If you are a beginner to the world of composting, it may seem like rocket science to you. Trust me, it isn’t.
After taking my first Plastic Free July challenge in 2017, I swapped most of the single use plastics for reusables. My bin began to look different. It had a lot of kitchen waste – mainly fruit and vegetable peels, some hair and dust. 99% of the stuff in the bin was biodegradable.
Composting brings you halfway closer to zero waste
I realised that I was sending this lovely organic matter to the landfill where it was rotting with other mixed waste. When you give a big black garbage bag filled with mixed waste to the waste worker, she/he has to often separate it with bare hands at the local waste collection point, which is unfair and adds to their work.
Not just that, when your biodegradable waste goes to landfill, the process of combustion begins as the waste sits there. It gives off methane which causes rampant fires and lots of toxic smoke is released. I saw this when I visited the landfill in my city.
Needless to say, it creates air pollution and poses health risks for people who work at the landfill or live near it (and ultimately, it affects everyone because we breathe the same air).
But if you do begin to compost, you’ve won half the zero waste game already!
How to make your own matka composter under ₹1,000
After the epiphany I had, I decided it was time to compost. But there were 2 problems…
- I didn’t know how to start.
- Buying a commercial home composting unit was out of my budget.
So, I started to research feverishly and dig information. I learnt that you can easily compost in matkas (clay pots used for storing water) or even an old bucket if you live in a small space.
You can use different types of composting methods. If you have a garden, you can easily dig a pit and compost. Most urban Indian homes are small – you might live in a flat or a house with a decent sized terrace. I live in a barsati (a room on the terrace). Aerobic composting in containers suited me the best.
I decided to assemble my own composting unit.
I headed to the potter’s lane in my neighbourhood. There are a few families there who sell all sorts of earthenware – matka (a big round pot used for storing water), matki (a small round pot mostly used for religious rituals), surahi (a long necked pitcher used for storing water), kulhar (small cups used for tea), gamla (pots used for plants), diya (oil lamps) and even foot scrubbers!
It is common to find mitti ke bartan (earthenware) all across rural and urban India. You might have seen such shops by the roadside. If you’ve not seen one, ask around in your local market and you will easily find it. Google usually won’t tell you about such gems.
At the pottery shop, I bought the biggest wide mouthed matka and asked the owner to drill holes in it. 6 equidistant holes on the sides and one at the bottom. Holes are essential as they let air in and out.
If your potter does not have a drill, no worries. Bring the pots home, mark the spots for the holes, wet them and use a drill to make holes. If you’re planning to use any other tools, be careful – even a strong matka can crack if this is not done properly.
A matka has a round bottom which means it needs an elevated base. When you put kitchen waste in the pot, due to its high water content, it will release a liquid called leachate. This needs to be collected at the bottom of unit. I bought a kunda (a clay bowl used for keeping water for birds on terraces and open areas). You can also use an old tyre or make a square structure with bricks.
I assembled the composting unit on my terrace. At the bottom goes the kunda, on top of that is the matka and then you put a lid over it.
Ta-da! I was ready to compost. Actually, not yet…
Learn your composting lingo – what are browns and greens?
Composting requires browns and greens. Browns are high in carbon. They are:
- dry leaves
- coco peat
- pieces of cardboard
- shredded brown paper bags
- shredded newspaper
Greens are nitrogen. They are:
- vegetable and fruit peels
- green leaves
- egg shells
You need an equal amount of both to start the process of composting. You can also throw in dust sweepings, hair (make sure you cut it into smaller pieces) and nail clippings.
Try not to compost – cooked food (if you have to, make sure you cover it with enough browns to avoid flies), dairy, meat, fish, bones, oil, pet poop. DO NOT compost – any synthetic materials, plastic (d-uh), metal, glass and medicine.
Here’s how I collected browns and you can try the same. I went to the local park – the one where I walk every day and asked the maali (gardener) if he can give me two bagfuls of dry leaves. He sweeps the park every morning and collects heaps of dry leaves. He piled them up the next day and I collected them. Now I was all set to compost.
How to compost at home in 7 easy peasy steps
This is how you do it –
- Find a spot for your composting unit
- Place the matka on the base
- Line the empty matka with a layer of newspaper sheet at the bottom.
- Put in the greens for the day.
- Layer it with browns, spread them out until no wet waste is visible.
- Repeat the same process every day until the container is full.
- Turn the pile once a week with a khurpi (trowel) or a old chamcha (ladle).
If you’d rather watch and learn, here’s some inspo:
When the first pot gets full (yay!), add a second pot on top of it and when that’s full, add the third one. While you get started with the new pot, don’t add any waste to the bottom one. You can check it from time to time to see how far you’ve gotten. You can harvest it after 45 days.
I recommend you buy all the pots in one go to save time. I bought them during 3 different visits to the shop, walked home with them and carried them to the 4th floor. It was certainly a good workout…
The whole setup cost me close to Rs.1,000. No packaging, no receipts, no transport. Totally zero waste. Plus I was happy to buy from a small local business.
Things you should know if you’re composting at home
Since this is the first time you’re doing this, you’ll learn lots of new things mostly by observing the process of degradation and making mistakes. Here are few things to keep in mind:
- No matter come what may, make sure that you layer enough browns daily over the greens. This is simple science. Wet waste rots faster as it contains more moisture. Dry waste absorbs the moisture and the nasty smell. If you don’t do this, your compost will smell and it will become home to a large family of maggots.
- If you cant find dry leaves, get coco peat from your local nursery or gardening store.
- Your compost will attract maggots who later turn into soldier fly. Many of you have told me how gross you find them. Take it easy, they are harmless and working hard to enrich your compost. The compost will also attract other insects like ants. Just chill and let them chill too.
- If possible, keep your composter out of rain. If that’s not possible, cover it with a big sheet of plastic (yes, I said plastic because there’s no other natural waterproofing option).
- Your compost may take lesser than 45 days or longer to get ready, depending on the season. In winters, the process becomes slow.
Composting is like zen. It is super slow. It will teach you patience and mindfulness.
Composting has the power to turn you into a badass maali (gardener). Before you know it, you’ll be growing stuff with your own hands with your very own compost. How cool is that?
Go ahead, get that matka and get your composting game on. If you run into trouble, hit me up with your questions in the comments below.
P.S. This post is dedicated to Aftab and Alok and anyone who wants to learn how to make black gold.