Waste matters

One of 12 composting sites around the city, Bustan Brody uses the right balance of 'wet' kitchen waste and 'dry' garden trimmings to accelerate the natural process of decomposing organic matter.

organic vegetables 88 (photo credit: )
organic vegetables 88
(photo credit: )
A smelly wooden crate in the corner of a quiet Jerusalem neighborhood is getting local residents excited. But instead of complaining about the overflowing mound of rotting vegetables mounting up near their homes, they are doing their best to add to the piles of orange peel, old potatoes and garden clippings one can see peeking through the gaps between the planks of wood. The compost corner at Bustan Brody, a community garden on the border between Kiryat Shmuel and Rehavia, is attracting people from the local area and beyond who collect their kitchen waste each week to send it back where it came from - the soil. "Composting reduces waste and the amount of rubbish in landfills and, instead, feeds gardens and plants with organic fertilizer," explains Amanda Lind, who leads the Society for the Protection of Nature's (SPNI) Community for the Environment project in Jerusalem. "If we're going to talk about sustainability, we need to prove it can be done and community gardens are one way to do it. People bringing their kitchen waste to the gardens is a great way of showing how," believes Abba Zavidov, one of the founders of Bustan Brody, which lies on a car-free path off Rav Haim Berlin Street. A few paces back from the crates brimming with leftovers and dodging the young carob tree overhead, the scent changes to one of flowers and fresh air. Previously a neglected space covered with building waste, the triangular plot - first planted with trees at Tu Bishvat 2005 - has been transformed by volunteers, with a little assistance from the SPNI, green NGO Garin Dvash, the local community center and the Jerusalem Municipality, into a green oasis in the midst of five-story apartment blocks. The garden's volunteers use the right balance of "wet" kitchen waste and "dry" garden trimmings to accelerate the natural process of decomposing organic matter. After several months and the right know-how, a rich, crumbly brown compost is produced that gives life to herbs, flowers, a vegetable patch and the Bustan's centerpiece - trees; not to mention the backyards of local people who come to collect it. Zavidov believes that the garden represents a "revolutionary concept" in terms of environmental awareness. "We took responsibility for our own backyard," he says, explaining that the site has been classified as a "brown area" since the apartments were put up 50 years ago and originally slated for the construction of a synagogue or kindergarten. A request has been put to the municipality to officially change the status of the land to a "green space" which, if successful, would permanently lift the threat of building there in the future. Volunteers at the Bustan, meaning "orchard" in both Hebrew and Arabic, don't know exactly how many people come to recycle the organic waste from their kitchens, but the fact that one of the chest-high crates is filling up each week shows that they are certainly in demand. The shmita year, which prohibits the tilling of the soil in Israel, means that the compost is not currently being used to fertilize the earth, a fact that reflects the garden's ethos of coexistence that aims to bridge the religious-secular divide. The composting site at Bustan Brody is one of 12 across the city, including five in French Hill alone, where local people can recycle their organic waste. Some are located in community gardens like the Bustan, while others can be found in public places such as schools and parking lots, all of which are listed on the Web site greenmap.org.il. Shira Degami, a Hebrew University student who volunteers at the Bustan, brings her soon-to-be-compost with her on the bus from Mount Scopus each week. Although such a project has been difficult to get off the ground, she hopes that the Hebrew University dormitories will soon launch a composting trial. The large metal cages for recycling plastic bottles on many Jerusalem streets are scarce at the university, and facilities for paper recycling are non-existent. Lind hopes that the municipality will take up the challenge and encourage more composting in Jerusalem. "The city [council] is interested because of the need to reduce the amount of waste collected. Organic waste accounts for 40 percent of solid waste, and if we put this back into the soil, it's a win-win situation," she explains. "Bottle recycling started as a grassroots project and the municipality took it on. They need to find a way of reducing waste, since financially it's very costly," Lind adds, speculating that reducing waste via composting could even help lower municipal taxes. "That could be a real incentive," she argues, adding that a new initiative has begun in Ramat Beit Hakerem that aims to introduce a compost facility outside each block of private apartments. This echoes a government-led scheme in Britain to collect organic waste from people's doorsteps that began two years ago. Although it has reduced the amount of trash that goes into Britain's landfills, there have been some complaints about the smell of household composting boxes, particularly in the summer. Danny Brachya, a local pensioner and founder of the Bustan, says that some people in Jerusalem have overcome this difficulty by storing organic waste in the freezer and depositing a recycled-food "ice cube." Instead of waiting for City Hall to take the initiative, Jerusalemites can get tips on reducing their household waste at regular composting workshops held by the SPNI. The next one is taking place at 3.30 p.m. on May 21 at the Sergei Courtyard in Rehov Heleni Hamalka.