Many people living in cities, apartment complexes, or housing communities with little or no yard space think that composting is not possible or practical. However, I will demonstrate that composting is possible in even the smallest city apartment.
Amma has said that there was never a mahatma (saint or Realized Being) that ever existed who wasted anything! This is a humbling thought for those of us seeking true spiritual growth.
In the past, I wrote a blog about red worm composting. Although it is possible to maintain a small to moderate sized worm bin in a kitchen or closet, many city dwellers with small apartments or homes may feel there is not enough space for such an endeavor. In addition, if red worm composting seems too “high maintenance” for your liking, I will suggest some easier methods here.
With urban composting – especially in composting experiments which seem limited by space – the first step to full success is source reduction. One of the biggest environmental issues is the vast amount of food rotting in landfills which releases damaging methane gas into the atmosphere.
Reducing Your Waste
How sad it is that there are so many people going without food – even starving to death – and 30-40 percent of the United States’ food supply is literally thrown away in landfills.
According to the USDA, Source Reduction is the preferred method to reducing food waste and the ultimate pollution it causes – more important than composting itself. Source Reduction means that we consciously monitor and reduce the waste we produce at home and at work. Source Reduction is also more ideal than recycling, repurposing, and upcycling.
To grow spiritually, we must learn to take less from the environment and people; and learn to give more.`
Regarding the environment, “giving more” means using less and buying less food per grocery store trip.
Is Composting On A Smaller Scale Even Practical?
Recently, I noticed a dear friend of mine who is concerned about the environment throw away food scraps and some recyclables in front of me. I gently asked her why she was doing this when she truly was concerned about the environment. She responded: “I am convinced that individuals can no longer make a difference unless major companies change their ways.”
My question would be: Well, who supports these major corporations? We do.
Humans do not like to take responsibility.
It is the Nature of the Ego to want bodily comfort (which generally does not support Mother Nature’s health) and to say: “Well, HE, SHE, or THEY are doing it! What is the use of me trying to compost?” This egoistic idea is, in fact, the impractical, apathetic problem.
In a recent Amritaculture Special Presentation on the “The 5 Elements of Creation,” Swami Shantamritananda Puri spoke on how Amma had said many of Her children would be sent into the world. Swamiji mentioned that Amma said (I paraphrase), “Do not expect to change the world. It is enough if you yourself do not change (in a negative way).” Let us deeply take Amma’s wisdom into our hearts and apply this to Urban Composting!
Do not worry about the scale of your composting experiment. Just do it; and do it sincerely with love for Amma and the Earth. Buy less food per shopping expedition. Notice how much you throw away each day and week. Modify your shopping list as you move forward to reduce your need to compost to the very minimum.
Whatever method of composting you use, even if you compost only a portion of your food waste, multiply that by the 8 billion people on this planet. If we can make it part of our human culture that all humans do this minimal effort, the environment might have a fighting chance to heal. Also, if 8 billion people (or even a quarter of this) decide to not support mega-corporations with no view to environmental protection – how long can those criminal companies stay in business?
Let each of us act on the environmental changes we want to see others doing. Shine for all to see! This is true sadhana (spiritual practice) and true seva (selfless service).
PROS • Bokashi Bins are a very easy method of clean composting that uses minimal kitchen space. • All kitchen scraps (vegetable, meat, and dairy) can go in the bin. Bones are the one exception and moldy foods are not recommended. • It produces a liquid fertilizer which can be added to plants or gardens. • The internal broken-down compost can be added to plants or gardens. • No odors are perceptible.
CONS • There is the ongoing expense of purchasing the Bokashi fermentation mix which you add over layers of compost. Bokashi mix is a sawdust/grain and uses a specially designed micro-organism mix made up of lactic acid bacteria, yeasts, photosynthetic bacteria, actinomycetes, and fungi. • This is an anerobic process of composting which does release some methane gas – not constantly; but when the sealed bin is opened. • Ultimately, things break. The hard plastic parts are recyclable. Look for Bokashi Mix refills that are in paper based packaging instead of the plastic one seen in Figure 2.
PROS • There are a lot of electronic composters on the market. • Most brands allow kitchen scraps (vegetable, meat, and dairy) to go in. Bones and fruit seeds (like peach pits) are not permitted for some brands – so read the fine print. • No odors are perceptible.
CONS • They tend to be expensive — $300 USD or higher. You must balance the cost with the ease of use, the fact you do not need repeat purchase of fermentation mixes or liquids, that they do not require bodily strength (like Trench Composting discussed later in this blog), and they are “clean” – no dirt will get on your hands!
• I am suspicious of the length of time these machines last. In our culture, we do not often repair items but through them away. Many areas of the world do not offer electrical appliance recycling. I would hate to see more things piling up in landfills…
To explore more about electronic composters, this YouTube link may be of interest:
Now, we will review urban composting methods which require more effort but have little expense, a onetime expense, or even no expense at all. Not all methods will work for all people.
Soil Crates are easy to use and in some of its variations they are very environmentally friendly. Soil Crates are traditionally made from wood – which requires a simple YouTube search for DIY people! Alternately, you can pay a handy friend to make you one. (See hard plastic versions below.)
If you have a small green space or a balcony, this is a marvelous method of composting that is relatively effortless. You DO NOT need a massive soil crate to make a BIG DIFFERENCE.
Create the bin according to your green space’s or balcony’s dimensions.
Add soil. Add food scraps. Done.
Once a week rotate the compost with a hand shovel or a normal shovel. Add water (keep it moist!) Keep it protected and covered from rain.
Insects and micro-organisms will come to help you! Do not add meat, bones, or dairy – otherwise, you will attract rodents, raccoons, and other undesirable animal friends. The food scraps break down relatively fast. The soil becomes “living soil” which can be used for potted houseplants or blended into your garden’s soil.
Figure 5: You can purchase online hard plastic versions of the same with or without a lid.
Pit Or Trench Composting
I live right in the middle of the bustling capitol of Toluca, State of Mexico, Mexico – our home base for GreenFriends Mexico! I am fortunate to have a small garden in front of my home. I use trench composting all the time. I have a trench dug and I bury a lot food scraps there. The earth worms love me! The food decomposes shockingly fast which creates living soil rich in composted fertilizer. This soil becomes exceptionally sponge-like, and less watering is needed when I plant veggies and flowers along the trench. When I lived at Amritapuri in 2006, I regularly composted via the trench method which is what inspires me even today to continue doing so. You can also reserve one area of your green space to dig a pit and bury the food scraps in the pit. You can use the same pit monthly over and over. The food scraps will be long gone when you come back!
Some people make more elaborate pits if they have larger green spaces and like the idea (see below).
Figures 6-8: Eknath digging a trench to infill with food scraps and shredded cardboard.
Figure 9: Eknath planting green beans on top of the living soil created by trench composting. Note the red worm compost bin to the bottom left. Eknath uses many forms of composting in his garden and an electronic composter in the kitchen for meats, eggs, and dairy produced by his roommates.
Figure 10: This is a large compost pit dug out in Delhi, India. The dirt is kept aside as food scraps and cardboard are added, a layer of soil is placed on top. A cover of wood or some other device can be used to prevent people from falling in. I have a very small form of this in my front yard in the city of Toluca. Do not ever think that a smaller scale is ineffective! In a tiny pit, I compost a ton of used napkins, food scraps, and cardboard boxes from Amazon or cereal boxes, etc. It works and it works fast! Dried leaves, twigs, and lawn scraps can go in, too!
What Do I Do With All This Compost? I Live In The City!!!
A common concern is what to do with the compost generated in the house. Here are some brief ideas: • Mix your compost in with soil for potted plants in your apartment or urban home • Go on a hike or to a city park and sprinkle it over the grass or at the base of a tree as you chant Lokaha Samastaha Sukhino Bhavantu or your mantra. • Share the compost with neighbors or community gardens in your area. • Trench or pit compost if a small green area is available.
I hope this stimulates many more ideas for you to compost in cities or in homes with little or no green space as this small article does not come close to exhausting all the possibilities out there! Challenge yourself to start a composting experiment today. Offer this to the Divine – without delay!
The Earth needs YOU.
If you have any questions, please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org. Om Amriteshwaryai, With Love, Eknath
How do we take our used clothes and contribute to sustaining the future of our planet? The answer to this question is evolving in inspiring and powerful ways, from our own (often overcrowded) closets to the massive production lines of the fashion industry.
Let’s start with the global clothing and textile sector….
With a creative fire, the concept of upcycling is dawning in the world of fashion—and with good reason. The industry has a critical role to play in achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Clothing and textile is a $2.4 trillion-dollar global entity that employs approximately 300 million people across the value chain, many of whom are women, and the scale of the industry is only expected to grow over the coming years.
But alongside, there are currently serious unsustainable practices that include social and environmental consequences. The United Nations Environment Programme states that without major change to production processes and consumption patterns in fashion, the social and environmental costs of the sector will continue to mount.
Fashion is responsible for an estimated 2-8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Around 215 trillion liters of water per year are consumed by the industry.
Textiles account for approximately 9% of annual microplastic losses to the oceans.
With its progressive actions that look at how to move forward rather than dwelling on the negative, the UN launched the Alliance for Sustainable Fashion in March 2019. Its participants include members of the fashion industry, environmental organizations and labor groups. They work together to find sustainable solutions that go from raw materials to production to waste streams.
The fashion industry is beginning to evolve in alignment. Partly this must be thanks to the creative ways of thinking in design, as well as the fact that fashion needs people to buy its products. Regardless, it is inspiring to see that upcycled designs have started to appear on the runways with this new social vision. In November 2020, Vogue Magazine published an article that upcycling was the season’s biggest trend. Young independent designers had started long before, making their names by repurposing textiles that already existed. But major luxury brands finally decided to follow suit.
Recutting, redying, reusing whatever old or unsold material they had on hand led to unique items. It was a process that also lay within the context of COVID-19, as new fabric was often not available. In the long run, it will also require the fashion industry to restructure itself overall and that will take time. But at least something has begun.
So how do we take part in this movement within our own daily lives?
It’s easy, but first, the term ‘upcycling’ needs to be clearly understood. Wikipedia, also using the term ‘creative reuse’, says it is the process of transforming by-products, waste materials, useless, or unwanted products into new materials or products perceived to be of greater quality, such as artistic value or environmental value.
The web is teeming with imaginative ideas for DIY upcycling, including for clothes, so this inspired us in Amritapuri to give it a try. As Amma says, “Don’t be discouraged by your incapacity to dispel darkness from the world. Light your little candle and step forward.”
In Amritapuri, people donate a lot of western style pants to Ram’s Bazaar, a place that gives second-hand goods a new life. Yet due to the hot and humid climate, people often do not need them. I came up with the idea to upcycle the unused pants into yoga mat bags for the Ecology Center, as its founding principle is to care for Nature.
The idea for the Ecology Center was presented to Amma in 2004, and Amma enthusiastically agreed. The concept was to educate people about how they could begin to avoid negatively impacting their environment and bodies. Amma immediately said to establish the center in an old house at the Ashram which was being used for storage.
The Ecology Center seeks to offer 100% natural products to replace conventional, harmful chemical products and encourages recycling and saving water. All proceeds go to the humanitarian initiatives of Embracing the World. There is a wide range of ecological choices, including food, body care, books and local handicrafts. The sevites buy in bulk where possible and repack items themselves to promote the optimal use of recyclable plastic containers. They provide certified organic food and fair-trade merchandise.
The Ecology Center also makes its own range of items, from organic nut butters to natural, chemical-free cleaning products for both body and household use. In terms of upcycling, the center has handicrafts made in the Ashram that creatively reuse plastics. Amrita Upcyling makes fashionable and practical items, such as tote bags and wallets, out of what would otherwise be waste.
So in that context, this latest endeavor—the upcycled yoga mat bags made from used clothing—is a hit, especially the bags made from jeans. People from all over the world arrive asking about them.
After a lot of research, I wrote an easy pattern, as trust me, I am not an expert tailor. Since it is based upon the principle of DIY, I decided to share it here. May the Creative Force be with you!
Being involved in civic engagement was NOT my plan. As a matter of fact, I despised anything to do with politics as I had deemed the entire institution corrupt and highly unspiritual. For decades I sat on the sidelines while indulging my ego in jaded cynicism. The truth is, other than voting in the primary election, I never cared to understand or be involved in the democratic process because I was comfortable.
In March 2017 my blissful ignorance came to an end when China announced new legislation called, ‘National Sword’. I suddenly became aware that we (developed nations) had been shipping our trash and recycling to developing nations and dumping it on their doorstep. I was devastated. Then in April 2017, we moved to the Oregon Coast. As I walked the beaches, I noticed millions of pieces of microplastics in the sand that Mother Ocean had regurgitated. She was literally choking to death on plastic! The final (single-use plastic) straw came in November 2017 when I went to India for the first time and witnessed the magnitude of the single-use plastic pollution crisis. Unlike the US, India has no way to hide their waste. The truth was out in the open polluting the streets and waterways and destroying nature. My heart was blown wide open and I knew then, my days of sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone else to do something were over. I needed to stand up, be that someone and become civically engaged.
But I was terrified! I was ashamed that at 50 years old, I didn’t know anything about the democratic process! I was afraid my ignorance would be exposed but my love for nature was greater than my fear, so I was willing. Fortunately, I had been a member of the Surfrider Foundation for years and they are experts in advocacy. I became actively involved and shortly thereafter, was asked to be co-chair on the campaign to ban single-use plastic carry-out bags in my city. I accepted and by default, I was required to interact with and get to know my city council members. In doing so, I realized they weren’t the villains I’d made them out to be. They were people just like you and me! A humbling lesson in contempt prior to investigation.
There were many other spiritual lessons along the way. This process exposed some very deep-seated prejudices and negative tendencies in me that needed to be healed and wouldn’t have been revealed while sitting comfortably on the sidelines. I also gained the kind of ‘Self’-confidence Amma talks about. The kind where we realize we are not the do-er, that God is actually doing everything through us, so then what is there to be afraid of?
On April 15th, 2019, through Amma’s grace and the effort of many, Ordinance #2148 was passed, banning single-use plastic carry-out bags in Newport, OR. The sweetest part of the victory was knowing I was an instrument in affecting change that would benefit my community and Mother Nature. Amma says, “Don’t be discouraged by your incapacity to dispel darkness from the world. Light your candle and step forward.” And when we do, She will be with us every step of the way.
I also invite you to join me for an upcoming live session in which I will share my experience with on getting our local city council to enact a ban on one-time use plastic bags in my town. Link: https://dateful.com/eventlink/2662498938
Click here to enroll in our “Natural Living: Health and Harmony” online course!