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  Home >> Cleanliness >> Composting




We all know what compost is. We often make it in our gardens and fields by throwing into a pit, organic wastes like kitchen waste, rotting fruits and vegetables, leaves, garden and field waste.

Using compost is the best method of naturally enriching our soil since compost gives plants the required nutrients without harming either them or the animals and humans feeding on them.



Why Compost?

In nature all dead matter is gradually acted upon by the forces of nature such as sun, wind, rain and microbes which serve to breakdown complex material into simpler molecules. If such material is left to decay on roadsides or market places, it begins to decompose and stink and also invites insects, rodents and bacteria which cause and spread diseases. Instead, the process of decomposition can be used to convert organic waste which we generate everyday (in our homes, restaurants, offices, schools, canteens, markets and gardens) to produce a rich compost which can help us keep our surroundings clean and green.

Composting can help us

  • Obtain a natural fertiliser; this is a simple method of fertilising the land and improving soil structure. It increases aeration, organic matter and microbial life in soil.

  • Recycle biologically the garden and kitchen wastes.

  • Reduce the quantity of waste dumped daily at the roadside garbage bin.

What can one compost?

All organic matter can be composted. Animal excreta especially cow dung, bird droppings, dung of horses, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs, cats added to the decomposing organic matter hastens composting.  

Biological matter that can be compost




Food remains


Egg shells

Kitchen Wastes-

Coffee dregs


Tea leaves


Meat, Crushed bones


Rotten vegetables and fruits


Fallen leaves


Dead leaves

Garden Wastes-

Weeds (dry)


Harvest residues


Fallen fruits & flowers


Uninfected sanitary napkins, Diapers

Insanitary Wastes-

(both without their plastic shields).


This must be composted separately.

Success with Composting

Composting is not a new concept. For centuries composting has been the best known method of making manure from organic matter to sustain better yields and healthy plants. However, it is only in the past few decades that organic manure has almost entirely been (though not totally) replaced by chemical fertilisers. It is now known that thought chemical fertilisers initially improve yield, they gradually make the soil infertile and unfit for further cultivation and plant growth. It is now increasingly felt that to maintain the fertility and health of the soil and to sustain plant growth, productivity, presence of organic matter in the form of farm yard manure/compost is absolutely essential.

For instance, farmers, all over India who have been using chemical fertilisers have now begun to use farm yard manure in combination with fertilisers or entirely organic manure in the form of compost. This is mainly because of the increasing costs of chemical fertilisers. This changeover to organic manure is also because many farmers are convinced that a drop in their yields which is occurring these days is due to lack of organic matter in the soil and infertility caused by excessive chemicals in the soils. Farm yard manure and compost is in great demand among farmers especially the small and marginalised farmers who have even resorted to getting city corporation contract trucks to dump municipal waste from vegetable markets and mandis in their fields to obtain the required organic matter. This demand for organic matter has led many experimenters to try out different and improved methods of composting in their own fields or farms. Many universities and voluntary organisations too have taken up this cause and are helping others in newer and better techniques of composting.

Pioneering work

The University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Bangalore has done substantial research on Vermiculture. Several species of earthworms have been identified in different agro-climatic conditions which are used for vermi-composting and methods have been worked out to increase their number and size in different soil types. This pioneering work has created awareness among farmers. Many farmers and growers have started growing earthworms in farms and have adopted vermi-composting techniques whereby they have reduced the expenditure on fertilisers.

In cities like Pune and Bombay, with the help of voluntary organisations, people have started composting their domestic wastes on roof tops and gardens. With the help of agencies like CAPART (Council for Advancement of People's Action and Rural Technology) large scale composting using

vermicomposting techniques have been undertaken in Pune where 200 tonnes of vermicompost is being generated every month. In I IT, Bombay, organic wastes from eleven student hostels is being composted which is used for growing fruits and vegetable inside the campus.

In Bangalore city too, many individuals and organisations have come forward to organise themselves into forums which manage their own garbage problems and compost their organic matter. In several areas in Bangalore, people are segregating their organic waste from other recyclables and toxic matter to hand it over to waste retrievers who collect these from house to house. The waste retrievers then take the organic matter to a neighbourhood composting site where it is composted in shallow lined pits containing earthworms. This technology, obtained from the Department of Zoology University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, converts the organic matter into vermicompost or vermi-manure which is rich in soil nutrients. Residential quarters of private and public companies are also adopting this technique to manage their waste. In Delhi and many other cities too, composting and vermicomposting of leftover food, segregated organic garbage is becoming very popular.


Organic Matter Decomposition

Organic matter decomposition for production of organic manure can take place in the absence of air, presence of air or in presence of earthworms and is referred to as anaerobic, aerobic or vermicompost respectively.


In anaerobic method of obtaining organic manure, the organic matter is decomposed in the absence of air. Organic matter may be collected in pits and covered with a thick layer of soil and left undisturbed for 6-8 months. The compost so formed may not be completely converted and may include aggregated masses.


Biological breakdown of purely organic matter by bacteria in the absence of oxygen produces a mixture of methane and CO,. This is biogas. Biogas is an alternative cooking fuel which is cheap and clean. This biogas generated by fermentation of segregated organic matter is cleaner and has a higher methane content than a comparable gas generated from wastes decomposing in landfill sites (where it is called landfill gas). Organic wastes from homes, food processing industries, water treatment plants, breweries and distilleries can also be used to generate biogas


Aerobic composting is a process by which organic waste is converted to compost or manure in the presence of air. Aerobic composting can be of different types. Whatever the type, it is important to ensure proper movement of air through the mass by turning and raking.

1. Heap Method : All available organic matter is divided into different types e.g. (a) hard stalks and woody biomass (b) carbon rich, soft biomass (straw, saw dust etc.) (c) nitrogen rich biomass (fresh grass, weeds, animal feeds, wastes and excreta). Materials of the first type are spread as 15-20 cm thick base for the heap. This is covered with alternate layers of 20 cms and 10 cms thicknesses respectively of 2nd and 3rd types into a heap of about 1.5 mts height. The heap is then covered with a thin layer of soil or dry leaves. The heap needs to be thoroughly mixed by turning the whole material after 7-10 days. Complete conversion takes place after 2-3 weeks.

2. Pit Method: In this method layers of material used in the heap method are placed in a pit of 1 metre depth. Length and breadth of the pit can vary with quantity of material available for composting. The filled pit is then covered with soil. The contents are mixed every 15 days until compost is ready.

3. Berkley Method: This method is highly labour intensive, but it is fast. This method produces compost within 2 weeks. Easily biodegradable material such as grass clippings and green vegetable matter are collected and mixed with dry animal matter in the ratio 2:1. This is piled up to a height of 1.5 meters and is left for 3 days after moistening. On the 4th day the heap is thoroughly mixed. This is repeated on 7th and 10th day. The compost will be ready in 2 weeks.

It must be noted that composting requires the constant maintenance of temperature of 55 degrees C and 50 per cent moisture. Temperature builds up in the heap or pit with the passage of time.




a) absence of air

a) presence of air

a) presence of air and earth worms






a) concealed

a) more complete than anaerobic

a) complete

b) can be used for generating biogas for use as fuel or for generating electricity

b) quicker (2-3 weeks)

b) odourless


c) very little odour

c) Rich in macro and micro nutrients



d) can be dried and stored easily






a) takes a long time  (minimum 6-8 months)

a) attracts kites (dogs, insects rodents unless properly covered & protected

a) earthworms need care and safe handling



b) often not complete  


b) constant  turning and maintenance of temperature at 55 degrees C is problematic

b) controlled conditions like moisture, temperature necessary



"Vermi" stands for process  facilitated  by worms. Earth worms eat soil and various kinds of organic matter which undergo complex biochemical changes in the intestines which are then excreted our in the form of granular castes of earthy smell. Earthworm excreted  together whit their cocoons and undigested food are called  vermi- castings. Some earthworm species which love close to the surface and have greater preference for organic matter then soil can be isolated  and used to produce vermi-castings. Species found in best suites  for the generation of manure by this method are Eudrilus eugeniae, Eisenia fetida and Perionyx excavatus. these are all surface feeders which feed on organic matter and enhance organic decomposition by microbes.

Earth Culturing Techniques and Production of Vermicastings

1. Containers : Earth worm culturing can be done in shallow cement tanks, wooden boxes and stone lined pits or plastic tubs of 1 m x 1 m x 0.3 m which cam accommodate around 2000 worms 

2. Placement of culture material : Culturing of earth worms has to be done in moist places with proper shelter to avoid direct sunlight or heavy downpour. To ensure protection from predators pits should be lined and covered with mesh.

3. Preparation of feed mix: Saw dust, coconut husk or any other hard material can be used as base. Dung of domestic animals such as cattle, horse, pigs or poultry droppings mixed with kitchen wastes forms an ideal feed for worms. Previously decomposed matter helps faster formation of vermicastings.

4. Vermicast production and collection : The worms that feed actively assimilate only 5-10 per cent and the rest is excreted as loose granular mounds of vermicastings on the surface, generally away from the food source. These have to be brushed aside and collected into separate trays. The collected castings have to be left overnight in conical heaps for the worms to move to the bottom. The tops of the cones which are free of worms are then collected and lightly air dried. The dried vermicastings are sieved through a 3 mm mesh to separate cocoons and young ones from the vermicastings. The dried castings are ready for use as manure.

Application of vermi-castings to plants is similar as in the case of compost or organic manure.

Research & Development

Center for Environment Education, India

About AAWaM

The Ministry of Environment & Forests, Govt. of India (MoEF) with the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) has started a project in many small and big towns of India termed Eco-cities which are well known pilgrimage or tourist destinations having large floating populations, for proper and appropriate management of domestic and other urban waste. This project called Achieving Action in Waste Management' (AAWtM) hopes to not only achieve public participation in waste management but also develop a methodology which can be spread throughout the country to achieve cleaner cities and improved health conditions. Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and Center for Environment Education (CEE) will be jointly working on this project in the next one and half to two years. Adisory Services in Environmental Management (ASEM), One World and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development are also important partners of the Eco-cities programme.

It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. --Charles Dudley Warner