Composting in Sri Lanka

There was a farm on the left-hand side of the road that myself and Sam passed several times on our way to one of the local surf spots. The giant papaya trees loaded with fruit planted in rows were what first caught my eye. The next time we were heading past that way I got Samo to drop me off so I could take a closer look at what was going on. I was looking at starting some of my own permaculture projects in the south of Sri Lanka and I was keen to network with permaculture groups, organic farmers and like-minded people who wanted to make positive change through permaculture.

I walked through the gates and around the farm, the place was empty except for some cows and a few chickens. I continued exploring and found myself at the back of the property. It was very different back here to the lush gardens out front and a little bewildering as all the local wildlife became aware of my presence, at first I thought I had found the local rubbish tip, large piles of dirt and rubbish, maybe 100 or so took up the size of a football field. I was still unsure what I had stumbled upon until my permaculture senses started to prick up and it became clear now that I was standing in front of a field of compost piles. I was still a bit confused as to what all the plastic was doing in there when a skittish looking fellow emerged from behind one of the piles. We caught eyes and started walking towards each other. We exchanged smiles and handshakes and it looked like I had found my new guide for the morning. Man Sri Lankan people are so friendly and nice. His English was about as good as my Singalese, non-existent! But we somehow communicated quite easily.

By now I was getting pretty good at charades, or maybe just understanding what I wanted to believe. We fumbled over what the piles meant then he took me over to what looked like a big washing machine flipped on its side, under it was a giant pile of what looked like beautiful rich soil, he picked up a handful and we both smelled it and nodded, black gold! At the other end of the contraption was all the plastic that had been sifted out. Community composting is a thing in Sri Lanka. Local restaurants households and other businesses separate all their compost materials and a truck comes past and picks it up each week. So this was the local dump! But instead of all the organic matter being put into landfill breaking down with no oxygen and releasing methane, which is common practice most places, here the natural cycles were encouraged and supported. It was being transformed into life-giving soil that was then used at the farm out the front to grow food for the town, which are the people who donated their trash in the first place. What a practical logical system.


A local friend later confirmed the process and told me that there are workers that pick out the recyclable trash before it goes onto the composting process and that they also bag up the compost and sell it. They leave the other plastics in there because it would be very time consuming to pick it all out by hand, this is where the washing machine contraption is used when the compost is ready and fine enough to fall through the little holes leaving the plastic.

The tour wasn’t quite over yet and I led my guide to all corners of the farm squeezing him for all the information he had. We came across a biogas system(check my other blog on biogas) that was hooked up to a cowshed. The cow manure was directly piped into the chamber through a series of concrete canals generating methane for energy use and processing the cow poo to a more healthy and plant available rich compost. They had chickens too. What a haven!

A little example of a regenerative permaculture paradise I had stumbled upon. Food scraps and organic matter are a resource, not waste. Sri Lanka is show-casing this quite well.  I thanked my guide kindly for taking time out of his day to show me around. I was stoked and he looked it too. I left buzzing with thoughts of what can be done with our wastes or better-worded resources and also an inspiration to design and create epic little oasis`s like this one.

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