Fully automatic composting machines: Let the buyer beware


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?

The claims

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

SAVITHA AP6215The 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.

35 thoughts on “Fully automatic composting machines: Let the buyer beware

  1. This is an Eye Opening Review of the so called Instant Composters, These are mainly the Hot Composters & they are truely misleading to people who need Large scale composters to go with such products !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think this test result will really help all of us service providers in helping the customers not getting carried by “quick composting” and hence “less space required” solutions. Thanks Savita and Vani!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. People should realize composting naturally is the best method, which is obviously a time taking one. The wait and hard work is worth.. Patience is Virtue!! Thanks a lot Savita madam and Vani ji for creating the best possible awareness by doing all the ground work, take all the pain and teach us.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. it is really alarming how busines in the name of competition has stooped to such unethical practices. Quality being ingrained in me, i thank you savitha, foryour blatant exposure. i am with you like others. god bless.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for putting in the effort to bust these scams-in-the-making. More strength to the likes of you. These fraudsters are cashing in on people’s good intentions/guilt. I hope there is some kind of audit process to eliminate fraudsters from the genuine solutions. I’ll share this post on my social media channels.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. dear savita ji

    reg…… closed bin method for working people as propounded by mrs vani murthy, can you kindly tell me where and who is supplying these bins. also can you please share mrs.vani’s contacts so that i will learn better from her as to use these . thanks and regards sundaram bangalore Ph:9731833455

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Savitha Mam,
    That’s an enlighting post by you. HoweverI I wounder it’s not just households that are falling prey to these claims but so are many corporates in their swanky offices. I had an opportunity to see some of the big corporates composting facilities in bangalore and was left wondering is this also a compost. I feel it’s high time there is awareness created to people on composting and the simple (complex for many) mechanism involved. I would rather look at Cow dung slurry as a inoculate rather then costly cultured microbial consortia developed in labs as a start. The shredding and mixing done in mechanised systems can easily be done with some manual effort.
    Common man falling prey is one part but governments and corporates falling prey to these claims calls for some high level of awareness creation.
    Regards,
    Ajay

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are right, Ajay. It’s disappointing to see such products getting approved and entering the market. I also agree with your love to work with cow dung but let me tell you, it’s not easily available in all areas of Bangalore. Moreover, we will be pushing it too far if we pressure people to use only dung as an inoculant. There’s nothing wrong in using lab-produced inoculants so long as it does not subvert the principles of nature. Expediting the whole composting process becomes inevitable as space is a major constraint. But this particular one cannot be called a ‘solution’ as it does not stick to any basic rules of composting.
      Thanks for your comment. 🙂

      Like

  8. Savitha, the write up is very informative and with sufficient fore-warnings. At Sovereign Park, as you have seen, we are very happy with the simple and efficient process installed by Sudh-Labh. No power needed and no C-footprints. No hurry either. The normal natural conversion takes 10-12 weeks to start off and thereafter compost output depends on the rate of loading the digestor. We are 40 apartments and no wet waste has gone out of the premises since Sept. 2014. We are using the compost in our own garden till now. There may be similar simple alternatives, sans powered equipments and accelarators. People should think in totality, discuss with the experienced, visit and see working sites and decide. Arise, awake and appreciate !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Gopinath,
      We have 171 flats, would like to go for waste management. I too contacted by several vendors for 24 hours magic (cost varies from 4.5 Lakhs to 12 lakhs depends upon the size), But After seeing you post, would like to go for normal natural conversion. I would like to discuss with you further, Can you drop a mail to me: murugaraj.s@gmail.com

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I am supporting natural composting. Since last 4years I am converting my kitchen waste in rotary drun composter developed by me.you can use the compost as bulking agent as well as starter.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Dear Madam,
    Request to please give your comment on ECOMAN’S Waste Management System ” FOODIE”, who have supplied equipment to various instityutions and hotels which convert Waste to Manure within 24 hours and cost of such machine for 1TPD waste is approx 35 lakhs INR. Even they produced Compost test certificate certified by Goa Pollution Control Board. I am really surprised how the waste will be converted to manure within 24 hours.They say in their brochure ” high technology which naturally converts waste to compost within 24 hours by using special micro organisms developmed through advanced bio-technology. They say their special microorganisms thrive in high temperature and effective in highly acidic and salty conditions. Please clarify me technically to have better clarity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mr Parameshwar, Whether it is Ecoman/Foodie or any other, I request you to pull out a little sample out of the ‘compost’ lot coming out of one such machine and get it tested at a good material testing lab. Please do not depend on the reports produced by the vendors, no matter where they got it done from. I request you to do some research on your own and talk to scientists, eco activists you know. What I am not able to understand is people’s urge to buy this machine which comes at lakhs of rupees just as they would buy an instant coffee maker. Please think this through. I am sure your test report won’t be different from the one I have put up here. Once you have it in your hand, I request you create awareness among people/potential buyers.

      Thank you.

      Like

  11. Dear Ms. Savitha Hiremath, we recently started marketing these Quick Composting machines in the Middle East and the response is good. I was not aware of these points you had raised. Is it possible to meet and discuss this issue personally? I will be in Mumbai on 12th November. Regards. Viren Narkar

    Liked by 1 person

    • Missed out on this one, Mr Viren.Given how destructive these machines can get, I request you to please do further research and see for yourself what a havoc they can leave behind on the soil and also the food (if at all) grown on it. Sorry that I couldn’t reply to you on time and missed you meeting as well. Please stay in touch: endlesslygreen360@gmail.com, and watch out this blog for more articles on this subject. Thank you.

      Like

  12. Hi ,

    Read your page on Fully Automatic Composting Machine , quite informative . No fully automatic composting manufacturer are ready to discuss on the quality of compost .

    Priorities are different for Organic Waste disposal ;
    ” Waste disposal because of Govt. pressure ” ,
    ” Compost manufacturing & quality ” ,
    ” To reduce cost of handling & disposal ” ,
    ” Non availability of land for sustainable disposal ” ,
    ” Lack of awareness or pressure from society ” .
    ” Compromise on quality of compost for fancy looking product ” .
    ” Use of fancy looking OWC m/c as a show piece ” .

    How to select right product for ” Composting of Organic Waste ” in green & sustainable way .

    Regards, Bikash Asthana

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your detailed inputs. Some vendors also produce regular compost, get it tested and pass it off as a testimonial to their own instant compost. Customers must do their homework before buying such machines. Regards.

      Like

  13. Hi Savita ,

    Did you ever sent compost ( as claimed by automatic OWC machine manufacturer ) generated from any automatic OWC machine , to any govt. approved lab for their quality check . Few manufacturers are not only adopting wrong practices to reduce volume of organic waste but their cost of conversion also is very high. Power consumption is huge , adds CO2 to environment and increases carbon economy .

    Area of least importance and Lack of awareness are making institutions , organisations to pay huge amount in the name of faster relief from organic waste .Actual process and output compost quality should be highlighted and shared with concerned and interested individuals, organizations , institutions & Govt. authorities

    Probable user dept. / institutions / NGOs should try the machines and get output quality checked in govt. certified lab. before ordering the same. Regards,

    Like

  14. Some thoughts:
    Quality of compost will depend upon waste input to the machine.is it right?

    The output compost or carbon as you define can be used to make a healthy soill with little bit of manual mixture of other rich ingredients.So These machines are primarily reducing the volume of garbage and providing immediate relief to stinking garbage.thats good value for money.!

    Some rich neem cakes or similar can be added to input waste to get better quality of compost. May be ..

    Consumption of power is really an issue,then on reality can urban life put off their central AC first to reduce carbon in our cities..?

    OWC looks like a urban solution only of garbage everywhere..perhaps composting is another step to be adopted after 24 hours with human and natural involve.

    Am just trying to have clarify as am going to buy one.

    Savita..I will not agree to the test report you clipped here.It is not from any research laboratories run by our government.( they give you clear report fortunately) as ms Essen & co exmpteded themselves on buttom on the clarity / conformity of their report and it isa private lab only.And the report should be considered with WHAT WAS THE INPUT WASTE? I don’t see anyone talking about that.
    I am not favoring coz am buying but curious that let there be quality facts..it will be better to invite scholar to this topic that calling some innovation or experiment as fraudulent.

    Smiles
    EcoSmith.

    .

    Like

    • Dear Mr EcoSmith,

      Thank you for your comments. As suggested by you, this comment was forwarded to a scholar the same day it hit my blog. You are free to go ahead and buy whichever machine you want. But you will have to wait for the reply to arrive. I am not sure how long that will take.

      Good luck.

      Like

      • >>>And the report should be considered with WHAT WAS THE INPUT WASTE? I don’t see anyone talking about that.

        Input: Segregated kitchen waste like vegetable peels/rejects/leftovers, fruit peels, meat waste, egg shells, dairy waste, etc. Some bits of non-biodegradable waste may have also gone in.

        Like

      • Dear Mr EcoSmith,
        Your query has been answered by a scientist. Please spare sometime to read it.

        As you rightly pointed out, I am not a scholar. But, surely someone with enough commonsense who knows the difference between compost and charred waste. There can be no beginning or end to discussion on the points you have raised. However, let me pick out one: biomass. Loss of biomass has resulted it severe soil erosion in farm fields all over India (I request you to search for an article related to biomass in my blog for more info). We urbanites get our daily food items supplied from rural areas and send nothing in return. The soil needs humus to sustain itself and its ecosystem. Lack of biomass means excessive use of chemical fertilisers. The result is repetitive pest attacks. Then use of pesticides. Then both the farm and the farmer suffering incalculable losses beyond our comprehension. The stress on composting in urban areas is to mitigate this crisis in the most humble manner: by sending out excess compost to nearby farm fields. A lot of measures are already being discussed with BBMP which is ready to buy back compost and sell it to farmers at reasonable rates. One such truck filled with compost was flagged off recently and sent to a nearby farmfield. Let’s learn to contribute solutions to this horrible crisis instead of adding our own.
        Your way of composting reduces the precious organic waste by at least 80-90%. Is this something we can afford? Secondly, if you say let’s first deal with the waste in your way before taking the larger picture into account, then I am not going to participate in that discussion. Because, it is this search for instant gratification, ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude that has brought things to such a pretty pass in the first place.
        There have been customers who have burnt their waste as well as money by buying these machines. My latest post on this topic has all the info, if you want to read. As for accuracy of the lab results, I know how some vendors got ‘tests’ done from some govt labs which were simply too good to be true. That’s when the need to get samples tested (not just the charred one, but all other genuine ones like vermicompost and compost from various other composting methods) done from a private lab arose without them knowing anything about the issue at hand. So it’s up to you whether you want to use this info or pooh-pooh it.
        One last thing: Even DNA results from the most reputed labs abroad are only 99.99% accurate. FYI.
        Thanks.

        Like

  15. hi, i am Dr Manoj, chemist, working in waste management research for last 15 years. Savita Ji wanted me to put a few thoughts on the discussion above,
    Composting is breaking down of complex chemical molecules like carbohydrates including cellulose, fat, protein, lignin etc into small compounds (monomers/dimers) such that either the monomers form food for the microbes or dont harm them. For eg: carbohydrates are the sugar source, Protein is the amino acid source etc while degradation of lignin is very important for the microbes to sustain – as lignin is created by nature to protect the plants from bacterial infection.
    There is no microbe in this universe that can colonize in 24 hrs. the minimum incubation time is 48-72 hrs and it take days to colonize and start degrading. (may be 15-20 days). Thus 24 hrs composting solution do not compost. Now an argument can be that 24 hrs compost machines actually do not empty out the product in 24 hrs and we keep adding waste for the next 20 -25 days and that by this time the microbes can grow. Even under this circumstances the microbes cannot grow because of the decreasing moisture content. Thus the out put of a 24 hr composting machine is just charred and dehydrated waste.
    Now the problem starts. if the waste was composted under natural conditions, the lignin would have got degraded, reducing EC value, hosting microbes, generating humus which eventually will become carbondioxide to be absorbed by plants. (the natural cycle)
    By dehydrating, we make it sterile, with high EC value, leaching out phenols which will not only kill microbes but also prevent decomposition of even dead leaves, blocking humus formation, thereby stopping electrolytic transfer of nutrients to the roots, presence of phenols also adsorb cationic (positive charged) micronutrients starving the plants, thus completely killing the soil. the result is equivalent to what happened in Punjab due to excessive chemical fertilisers. The product will not degrade till the material again get dehydrated, natural ligno-cellulytic microbes colonise it, degrade the lignin and allow the bacteria to compost.
    Now on the test report, leaving the judgement on the analytical lab to the hands of social leaders (essen has been a credible lab to me for the last so many years), irrespective of the input the composting process should bring down the EC value to not more that 20Milli mhos ( actually i prefer 10) it is 100 times more in this product. The C:N ratio of the best compost possible is 20:1. Any further enhancement is only by chemical addition or because of dehydration.
    Irrespective of the technical stuff i have made above, as a human being awe stuck by the plundering of resources by humans, I may humbly add that any short cuts deceiving nature’s rules and regulations only have created havoc. Be it creation of waste or its management. The reason for this is the inability of an average urbanite to physically handle his own life by product due to “pseudo hygiene consciousness” and lack of physical health which necessitates more convenience. In every era there were scientists and technicians who churned out such ruthless products, create market requirements by playing around the “convenience/ automatic/quick mindset of people. Unless we learn to work physically a little more, science will become what religion is doing now – kill people. If religion, which was supposed to create spiritual healing has created psychopaths, science is going to create couch potatoes who dont want to move and kill themselves (akin to suicide bombers) and also kill others (by preaching convenience).
    Great job Savita Ji to initiate a discussion on this. I am delighted to see so many like minded who wish to accept the nuances of “in-convenience” and move forward.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Dr Manoj, thank you for penning down one such eye-opener! Your busy schedule notwithstanding. Only rarely do we come across scientists who are ready to get down to the streets and start implementing solutions. You have been one such guiding light for all of us who believe in sustainability the way Nature meant it. Each time you write, I end up learning something. Can’t thank you enough for this.
      Good day,
      Savita

      Like

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