Bin turns rubbish into rands

LAUREN O’CONNOR-MAY

Alwyn Visagie has a new respect for his household waste which was brought about by the composting bin he was issued by the City.

“It has changed our view of what we would have thrown away before,” Mr Visagie, a 65-year-old Heathfield resident said.

“Material you normally throw into the dirt bin has been recycled and fed back to the ground.”

The bin was given to Mr Visagie, as well as 600 other residents from Edgemead, Heathfield, Scottsville and Khayelitsha, as part of a feasibility study.

Mr Visagie said he heard about the programme by word-of-mouth from a neighbour and decided to take part.

“Within a few months of doing it we had changed our view of waste and what we throw away. I have become more environmentally aware as a result and more conscious of the need and practical way to recycle plant and paper material,” he said.

The study, which was done in 2013 and completed in 2014, showed that in four months the residents taking part prevented nearly 13 tons of organic waste from ending up in landfills and due to the success of the programme thousands of composting bins will now be given to residents across the city, in April, through local sub-councils.

Eco-minded homeowners, who are experienced gardeners, will be given preference and Mr Visagie, who has been gardening for decades, fits this bill. At his home he grows various herbs, vegetables, a plum and lemon tree and lots of flowers. He also has hedges bordering his property. And all the greenery has flourished from the bin’s compost, Mr Visagie said.

“The compost is very rich in nutrients and enriches the sandy soil under the lawns and in the garden quite appreciably. I use it almost exclusively to plant vegetables in and have found the plants really thrive. The few fruit trees I planted have also clearly benefited.”

The bin has also helped him in other ways too.

“Instead of having to purchase compost in the quantities I used to, I now buy less compost and supplement that with the compost from the bin.”

But not all sub-councils were pleased with the news of the roll-out. Councillors in Mitchell’s Plain were concerned about theft and the space constraints the bin may cause on residents’ already small plots.

But Mr Visagie had no such concerns: “The bin is a convenient size to handle. I tend to shift it around after clearing it in order to get most of the benefit. It is relatively small and light. It is very manageable.”

Julian Makaranga, the administrator of Soil for Life, a non-profit organisation in Constantia, which trains people in gardening skills and how to improve soil quality, had an additional concern.

“It’s a good idea,” she said. “But there needs to be a plan because these bins can also attract a lot of rats.”

Mr Visagie did not experience this: “There have been no problems (with pests), especially when one follows the instructions and avoids putting food, animal faeces, and such into the bin. I have been pleasantly surprised at how little smell there is emanating from the bin. Vegetable and especially fruit peals tend to attract miggies (fruit flies) and some worms. The trick is to sprinkle a layer of soil over peals to avoid attracting insects.”

Mr Visagie also had lots of other advice for residents considering getting the bin, based on his experience:

* Place the bin in an area where there is a fair amount of sunshine in order to speed up the decomposition.

* Grass cuttings and other green material must be added as their decomposition adds heat to the process and thus speeds it up.

* Keep a closed container nearby in the kitchen to place peals and other material in. Line the bottom of the container with egg box and throw everything, including the egg box once you have shredded it, into the compost bin.

“We use an empty 5kg washing powder bucket.”

* Cast in layers of soil, especially if sandy, to cover the peals from insects.

“You will be surprised at how sandy it goes in, and rich the soil comes out.”

* Follow the instructions given with the bin, especially what not to put in the bin.

* Also dig the bin into the ground a little to avoid it being pushed or blown over easily, especially when the bin is quite empty still.

* Cut hard peals from butternut or bananas into smaller pieces before placing them in the bin as, “They would take much longer to decompose otherwise.”

* “I also avoid placing seeds or potato peals that have have started seeding in the bin and rather put those directly in a seed bed or vegetable patch,”

* And finally: “Personal papers that I used to burn rather than place in the bin, I shred and place in the compost bin”

According to the City, composting has many environmental benefits, such as creating a carbon “sink” by returning carbon to the soil.

“Compost improves soil’s water-holding capacity, reducing water needs. Every small effort will help us to reduce damage to our environment,” said the City’s mayoral committee member for utility services, Ernest Sonnenberg.

Application forms will be available from sub-council offices in April.