My mom and I wanted to start composting a couple years ago but were temporarily dissuaded by someone we assumed would be the right person to guide us. Having no idea where to start ourselves, since I was already pregnant and my mom unwell, we didn’t have the spare energy to pursue it. Till now.
A couple months ago, I was prepping to homeschool my now 18 month old baby. We were reading two books: The Garden by Usborne books and Planet Earth in the Hello World series. Both talk about composting. Planet Earth (by the wonderful illustrator Jill McDonald) asks a question at the end: what does your family do to help the planet?
I’m almost 95% organic and sustainable in most of my purchases. From sourcing food to bamboo toothbrushes to cloth sanitary pads to one of the biggest things I decided to do when I was pregnant: cloth nappy. Apparently 7000 non-biodegradable disposable diapers are thrown into landfills throughout a baby’s diapering career and I was not comfortable contributing to such a massive carbon footprint especially at the beginning of a new life.
I consider myself an eco-warrior but it was really when I emerged from very early motherhood – when my baby was walking and becoming more independent and I was thinking of DIY homeschooling him the Montessori way – did that question hit home: ‘what is your family doing for the planet?’
As my baby became a toddler, the filmmaker in me started planning a documentary series on motherhood: an alternative way of parenting. It was then I found myself admitting to a friend that despite using my purchasing power to buy only conscious foods-cosmetics-toiletries-clothes, I still had a long way to go. ‘It’s not like I’m composting, doing rain water harvesting or using solar panels.’ Recalling that conversation, I realised I have to walk the talk if I’m to make this series with conviction. Suddenly the composting moment had arrived.
I did a random google search on composting in India and arrived at Daily Dump’s site. I soon crossed checked with another eco warrior (not within my direct friend circle as I only have one friend who currently composts) and discovered she too loves and uses Daily Dump. Validation!
The Daily Dump team indulged me for 4 hours collectively to explain the process in depth. Their Delhi affiliate Samidha at Green Karma must’ve spent another couple of hours guiding me. It turned out to be such an encouraging community. I ended up with a terracotta composting system, a leaf composter and a recycling sorting bag. I was going all-in on this zero waste thing!
It hit me. This could be the very first unit-study in homeschool with my baby: waste. We started gathering leaves from our garden initially. To save them from being burned. We started sorting every bit of paper, plastic and cardboard. To give dignity to the important work of our kabari walas (local recyclers).
Meanwhile I was painting our terracotta composting units inspired by our baby’s favourite author Jill McDonald’s work. The paintings are of bugs which play such an important role in turning our kitchen scraps into soil. There’s one in which our baby plants a seed and watches it grow over the seasons. Another of the planet with trees and plants growing from within compost. A tree of life at the bottom. A sun shining down on all of it from above. And the slogan: we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.
23 days ago we started composting in our first unit. So far we have only thrown out 2 small bags of garbage. That’s 1 every 10 days! Our kooda wala (garbage collector), used to receiving a minimum 2kg bag of waste per day from us, is quite bewildered. I’ve been washing milk packets and hanging them to dry. Then getting my toddler to put it in the recycling sorting system. We are slowly moving towards a zero waste household.
My ever helpful toddler proudly carries the compost to the upstairs garden with excitement, puts in the remix ‘powder’, tells me to ‘turn’ the pile, asks me to put ‘neem’, and even attempts to say ‘microbes’.
From day 9 itself the compost smelt like amazing earth, is throwing off heat and steaming when we turn it, and the maggots aren’t scary at all it turns out, rather benign. Yes, initially it takes time and effort. And then, like anything else, it becomes routine. And no. At no point did it ‘smell bad’.
The wonderful thing is, I didn’t know anything about gardening till literally 23 days ago. Since I didn’t know what exactly I would do with the compost when it was done in 2 months, I decided to teach myself and my baby the basics of gardening. I haven’t stopped listening, reading, and understanding since. Suddenly I am learning about regenerative gardening and agriculture. About soil health. I am having mind altering experiences listening to the likes of Vandana Shiva on the history of agriculture, Allan Savory on desertification, discovering the powerful movement and documentary on Netflix called ‘Kiss the Earth’ about the undeniable connection between soil regeneration and climate change.
I have only ever been a city girl. But I have a sudden urge to kiss the earth. For only now am I realising that composting isn’t just about reducing our environmental footprint by saving our kitchen scraps from ending up in a landfill where they can never decompose properly. It’s actually one of the key ways in which we as individuals can literally save the earth. Because it turns out, by enriching the soil with compost we are pulling carbon – a key building block of all life – out of the environment and back into the soil, enriching its vital microbial life. As critical as the microbes in our gut. It turns out that soil is living and that compost is one of the key ways we can feed the soil around us. Soil is literally the key to saving the planet. And I’m now realising that composting, which ought to be compulsory, is our most basic human responsibility. We ought to be managing our own waste.
When we mix our organic and inorganic waste in one bag and hand it over to the garbage collector, we turn our valuable waste – our compostables and recyclables – into literal garbage, destined only for a greenhouse-gas emitting landfill. By composting, we turn it into gold. And frankly, the solace of seeing no smelling dripping garbage daily outside the front door, makes it a no brainer.
3 Aug 2021