Discussion Series session 3 - Kalakshetra's Compost King

In our second Discussions Series session, we were introduced to Mr Sridhar Rao Chaganti whose history of composting attempts made for a fascinating story. Everybody’s attention was nabbed and he invited us all home to see his composting system. We decided to make it our next Discussion Series session.

Sridhar Rao Chaganti

Sridhar Rao Chaganti

Sridhar, a resident of Arundale beach road in Kalakshetra colony, runs a company dealing in industrial consumables, catered both to the domestic and International market. He has been segregating and recycling from a young age, as was the tradition in his family. Being extremely conscious about the mountains of organic waste he was producing everyday, he decided to attempt composting over a decade ago. 

He initially purchased some commercially available products to start composting. After consulting some friends, he was told to try using curd or cowdung to initiate the process. He sourced a few handfuls of cowdung and mixed it along with his food waste, into the terracotta composter. Much to his disappointment, after a few days the pit was stinking, and he had to throw away the contents, starting over. After several failed attempts, he tells us famously that his family warned him that ‘it was either the compost pit goes, or I go’. He decided to heed his family’s warnings and gave up attempting to compost for several  years.

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In 2005 he decided to give it a go again, this time using a more scientific approach. After conducting the necessary research he tried several new techniques. Success was slow and there were still several failed attempts, but he absorbed all the learnings to facilitate improvement with every new attempt. The most successful system, which he now uses, consists of three cement bins (easily available all over the city) placed directly on top of the soil in his backyard,. Each one accommodates approximately one month’s worth of waste. Once the first bin is full, it is left alone for the microbial processes to complete and the second bin is used. By the time the third bin is full at the end of three months, the first batch of compost from bin number 1 will be ready. That’s all there is to it! For a family of four to six, all you need is three bins to cycle through at three month intervals, using one bin a month. 

The process is extremely simple as well. The pit is simply balanced using a combination of ‘green’ (kitchen waste - high in nitrogen) and ‘brown’ (garden waste like dried leaves, twigs and flowers - high in carbon) waste. Food waste from the kitchen is mixed with brown waste from the garden in equal proportions. Through his experience, Sridhar learned that a mere tablespoon of sour curd or cowdung (mixed with water) is needed to kickstart the microbial culture. The pit is left open, unless it is raining, and the contents are stirred every two days to ensure aeration. This is the most simple and remarkably successful method that Sridhar has been following and strongly advocates.

Sridhar's 3 cement bin system, with some modified terracotta composters on either side.

Sridhar's 3 cement bin system, with some modified terracotta composters on either side.

During his experimental stages, he purchased a number of products and found them extremely inconvenient to use, as well as fundamentally flawed. He pointed out that one particular terra cotta product he purchased failed to be designed with an outlet for the compost ‘leachate’, an extremely potent liquid that is generated during the process. When harvested it is a highly nutritious fertilizer, but if left in the pit, it is detrimental to the composting process. Since the cement bins he uses are bottomless and placed directly on top of the soil, the compost ‘leachate’ naturally seeps through and into the soil, making it even more nutrient rich. Using a simple modification he made to the terra cotta composters, he now continues to use them successfully in addition to his cement compost bins. 

During the workshop, he also passed around a plastic jar full of brown, fermented liquid for us to smell. After a round of guessing, he revealed the concoction to be a mixture of fish bones mixed with jaggery - an extremely nutrient rich, homemade fertilizer!

Sridhar shows one of his composting contraptions to the group.

Sridhar shows one of his composting contraptions to the group.

Also part of his backyard organic waste management system, is a greywater recycling setup. He has routed the water pipes from his kitchen to his backyard, feeding directly into a particular plant with large, heart shaped leaves. Any other plant would die when exposed to grey water but this is a particular species of colocasia which thrives on it, effectively using up all  the grey water that is released as effluent from all our homes.

Over the years, Sridhar has conducted many workshops and imparted his practical knowledge to several Kalakshetra residents. He is known and respected by the entire community, and is the go-to person for all organic waste related information. Although he practices aerobic composting, he is now on the lookout for systems/methods which will hasten the process. 

Participants of the composting workshop with Sridhar in the middle.

Participants of the composting workshop with Sridhar in the middle.

He also has a number of hobbies which include photography, travel, food, cooking, fitness, charitable work, music and reading. If you would like to attend one his composting workshops, contact us at farhaad@kabadiwallaconnect.in