Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Zero Waste Homes

Meet a few families that have made this their catch phrase. If more
households follow the example, we can get a clean and green city

Did you know that in Chennai, 68 per cent of the city’s total solid
waste is generated by households? Did you know that one person
produces 200 kg of solid waste per year? *

There is little point in keeping our homes sparkling clean when most
of us step out into streets piled high with garbage. What can we do to
reduce the amount of bio-degradable waste that leaves our home and
goes into streets and landfills? Zero waste homes are fast becoming
the norm. They not only make your home clean and eco-friendly, they
also keep your streets and city clean. And you can get there simply by
composting waste.

Composting sounds messy but it’s just the practice of converting
organic waste into manure. If you can do it easily and simply at home
or in your workspace, why not? You don’t need lots of space or a
dedicated compost yard. A small green patch, a balcony or just about
any unused space in an office or apartment block can do the trick.

The Bangalore-based Daily Dump has been offering a range of home
composting products since 2006. Poonam Bir Kasturi, the founder,
explains why everyone must take it up at home, “It makes you proud to
keep waste off the streets. It is sensitive

to natural cycles and tolerant of different life forms. It builds a
sense of joy that you can actually make a change to the mess around,
and moves you from being a consumer to a change agent.”

Segregation is the first step in composting. Says Poonam, “Without
segregation, composting cannot happen.” A family can start immediately
but in an apartment block, it takes time to get a consensus. You need
a group to follow it through and the space and budget to invest in
bins. “The capital cost per family in both individual homes and
apartment blocks is approximately the same. The recurring cost for
individual homes is higher, whereas communities can achieve economies
of scale,” explains Poonam.

Navneeth Raghavan, Chennai’s very own Daily Dump clone, began her
compost journey after she met Poonam in Bangalore. “I was very
impressed with what she did. I found a potter, made some pots, and
trained myself to compost. Now, my entire family is involved in it and
they see the benefits of composting.” Poonam and Navneeth use
three-layered terracotta pots called khambas for composting.

What Navneeth started on a small scale in 2008 today benefits 3,500
families. “We make our pots locally. I live on the fourth floor of an
apartment and leave my khamba on the balcony. There is no stink during
decomposition and we have a

solution to keep away flies.” Navneeth gives away plastics and tins to
the recyclers and the rest goes into the khamba.

Preethi Sukumaran and Sruti Harihara Subramanian are just two of the
many who have followed the Daily Dump example. “After we began
composting, I saw a remarkable reduction in the amount of garbage
going out of home. We have

started to critically examine everything that comes into the house to
see if it can be recycled or composted.” Preethi even carries her own
containers and oil cans to grocery stores. “If we can’t avoid packaged
groceries, the covers are washed, dried

and put into the recycling bin.”

Preethi has a separate bin in the kitchen for plastic and paper to be
given away to the recycler. Her family has replaced plastic water
bottles with stainless steel ones and the plastic water storage can
with a copper pot. They save the rinse water from

hand-washed clothes to mop floors and clean toilets. Water used to
wash vegetables or rice is recycled for plants. In fact, Preethi and
her husband make sustainable alternatives like organic and
eco-friendly detergents.

Sruti began composting to sustain her terrace garden and she too uses
the khamba. “It’s easy,” she says, “Throw all your organic waste into
it. You get microbes and additives to mix in. Just follow the
instructions.” Sruti, who runs Ashvita Bistro in Alwarpet, uses a
khamba there as well, apart from retailing the compost sets. “Do you
know about 60 per cent of waste from any home is organic waste,” she

Singapore-based blogger Bhavani Prakash has written an e-book called
50 Ways to Make Your Home Eco-Friendly. “I compost vegetable and fruit
peels in my apartment. I started by using empty flower pots and soil
for my method. Start with a thin layer of soil, then peels, then a
layer of browns (cardboard, dry leaves, paper) and another layer of
soil. This prevents flies and smells. There has to be a judicious mix
of wet and dry waste. Once that’s done, moisture, heat and air will do
the trick. Stir, if it starts to smell and in a few days it will be
alright.” It’s better to start with a flower pot, she says, since you
use things you already have at home; old pots, unused soil, paper.
Clearly, cleanliness too begins right at home.