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Turn your trash into treasure

By Vision Reporter

Added 16th July 2006 03:00 AM

SMELLY piles of rotting trash and waste tarnish the image of many places in Kampala. Waste disposal is a huge problem in Uganda, where there is no centralised garbage collection system, and trash is simply piled by the side of the road or by houses and then burnt.

SMELLY piles of rotting trash and waste tarnish the image of many places in Kampala. Waste disposal is a huge problem in Uganda, where there is no centralised garbage collection system, and trash is simply piled by the side of the road or by houses and then burnt.

By Jennifer Austin

SMELLY piles of rotting trash and waste tarnish the image of many places in Kampala. Waste disposal is a huge problem in Uganda, where there is no centralised garbage collection system, and trash is simply piled by the side of the road or by houses and then burnt.

Trash accumulating in gutters and on the roadsides is an eyesore to the community and creates a health risk by bringing unsanitary rotting rubbish in close proximity to families, animals and children.

Burning trash releases noxious gases and smoke that are dangerous to human beings and the atmosphere. However, the garbage could contain valuable materials, if used resourcefully.

A lot of the trash rotting away is organic biodegradable materials such as banana peels, cornhusks and plant and food scraps. This natural material can be decomposed into a nutrient rich fertiliser through a process called composting.
Increased composting of biodegradable waste could significantly reduce the problem of trash disposal, turning useless trash into a valuable product. Compost is a useful fertiliser that can be used on fields and gardens to promote plant growth.

Depletion of soil nutrients is also a big problem across Uganda, leading to extremely low yields from farming. Increased composting helps both problems, providing a valuable input for farmers while reducing solid waste.

Any home can construct a small compost pile and communities could organise to have a group pile. If maintained near the trash collection site, a compost pile requires little less than a quick sorting of waste. All plant materials can be put in the compost pile including fruit and vegetable peels, scraps from the kitchen, egg shells, coffee grounds and tea bags. Others are grass and cuttings, dried leaves, straw, branches, corn stalks, husks and waste from farm animals.

The ideal mixture will consist of twice as much dry plant material as green plant material and vegetable peels. A small bit of animal waste, ash and topsoil can be added in. The compost pile must be kept moist, but not too wet, to promote fast decay, and should be turned regularly to ensure there is plenty of oxygen in the mix and that the material is well blended.
All materials should be chopped into small bits to increase the surface area and speed of the composting.

Composting can be done in a pit or just piled on the ground. For a pile, which is preferable for the rainy season or in wet areas, find a shady place, under a tree, or building to create shade and protect the pile from sun, rain and runoff, which will leach away nutrients.

A pit of a half-metre depth is better for dry areas or in the dry season because it helps keep the compost moist. With either method, the soil under the pile or at the bottom of the pit should be loosened and moistened. Then the composting material should be added.

A layering method can also be used, layering first the dry plant materials, such as banana leaves, maize stalks or dry grass.

The second layer should consist of green material, which is high in nitrogen and protein. Next, add animal waste or old compost material. This is an important layer, which contains microorganisms that promote decomposition.

Finally, add soil mixed with some ash. At this point, water the pile thoroughly so it is moist, but it should not be too wet. If there is a lot of material the layering process can be repeated a second time.

However, some people say the layering is not that important and that all the materials can be mixed together. In either case, after a few weeks the pile should be turned to allow air to get in and to move the outer material towards the middle. If the material is decomposing properly, the pile will get warm. A long pointed stick stuck into the pile can act as a thermometer to be removed occasionally to check that the pile is warm and moist.

Composting happens faster in warm dry weather. Depending on weather conditions, compost will have a fresh earthly smell and be ready for use in four to five weeks. This compost makes an important addition to fields or kitchen gardens by adding organic nutrients to depleted soils.

Turn your trash into treasure

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