By A.C.A. Ghafoor, Food Technologist Sri Lanka is probably one of the few countries where people do not compost the garbage. Recently it was reported that the US Ambassador collected garbage in the Galle Face green! On a daily basis, thousands of tons of leaves are collected and burned from Colombo city road. What a [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Transforming garbage into ‘gold’ compost


By A.C.A. Ghafoor,
Food Technologist

Sri Lanka is probably one of the few countries where people do not compost the garbage. Recently it was reported that the US Ambassador collected garbage in the Galle Face green!

On a daily basis, thousands of tons of leaves are collected and burned from Colombo city road. What a colossal waste of materials that can be used to grow something.

How to grow vegetables and flower plants with Garbage compost

The Bloemendhal garbage dump

This article deals with a suggestion on how the local authorities such as Municipalities, Urban Councils, Pradeshiya Sabas, etc, can get the co-operation of the housewives to sort out the garbage at home, before giving it to the garbage collectors.

Usually, all garbage items are put into one bag and given to the garbage collecting truck to be taken and dumped in a faraway public place, which fills some unwanted land or a waste land. This garbage dumping area stinks and ruins the environment and causes many health hazards for the poor people who live close to these garbage dumping areas. All the environmental problems we face are man-made problems. In this modern era where modern technologies are tried and tested, it is a shame for our city fathers to not solve this problem in a fruitful way. More than 85 per cent of the garbage articles are vegetable in origin and they are biologically compostable. The 85 per cent of compostable matter are organic in nature.

Today the organic method of farming and gardening is more popular in developing and developed countries than it has ever been, but in our country our people turn a blind eye. Composting has also gained considerable attention as a solution to the solid waste crisis now facing local bodies’ world over. Compost too plays an important role. Compost is more than a fertilizer, more than a soil conditioner.

Nature’s method of composting

Plants, animals, insects and people are all linked in a complex web of interrelation with air, water, soil, minerals and other natural resources.

Nature has been making compost since the appearance of primitive life in this planet. Leaves falling on the garden floor are soon composted returning their nutrient to the trees which bore them. The birds, insects and animals contribute their waste and eventually their bodies helping to grow food so that more of their kind may multiply and prosper.

Components found in a Garbage Bag

The normal practice by the housewives is to put all the unwanted items from the kitchen and home into one bag and give to the garbage collecting truck of the local council. She does not think for one moment whether any use could be found from any one of the items from the garbage bag. This is because they have not been made to think that way. This is where educating the residents by the local authorities help. It should be an appeal to co-operate and help to be useful to the residents and to the council.

If you examine any garbage bag, most of them will have the following items. Against each class of items we have given a number which will be useful in analysing in a later paragraph.

A) Vegetable trimmings like beans, potato peels, Onion skin, cabbage leaves, mukunuwenna, coconut fibre, jackfruit peel, polkudu, tea etc, are some of the vegetable items found in a garbage bag.

B) Fruit parts – banana skin, pineapple skin, papaw skin, mango skin and many other types of fruit skin vegetable trimmings and fruit peels, have traces of Protein, Calcium, Phosphorous, Iron, etc. which can add to the compost supply to enrich the compost.

C) House sweepings, garden sweepings, with leaves and hedge cutting etc.

All the above three types of items are vegetable in origin. They are easily compostable to grow any kind of vegetables in a pot at home.

2) Plastic and polythene pieces.

3) Coconut shells and thambili shells.

4) Glass pieces and used bulbs

5) Metal pieces of all kinds.

6) Paper pieces, used exercise books, cardboard box pieces, etc. Items. 2,3,4,5,6 are easily collected and kept in a place for days without causing any difficulty for the house owners. Periodically these items can be given to the garbage collecting truck.

7) Food remnants, meat cleanings, chicken skin and cleanings, fish cleanings, etc. When you add the items in number seven to the garbage bag with the other items it becomes filthy and untouchable sometimes smelly too. If the housewives are told not to add the items in number 7 to the garbage bag all the balance items in A, B,C are vegetable in origin and they can be collected in a gunny bag for few days and emptied to a flower pot or a plastic bag and covered with some garden earth and planted with some vegetable plants, seeds or even flower plants.

Nutrient components of garbage material

Most items found in garbage in A,B,C, are organic in nature. Since nearly all organic materials found in a garbage bag contain about 1-3 per cent amount of Nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and micronutrients, we do not have to worry about adding fertilizer to the composted garbage material. Compost not only provides nutrients, it also makes the soil nutrients more available to the plants that make the soil loose allowing plants to grow well. Kitchen scraps may be dug directly into the garden or they may be composted in heaps or in pits and used to grow vegetables or flower plants. Grass clippings are very rich in nitrogen and a very good source of plant food. Leaves are a valuable compostable material. The roots of trees grow deep into the soil and draw nutrients up from the deep subsoil and pass on to the leaves making them to grow well. Leaves of most trees contain twice the mineral content of manure.

Educating the housewives by the local authority how to sort out garbage

The local authorities must start a mission with a vision, to encourage and request the residents to co-operate with the local authority to sort out the garbage into different bags or container and use the vegetable origin materials for planting vegetables or flower plants.
The local authority can also print some literature of the method of sorting out the garbage into different bags or container. If possible it is worthwhile to have some information about how garbage can be sorted on TV by the local government or private TV stations, as a free service to our country. The local authority can start a pilot project in about 10 streets and carry out for two or three months to see the progress and response. For the pilot project to be started they must take into account the number of houses in the 10 streets and if possible supply them with gunny bags made out of polypropylene which is used to pack rice and sugar in Sri Lanka. Each of these bags can be bought for about Rs.15- to 20 per bag and must be given free to encourage the residents.

If possible paint the bags into which the vegetable components will be put as VEGETABLE ORGANIC MATTER and all the compostable items in A,B,C must be emptied and collected for about 15-20 days without these articles not imparting any smell.

Each house produces about 500g to 1kg of garbage vegetable matter per day. It will be easier for the residents to collect about 25kgs of vegetable organic matter and to use for planting vegetables at home. Other materials mentioned in the above paragraph can be put into different bags and given to the collecting truck and the spoiling food items like the food remnants and meat cleanings and fish cleanings to be separately put into a separate bag, marked immediate disposable. This item must be collected by the local authority truck daily and disposed properly.

Benefits to the local council

At the beginning the local council might find it difficult to convince the residents to cooperate, but as time goes on, when the local bodies are strict, the residents will fall in line. Sometime ago people were throwing garbage bags on the roads everywhere. Police brought it under control by fining some residents. Here we don’t have to fine the resident but by explaining and also by rewarding the residents who co-operate by giving them some vegetable seeds and vegetable plants free, the mission can be achieved. If the mission is successful the local authorities have killed two birds with one stone.

The local authority would have reduce 85 per cent of the garbage collection daily if the residents have co-operated and the residents also would have benefitted by growing some of their own vegetables out of the organic component of the garbage collected at home.
This result is not immediate but by making the mission persistent, a result is achievable as time goes on.

If the mission is a success think about the money that each local authority will save in the following ways:-

1. Fewer vehicles needed to collect the garbage daily and the savings on the fuel cost, etc.

2. The manpower allocated for garbage collection can be utilized for some other purpose in the local council area.

3. Less pollution of the environment and less chances of environment hazard disease for the people who live in close proximity to garbage dumping area.

Indirectly the local authorities would have encouraged the residents to grow some of their vegetables with the gradable garbage compost collected at their own houses.

4. Volume of garbage is reduced to more than half Other institutions which produce a large amount of garbage apart from houses other places where large amount of garbage are produced, are:

a) Small and large hotels
b) Vegetable shops in markets
c) Fish stall in markets
d) Beef stalls in markets
e) Chicken stalls
It is disgusting to see outside some markets where offal from chicken shops, fish stalls and beef stalls piled up for local authority trucks to collect; sometimes these are not collected every day. Some proper method of packing and disposal must be brought by the local authority. The vegetable shops, fish shops and other shops must also be instructed to pack their garbage with their shop number so that all the shop owners are responsible in disposing their garbage without dumping their garbage outside the market.
The hotels -small and big ones- also must be made compulsory to sort out the vegetable organic material from the food remnants and given separately to the local council trucks. The next place where a large amount of garbage is brought to the city is the Sunday Pola in the cities, etc.

Most of the vegetables and fruits are brought with banana leaves packing and other vegetable material and they leave all these on the road side for the garbage trucks to collect and dispose at the end of the day. The vendors must be instructed to take back all these vegetable packing materials in the some vehicle they bring in and dispose in some places outside the city.

The Ministry of Forest and environment published a report in 1999 titled “Database of Municipal waste”.

Details of garbage waste in eight provinces in the country are given in this report.

Roughly 11 years after to date it must have doubled the quantity of garbage in each Province.
If polythenes are sorted at home, restaurants, and markets, etc, imagine the millions of rupees that can be saved in foreign exchange for the country. The benefits are countless.

This is over to all the Mayors, Chairmans of all the Pradeshiya Saba and Palathsaba in the country.

(The writer can can be reached at

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