Independent journalist and Sustainable Waste Management (SWM) practitioner Savita Hiremath has devoted the past decade to research the various aspects of composting. Interestingly, she has gone through the history of composting and looked at this environment-friendly act through a range of philosophical and ethical intricacies.
Hiremath has now put a sizable amount of her knowledge into her book, Endlessly Green: Solid Waste Management for Everyone, to engage fellow sustainability enthusiasts over the art of composting. An interview:
What drew you towards composting and sustainable waste management?
When you take part in a mundane routine like waste segregation and witness the change it brings about — both within and without — you dig deeper to explore the moral, ethical and philosophical dimensions of SWM.
I keenly observed how this simplest act of separating everyday waste transformed the way my family and my community looked at and treated waste. How the whole exercise transformed itself from a mere habit into an ethic.
How the word sustainability seeped into our everyday vocabulary. Once I understood the nuances of composting, the magical transformation of unwanted waste into highly nutritious compost left me awed to no end. These experiences that have kept me going for more than a decade.
Could you give us an overview of the research you undertook for the book?
I started segregating waste in 2009. When I got an opportunity to set up a sustainable SWM system for my 202-home community in 2011, I poured myself into this life-altering activity to establish a zero-waste cost-effective composting system.
Since I had no prior experience, I worked for nearly two years to succeed. All the research material available on the internet did not suit the Indian context. The challenge was to evolve locally and contextually. That’s when I started researching and documenting the available composting solutions — both about home and large-scale — and took to blogging which attracted an audience instantly.
While I was at it, the idea of writing a book sprouted and I began interviewing experts and scientists, and made notes. All the extensive legwork and poring over several books over the years gave me a solid foundation to stand on.
What factors can inspire people to include composting methods in their home?
It can begin as the most beautiful way of recycling your kitchen/garden waste into nutritious compost. On an average, 60-65 per cent of the waste generated per day by urban households is kitchen waste. If you further engage your environmental sensibilities, then life reveals itself as a web of intricately entwined elements.
I have seen many of my friends — who composted their waste — taking to gardening to grow organic food and then involving their families in discussing safe food and making thoughtful sustainable lifestyle choices. From conspicuous consumption to conscientious consumption, the transformation has been both magical and complete. My family is a living example of this.
You talk about the unassailable beauty in biodegradability in chapter 'Earth Symphony: Composting'. Could you give us an insight?
Anything that biodegrades exists under nature’s rules. That’s the ultimate beauty. This beauty is endless and self-renewing as it becomes part of the life cycle. Like the organic waste that becomes compost and enters the food chain. I feel that there’s a certain cultural disenchantment towards anything that rots. It’s so everywhere, not just in India.
According to Sir Albert Howard, Father of organic farming, 'The wheel of life is made up of two processes — growth and decay'. But we are obsessed with only growth. When we shed that cultural baggage, we will learn to respect nature in all its mightiest and minutest forms and make sustainable choices so as not to violate that delicate balance of life. What more can be beautiful than living in harmony with nature?
With some examples, take us through the history of composting in India and the world.
The history of composting is fascinating. A set of clay tablets with details on composting found in the Akkadian Empire (Akkade is now in Iraq) date back to 10,000 years.
The stony pits built outside the houses to process waste by Sumerians about 6,000 years ago, and the instances of experimenting with various types of organic matter, including animal and human waste, clear in places where farming was practised intensely like India, China, and Japan, etc., have appeared in the Bhagavad Gita, Bible, Talmud and certain ancient Chinese writings.
Historians have also recorded one of the age-old methods of heaping up straw and agricultural waste along with animal waste which is still being practised in the Indian countryside. Digging small pits to bury everyday kitchen waste has also been recorded, and the same is still in vogue in many places in India.
Endlessly Green: Solid Waste Management for Everyone is jointly published by Simon & Schuster and Yoda Press