What Will We Think of Next? (April 2011)

Plastic Compost Piles

On a recent trip through the countryside we came across a most interesting (and disturbing) sight.  Hundreds of mini-compost piles, all neatly wrapped in plastic, lining the rural roadsides.  It appears that the villages in these areas were being taught to hoe up the roadside vegetation, wrap it in plastic, and leave it to decompose. 

The idea of roadside composting is not a new concept.  Last year the Ministry of Agriculture sent extension workers out to encourage villages to make similar piles from chopped-up maize residues.  These extremely labour-intensive piles were elevated on wooden platforms, layered with the chopped-up vegetation, and then the entire pile was smeared with a mud coating.  This process, when we saw it being done, was accomplished through the efforts of about 15-20 village women working together on each pile.  When the rains began we watched as these piles remained, unused, along the sides of the roads.  And, to add insult to injury or at least to highlight the fact that people were not truly understanding the reasons behind thier efforts, some of the villagers were actually sweeping and burning around these piles to keep the place “clean”.  

These new “plastic compost” piles are simply another misunderstood attempt to promote a process that should be easy, natural, inexpensive and sustainable.  Our first thought was ‘how long will it be before the plastic shreds and ends up all over the rural landscape?’  Indeed, on my return visit the very next day I observed piles that had already lost their plastic

Shredded plastic beginning to blow around the villages

and was beginning to blow around the village.  Perhaps one day we will all learn that life doesn’t need to be quite as difficult as we make it.