How Composting Changed My Life

And how it can change yours

compost bin with curious cat

Kilito Chan/Getty Images

I started composting in pursuit of a good story, rather than any altruistic motive. Living in a high-rise, overlooking one of the most congested thoroughfares in Mumbai, the seventh largest city in the world, the last thing I wanted to do was be involved in what could potentially turn out to be a stressful activity—especially if it involved critters creeping out of a bin and a nasty odor wafting through my windows. But making mud turned out to be one of the most enriching things I’ve indulged in.

Growing up, we’d visit my nani’s home (maternal grandmother) in Delhi, which sprawled over an acre of land, with a vegetable farm and a pit for mulch. Through the year she would grow vegetables. In the winter, there were sweet carrots and crunchy cabbages. During the hot summer months she’d plant piquant tomatoes and bitter gourds. Each season the overworked patch of land would miraculously revive with just some khaad (compost) dribbled over it.

Years later, as I wrestled with the idea of my tiny urban compost bin, I decided to test the muddy waters. After all, I had nothing to lose but a few scraps of food waste. This is what I learned.

There Is No Perfect Way to Compost

Though I read up on composting and thoroughly researched the bins, everyone has their own composting journey. My cousin has a makeshift DIY barrel on her balcony, while others use terracotta pots. You literally just need a bin or container to start.

What’s beautiful is the process. However imperfectly you compost, it will eventually degrade, because that is how nature operates. And there are always fixes. Not composting fast enough? Add some soil microbes. A few critters in it? Add some neem powder (Azadirachta indica) to the bin.

I remember opening the bin after forgetting about it for a couple of days, only to see to my horror a soft white fuzz (mycelium or white fungus) growing on the peels. Dialing the digits of a fellow composter in panic, I learnt that the fungus actually helps in decomposition. And there’s nothing a good whirl of the content of the bin can’t fix. You learn by trial and error (and a good mentor), and by just supporting the decomposition in the bin, without being an overenthusiastic, micromanaging participant. 

Food Waste Is a Big Issue

Once I started composting, I began to notice just how often we were tossing unused produce out—and just how much organic food waste we generated daily, which would fester in the bottom of a landfill if not composted. I started making a DIY bio-enzyme (a simple fermented multi-purpose cleanser), too, using the citrus and lemon peels that we consumed by the dozens each week. It is estimated that in the United States, 30-40% of the food supply is wasted. Even small steps taken can make a difference.

The Journey Is Cyclical

I had scarcely started composting for a year when the pandemic struck. Running out of coco peat (a growing medium made from coconut husks) and neem powder (the horrors!) did slightly derail my composting journey, but eventually I had a problem of plenty. With all that compost, I started growing some vegetables and fruits. We planted the seeds of three locally grown avocados (all still going strong but no fruits yet). We dried seeds and planted tomatoes and chilies, and even an errant melon sprouted up to our delight, sweet as nectar.

With all the bustle and fumes below, I could scarcely believe my tiny balcony could sustain this urban farm. On quiet days, I would feed fruit rinds and seeds to crows and sparrows, and watch idly the little buds take root. Of course, not all was hunky dory. Some plants got powdery mildew. Storms came and crushed others. The building watch complained about melon projectiles being released by sloppy crows. Bird poop had to be cleaned more often.

But throughout this, the compost bin has chugged out crumbly soil without fail every 45 days or so. It continues to be a problem of plenty. After I’ve filled my home’s pots and given it to the gardener to mulch the local shrubbery, I distribute bags of compost to friends like a Santa Claus of the soil. It’s a perfect ending to a story I might not have written.

View Article Sources
  1. "The World's Cities in 2018." United Nations, 2018.

  2. "Food Waste FAQ's." United States Department of Agriculture.