June 18, 2008 | General


BioCycle June 2008, Vol. 49, No. 6, p. 4
Compost – The Universal Language

AT LEAST one pop song includes the phrase, “love is the universal language.” Well, after a recent trip to Argentina, I am going to rewrite the lyrics – compost is the universal language!
My only trepidation when making this recent journey was that I don’t speak Spanish. My plan was to rely on my daughter, who is on a study abroad program in Buenos Aires. On the occassions I did wander around on my own, I stuck with common phrases like “cafe” and Coca-Cola.
While in Buenos Aires, I met with Cecilia Allen and her colleague, who work at the Latin America office of GAIA, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives. GAIA has been working with other NGOs and environmental organizations to implement a Zero Waste law passed by the City of Buenos Aires in 2005. The law sets specific milestones for landfill diversion, and won’t allow incineration to be considered until 75 percent diversion is achieved.
The first step in the Zero Waste strategy is to build upon the existing infrastructure of cartoneros (waste pickers) who have been collecting and selling recyclable commodities for many years. The law requires establishment of six resource recovery centers in Buenos Aires, which will be staffed by worker cooperatives of cartoneros. It was refreshing to see the government’s willingness to grow the recycling infrastructure with the waste pickers.
Composting is much less prevalent in the region. There is a small yard trimmings composting operation at the landfill that receives landscape waste from a few neighborhoods. GAIA staff knew about one other facility – the Biociclo operation outside of the city that composts food processing residuals and some other by-products. The facility produces both compost and vermicompost. Marcos Neumann, President of Biociclo, noted that the company was designing a 400 tons/day MSW composting project at the only landfill in the region that will remain open. It will receive organics sorted out of the incoming wet trash stream. The two articles in this issue’s BioCycle International describe both the composting facility (page 51) and implementation of the Zero Waste law (page 53).
As we were leaving the composting site, Marcos gave us each a bag of compost. I wasn’t sure I could take it through customs, but Marcos suggested that perhaps the family my daughter was living with would like to have the compost. That evening, I had an opportunity to meet Beatriz, the “host Mom,” who spoke only a little English. I gave her the bag of compost, with my daughter attempting to explain what it was. Within about 30 seconds, Beatriz was saying to me, in broken English, that her daughter lives in the Patagonia region and likes to have a garden but that the soil is very rocky. “I will give this to her for her plants,” she told us.
So with nothing more than a bag with a picture of a worm and a few words about natural soil on it (see photo on page 52), the compost message was understood. The lesson I took away is that in our very complex world, with so many problems related to depleted soil and diseases resulting from untreated waste, compost can be our universal language.
Next April, we will be celebrating the 50th year of publishing BioCycle by holding an International Conference, April 27-30, 2009 at the Town & Country Resort in San Diego, California. When Jerome Goldstein founded Compost Science in 1960 (later renamed BioCycle), the journal had an international flavor – and a very international readership base. We already are working on the agenda for the 2009 conference, with a goal of having speakers from all corners of the world share their stories, systems and research on turning residuals into resources. Many languages will be spoken, but the one we all will understand is compost. – N.G.

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