spaces, composting is still possible.
Here’s how to compost
Here are several easy steps to start your own compost at home:
1. Browns and greens
All composting requires three basic ingredients: Browns, such as dead leaves, branches, and twigs, greens, such as grass clippings, vegetable waste and fruit scraps, and water, which is important to help microbes convert the food into compost.
Your compost pile will also need regular mixing to give it air, as the microbes need oxygen to do their work.
2. Ensure there’s a proportion of browns to greens
Your compost pile should be made of about 20-30 percent carbon material (browns, ie dried twigs, leaves etc) to one percent nitrogen material (ie 'greens' or food waste). You should also alternate layers of organic materials of different-sized particles.
The brown materials provide carbon for your compost, the green materials provide nitrogen, and the water provides moisture to help break down the organic matter.
3. Layer it up
Layer your materials from bulky to fine, starting with twigs and branches at the bottom, then leaves, then place your food waste in the middle. Cover the food waste with leaves until it forms a small mound, wetting each layer with water until it’s properly soaked. To conserve water, try collecting rainwater in barrels for your compost heap.
(Note: It’s best to avoid food waste such as meat and dairy as this requires a longer period for decomposition.)
4. Mix it up
Mix or turn the compost once a week to help the breakdown process and eliminate odour. You can mix as often as every couple days or once a week.
5. Check the heat
Heat is a by-product of the microbial activity during the decomposition process. Simply use a long stick to poke the centre of your compost, wait a few minutes, then feel the end.
If it feels quite hot it means your composting microbes are busy at work. This can happen within just one or two days of your compost being created.
6. Harvest your compost
Your compost should be ready between 3-6 months. You’ll know compost has formed when the finished material is dark, crumbly and smells like earth.
Remove all the finished compost from the bin, leaving unfinished materials in the bin to continue decomposing.
Be sure that the decomposition process is complete before you use your compost; otherwise, microbes in the compost could take nitrogen from the soil and harm plant growth.
Do you compost at home? Share your tips below.