Just Google “fully automatic composting machines”, a number of companies making out-of-the-world claims pop up instantly. Among them, “composting in 24 hours” is the most common.
I have been approached by a few vendors in Bengaluru to write about their products as a community composting method. When I met them, each vendor made different claims although all of them ran on similar technology. Some had sophisticated temperature display panels and the rest were basic. The shapes and sizes varied, too. But all of them seemed to consume power and let out CO2 intensely. Interestingly, none of the vendors buckled when I pressured them to get compost samples tested. They politely said they would, but never came back. Secondly, none of them came up with carbon emission analysis either.
Composting in 24 hours?
Please refer to this post on how composting happens. Composting is a process that progresses in stages and at each stage, certain types of microbes enter the pile and work their magic on it. Can all this happen in 24 hours, flat?
When I grilled a vendor, he claimed that they have imported “special microbes” from Canada. What does that mean? These particular microbes are not present in the Indian soil? Or, are these typically those that survive at sub-zero conditions but become suddenly hyperactive in a hot region?
I have been told that this ‘process’ doesn’t need a shredder as the machine itself will take care of it inside. In fact, even thick branches get ‘composted’ in 24 hours. How does that happen? A vendor replied that the temperature goes up and helps break down the material completely. As already discussed, only extremophiles survive at 122°C. Does that mean these machines are loaded with only extremophiles? If yes, then who will fill in for fungi and actinomycetes?
One vendor also claimed that these microbes can survive without food for one year. Now that’s another claim one should be wary about.
Is it compost or burnt carbon?
When I cross-checked all these findings with an expert, he said that “what comes out of these machines is not compost, but burnt carbon”. Since he has also been promoting his own composting system, he didn’t want to be quoted for obvious reasons. However, he regretted how government authorities are falling for these claims and letting such machines hit the market without due diligence. More importantly, he was concerned about the wrecked-up electrical conductivity of such ‘compost’ which can damage the soil composition and kill the plants.
Test reveals “zero” microbes
The above corroboration of facts was the final nail. But still, taking refuge in a laboratory test seemed sensible. I teamed up with compost expert Vani Murthy and her team-mate Shyamala Suresh and got a sample from one such machine tested. When the microbial load turned out to be “zero”, it answered all the doubts. Compost with zero microbes?
I sincerely hope that the vendors come out clean on this particular claim and tell what it exactly is instead of passing it off as “nutritious compost”. Those who still want may buy the product. But those who are genuinely in need of quality compost can look for other options.
Moreover, these machines consume huge amounts of power and emit CO2, thereby defeating the very purpose of reducing carbon footprint as far as solid waste management goes. The entire philosophy behind supporting sustainable solutions is rooted in the fact that our own so-called solutions should not boomerang on us and trigger a new set of problems. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with this.
Every credibility gap is a gullibility fill
This line rings so true in this context! The stinking garbage piles are reaching new heights, so is the mad rush for finding solutions. Those that promise fast results catch our attention but we refuse to ask even basic questions.
One may argue that it’s better than sending the wet waste to landfills. But that’s not a rational explanation to the crisis at hand. In fact, the genesis of landfill crisis all over the world lies in the “out of sight, out of mind” attitude. If we are ready look at these automatic composters as a solution, we should also be content with incinerators at every road curve. They will ‘solve’ the landfill crisis in a few weeks, won’t they?
The only way to prevent more vendors from jumping on to this ‘24-hour compost’ bandwagon is to reject quick-fixes and look for sustainable composting options. There are quite a few that suit your budget, space and other constraints.
Let’s compost responsibly. That’s the only way forward.
I request all the discerning readers and experts to forward their thoughts and comments (for or against) towards a constructive discussion on these fully automatic composting machines. Please present your thoughts with proper data in case you disagree with my findings and interpretations presented here. Thank you.