A word of caution for those looking for genuine composting solutions

by Endlessly Green

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A well-intentioned expansion of mediocrity is at play. Before anyone offers you a quick solution, please remember that “compost” is the most misused word these days and that you have a lot of questions to ask. And yes, I am not talking about only 24-hour automatic ‘composters’.

Too many ‘composting machines’ are hitting the market but sane choices are still few and far between. Several WhatsApp groups discuss solutions and through some, major city-wide expos happen where our major contender ’24-hour automatic composting machines’ often find their way in effortlessly. The organisers of these events seem to proceed with good intention but there is a high probability that they fail to screen the products without prior knowledge about anything called composting. That’s why I called it mediocrity because here the intention is good. But that’s about it.

Of late, machines claiming to turn fresh food waste into ‘compost’ within six hours at low temperatures of about 40-50°C. have been attracting buyers’ attention. The makers are quick to say that theirs is not a 24-hour machine in which temperatures go beyond 200°C which results in burning of the waste.

But please note that minimal temperatures even in these machines is exothermic. Meaning, the heat is produced by a process or a reaction that releases energy from a system to its surroundings in the form of heat, light or sound. Whereas composting is about a bacterial bonfire that builds up due to the increased activity of microbes in a given food waste pile indicating the ongoing process of biodegradation.

But this process goes on in a natural setting at its own pace if all the conditions like air, moisture and natural heat are well in place. We can speed up this process only to an extent by adding microbes manually. This tweak has become inevitable because we urbanites dealing with 100s of kgs of kitchen and garden waste have extremely limited space, labour and budget. We have to reduce the turnaround time of each pile so that there’s space for the next pile to process. But if we try to tweak it any further, then it can be done only through exothermic action. That’s how and why 24-hour machines were born.

As explained above, any output that comes out of one such machine after it gets cooked at 40-50°C cannot be called compost. While it can get irresistible to just place a machine in a small corner which looks neat and tidy with an inbuilt shredder, it can open up a can of worms—pun unintended—as days roll by. Most machines, if not all, call for continuous power supply and high maintenance as they break down often.

Above all, the ‘compost’ you have on hand is just some half-cooked mass that can invite a mischief of rats and mice if you use it for your garden unprocessed.

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