Composting in Portobelo
These last few months have brought our focus to waste management. We want to see a cleaner Costa Arriba. More than that we want to empower the people of Costa Arriba to take charge of their waste in a sustainable way. We have begun a project with high school students in Portobelo. The goal of this project is to optimize how quickly we can achieve decomposition of several kinds of organic wastes under different conditions with minimal smell and flies. In particular we are trying to use pumped air to speed up composting without the need for manual compost turning. As a parallel goal, we want the students to bring this project to the national science fair and for them to present their results. We hope that this too will call to attention the necessity of properly disposing of organic waste and the ease of creating compost for the plants, flowers, and crops they may have at home.
The project’s design is simple. We have six buckets filled with organic material. Three buckets are filled with green plant material and brown (dry) plant material. The other three buckets are filled with brown material and fish viscera. The six buckets are then separated into groups of two, three groups of two buckets with the two types of material mixtures. Two of the three groups will be subject to two different frequencies of air being pumped into the buckets, one group with 12 hours of air a day in two 6-hour intervals and the other group with 2 hours of air a day in two 1-hour intervals. The third group will act as a control group with no air being pumped into the bucket. We want to see the difference in speed of decomposition among the three groups, with the hypothesis being that the bucket with more air being pumped into it will have a faster composting rate than the other buckets, given the fact that composting is an aerobic process that is facilitated by heat and constant exposure to oxygen. We are excited to see where the students take this and see if they translate it to waste management habits in their own lives, especially in regard to organic waste.
The students’ reaction to the project was general curiosity. They were curious about what the air pumps were for, how we were going to try to compost fish entrails with plant material, and what the results were going to be with varying degrees of air flow in the buckets. I am confident that this curiosity will be met with constructive teaching by Professor Francisco Ábrego, a new agriculture teacher in Jacoba Urriola Solís High School. Professor Ábrego has been spearheading the education of new composting and agriculture ideas such as bokashi (https://www.planetnatural.com/composting-101/indoor-composting/bokashi-composting/) and effective microorganisms (https://permaculturenews.org/2016/01/19/what-are-effective-microorganisms/). These are agricultural ideas that I have never heard of before, let alone seen implemented in Panamanian agricultural life. And from what I have seen, these experiments have been successful, and Professor Ábrego has gallons of effective microorganisms as well as sacks upon sacks of fresh bokashi compost. He wants to use these composted materials in the school garden and agricultural field in order to improve soil health and crop yield as well as sell to farmers in the area to raise profits for the school.
Our project, along with Professor Ábrego’s other projects, will make for a diverse, unique, and most importantly, relevant, science fair presentation. Our experiment, if successful, could be scaled up to be reproduced within the school or even on a community level. The results will show the efficacy of an air pump in increasing composting rates and facilitating ease of composting by eliminating the need to mix the compost everyday. Composting is an important topic for Colón, and Panama in general, due to the widespread waste management problems. Since 33% of waste that is produced in the country is organic matter, composting can be a solution to eradicating a third of the country’s waste. With the Open Blue waste management project gaining steam, this composting project and education can be integrated into the project as a way of including schools. Both projects can be the beginning of a widespread effort to raise awareness of the importance of reducing and reintegrating waste for positive uses and in creating value from the food scraps we tend to throw away.