Ecology, like charity, starts at home. Poor waste management is an acute problem in many parts of the world, while it is possible, with some effort to approach zero waste, through reduce-reuse-upcycle-recycle. In this new, Green Living, section we plan to examine how easy it is to green our everyday routine, and we start with Compost or "black gold", an ancient agricultural practice which can be relatively easily performed even in a balcony or apartment, and save the climate from some more methane, a greenhouse gas that is produced when your biodegradable waste breaks down anaerobically (i.e. without oxygen) in a landfill.
For a small, simple DIY system, you only need two identical plastic buckets (round or square), one to be placed inside the other. You need to drill small holes on the bottom of the top bucket so that the liquid by-product drains, and some more holes, small so that flies cannot enter, at the top of the cover of the top bucket. You then create alternate layers of your daily kitchen scraps (things like vegetable peels, egg peels, ground coffee and kitchen paper - no meat or dairy as they attract vermin), with brown stuff (small branches, dried leaves, dirt, sawdust, cork, wood pellets or even soil and finished compost), until the top bucket is full. You need about four times the amount of dried leaves as kitchen scraps.
You need to open once or twice a week to stir the compost mix and seal again, and then after three months (longer in cold climates and months), your compost is ready to use, a home-made nutrient for your plants. You also need to remove the liquid from the bottom bucket, it is also nutritious for your plants.
If you see no progress, or more rotting than composting, or white maggots (that eat the rotting stuff), it means that you have too much or too little moisture, or that you have not added enough brown stuff. The proper amount of moisture (50-60%) means that if you take a handful of compost and squeeze it in your hand, it should not release water but stay compact (not crumble which would indicate dryness). This is the handy method, the scientific one is to weigh the moist compost, let it dry, weigh it again and then calculate the percentage change.
You need a proper carbon (dried leaves, wood chips) to nitrogen (food scraps, green leaves, grass clippings) ratio in the compost. The ideal ratio is around 25-30:1 in the beginning and 10/1 at the end of the composting (during composting carbon is converted to CO2). If there is too much nitrogen then the compost will get too hot and the compost microorganisms will die, or the composting will become anaerobic (no oxygen) and very smelly.
Alternatively, there is the Japanese Bokashi Method, where you introduce effective microorganisms to use fermentation rather than composting, claims to be 'odourless', and also able to ferment small amounts of meat also - but it is best to avoid meat altogether :)