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decentralized composting
in a community

(and into the culture of a whole population...)

Joaquim Moura
(a practitioner since 1978)

Comments on Slide 1 - Introducing decentralized composting in a community
This presentation was prepared to be exhibited at the International Conference "Agriculture in an Urbanizing Society" held in Rome, from September 14 to 17, 2015.


Comments on Slide 2 - Map of Brazil
Brazil has a large  territory. so huge as its problems.

This map shows the Brazilian states compared to other countries of the world.
Brazil is the 5th largest country in the world (after Russia, Canada, China and USA - only if Alaska is included) and it has the 5th largest population (after China, India, USA and Indonesia).

Imagens de Visconde de MauŠ
Comments on Slide 3 - Map of Mantiqueira's Environmental Protection Area
Mantiquera's EPA is a natural Conservation Unity created in 1986 by the federal government to foster the preservation of an ecological "hotspot" located between the states of Rio de Janeiro, S„o Paulo and Minas Gerais - the three most important Brazilian states. This EPA includes 30 municipalities belonging to these three states, with their many small towns. For its natural beauties, many forests and waterfalls, and its cold weather , the region atracts tourists from Brazil and beyond. 

Previous  initiatives

  1. Shadows in a clear day (article in a newspaper - 1978)

  2. For a poisonless food (article in a newspaper - 1979)

  3. Domestic gardens -  Suggestion: a garden in every home, industry, prison and military quarter (article in a newspaper - 1981)

  4. School gardens in Rio de Janeiro (article in a newspaper - 1982)
Comments on Slide 4 - Previous  initiatives (1978-1981)
  1. This article, written by the most important Brazilian poet (and "philosopher") of the XXth Century, was published in the most important newspaper of Rio de Janeiro (at that time). His text mentions my efforts to make people aware about the increasing dangers introduced in our food (and bodies) by the industrialized agricultural system. He also mentions two other important pioneering ecologists.
  2. Another article published by the same newspaper (Jornal do Brasil), where I started the creation of an organic food cooperative, gathering together producers and consumers worried about the increasing poisoning of our nutrition.
  3. This article, published by the other main Rio's newspaper (O Globo), proposed that gardens were cultivated in the whole city. It mentioned the first initiatives resulting from the previous articles and the movement they have started, including the partnership with the municipality of Rio and a very important federal development agency (Mobral) that reached all the national terrtitory. Unfortunately, this partnership was "discontinued" when the Rio's mayor was substituted by a new one, and Mobral was closed by a new Brazilian president.
  4. Another example of article published by O Globo, about a project that set up vegetable gardens in 14 schools of a disctrict of Rio's municipality. These are only four examples of many articles published by the main newspapers of Rio about our pionnering initiatives related to urban gardening that time.

Other inspiring initiatives

  1. New York City composting project

  2. Brussels’ “Compostage de quartier” 

  3. Master composter manual (Ithaca)

  4. "The Bucket Revolution”, in Florianopolis 

  5. Compost S„o Paulo”, in S„o Paulo
Comments on Slide 5 - Other inspiring initiatives
  1. The website of New York City about its composting system was translated into Portuguese (a voluntary initiative) to allow the Brazilian public officers and practtioners to learn how the municipality of a huge city manages its organic waste.
  2. Another example of voluntary work to make international information available to the Brazilian people interested in or involved with environmental and/or educational matters.
  3. This example of a "Master Composter Manual" was translated (not complete - it has more than 120 pages...) to show how "they" work in the United States on urban composting methods and possibilities.
  4. This a very important project currently developed in the capital of a Brazilian state (the southern Santa Catarina), by a local NGO (Cepagro). The population is stimulated to separate in "buckets" their organic waste to be collected and composted in communitary sites. The finished compost is then given back to the participants, fertilizing their small urban gardens.
  5. Another very important project currently developed in S„o Paulo City (the capital of S„o Paulo state). A local NGO (Morada da Floresta), in partnership with SP municipality, is distributing vermicomposting boxes that allow people to process their organic residues at home. It is in its pilot-phase, but has already distributed 2,000 kits of boxes and earthworms to whom has applied. To be true, when the project was proposed to the population, asking for applications, more than 10 thousand people applied, but the organizers prefered to work with 2 thousand dwellers for a while, before expanding the project.

More recent initiatives

  1. Urban Agriculture Magazine in Portuguese

  2. The Urban Agriculture Portal

  3. Community composting in Visconde de MauŠ

  4. Improving the composting site of a huge nuclear facility in Rio

  5. Implanting composting at the Visconde de MauŠ High School
Comments on Slide 6 - More recent initiatives
  1. Since 2003, the Urban Agriculture Magazine is being translated into Portuguese (a professional but also "voluntary" job) to make its very important contents available to Brazilian public servants, educators, researchers and practitioners engaged with urban agriculture, food security and sustainable development. This Magazine is published (two editions per year) in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Turkish, Chinese and... Portuguese.
  2. This website was prepared according to a suggestion for the Brazilian federal agencies that deal (or should deal) with social develpment, food security and environmental issues. The project was started but soon discontinued as the federal government changed (in 2011) and all the people involved - at the official side of the partnership - were substituted by new ones, not so interested in these matters.
    Another example of frustration among many other initiatives that involved governmental agencies, in the federal, state and municipal levels as well - always discontinued before reaching their goals...
  3. Another voluntary work, now in Visconde de MauŠ, to where I moved in 2002. This community composting site was organized to demonstrate to the public officers (federal, state and municipal together) who were developing a "waste management project" for the region, how easy it is to process the organic residues.
    Composting only requires organization and discipline - but "they" did not believe, even seeing how successful was the site, maintained for six years (producing a new compost heap monthly) - until the area's owner demanded it back for other purpose.
  4. In a nuclear instalation (that produces the combustible for the two Brazilian atomic plants), located in the same municipality where is Visconde de MauŠ, about 450 kg of organic residues (from its industrial kitchen and restaurant for almost 2,000 employees) were composted everyday, but in an improper way, allowing some important environmental impacts, as the incredible presence of flies, awful odors, the ground always sogged by the liquids that escaped from the residues. The "heaps" had to be covered by old metalic covertures to keep away from them the many birds (as gavioes) that visit the site  every night and spread the residues around. This coverture increased the visual degradation of the site. 
    As soon as we first visited the site, improvements were done, mainly the introduction of more dry materials (leaves, grass clips etc.), reducing the presence of flies, the offensive odours and the liquids that leaked around the heaps. To protect them from the birds, we developed a modular protection system using weld wire fences.
    All the scene changed immediaty, including the self-steem uprising of the employers who manage the residues everyday.
    This has been a professional job (consultancy).
  5. Another voluntary work, done at the local High School, organizing a composting site for the residues that come from its kitchen and restaurant that serve meals for 600 students and staff everyday.

Introducing composting
in the community

  1. Waste reduction goals of the Brazilian Solid Residues National Law (2008)

  2. Inviting letter for 30 municipalities in Mantiqueira's EPA (2014)

  3. Acceptance letters from 10 municipalities (2014)

  4. Basic text sent to them on community composting (2014)
Comments on Slide 7 - Introducing composting in the community
  1. In 2008, the Solid Residues National Law was voted, demanding - among other points - the quantity of organic (and also "dry") waste reduction, according to a timetable starting in 2015. Of course this is another Brazilian Law that stayed "in the paper", because very few municipalities (legally responsible for the local waste management) were prepared to accomplish it.
    Even the most organized municipal environmental agencies neglected the organic fraction of the residues, preferring to deal with only the dry materials (paper, plastic, glass and metal).
  2. In 2014, the small official team that "takes care" of the federal Environmental Protection Area (EPA) of Mantiqueira - an important ecological "hotpoint" between Rio and Sao Paulo states (and the cities with these same names) decided to help the 30 municipalities included in the region reach the SRNL goals..
    As volunteers, we suggested to the EPA team to send a letter to the 30 mayors offering our collaboration to develop a participative project - innovative, cheap and effective - using mainly the resources they already have in their official agencies related to Education, Environment etc., and inviting local volunteers to help.
    A letter was prepared, signed by the chief of EPA's team, and sent to the mayors, supposedly concerned with reaching the goals of the SRNL... Our main objective was to help compost their organic waste, generally neglected by their municipal agencies.
  3. Ten municipalities replied informing that they would like to participate.
  4. This basic text on composting was then prepared, showing them how decentralized systems of processing organic wastes could be easily implemented, without creating new expenses for their municipalities. The text explained the two main options: community and/or domestic systems, and the vermicomposting (in-door) method as well.

The practical and technical 
aspects of the project

  1. The decentralized composting system

  2. The pilot-project in Visconde de MauŠ (2014)

  3. Printed materials (1 and 2) to help spreading the system in       the region (2014)

  4. Visiting the local hotels and restaurants (1 and 2(2014 and 2015)
Comments on Slide 8 - The practical and technical aspects of the project
  1. Being this a voluntary project, it was impossible to work in the 10 municipalites that agreed to develop it with us. So we decided to implement a "pilot-project" in Visconde de MauŠ, where lived the volunteers more active and experimented. 
    Through the internet, the other people - in the other nine municipalities engaged - could follow our initiatives, and discuss and adapt them according their needs and possibilities.
  2. For practical reasons - mainly the independence regarding the public agencies' support (always uncertain) -, the system we are spreading more easily is the "domestic" one, using welded wire fences to create cilindrical bins to compost inside the residues together with dry materials like leaves, straw, grass clippings etc.
  3. To motivate the population to participate in the project, two different publications were prepared - one album with pictures and texts to be shown to the businesspeople and dwellers, with basic information about waste management, the new Law etc., and one flier to be distributed (given to them), teaching the practical way to compost their waste, using the welded wire bins.
  4. To reach the businesspeople in their hotels, hostels and restaurants, two visits were organized, with the participation of members of the federal, state and municipal agencies who work in the region, involved in environmental issues and education. The presence of these officers was important to show, to the people visited, the importance of our initiative.

The pilot-area
Visconde de MauŠ

Comments on Slide 9 - The pilot-area: Visconde de MauŠ

Belonging to Resende (RJ) municipality and inserted in the Mantiqueira federal Environmental Protection Area (EPA), Visconde de MauŠ was selected to be our pilot-area for the reason that live there the volunteers more involved and experimented, but also because the Resende's Agency for Environment Protection is our most active partner for years.

Current results and challenges

  1. Examples of composters in use in homes, elementary schools
    restaurants and hostels

  2. Our main constraint: the lack of productivity of the official agencies (always)

The endless End
since there is the recycling...
Comments on Slide 10 - Current results and challenges
  1. To spread the practice among the dwellers and families, another tactics was used: we identified the houses with flower and/or vegetable gardens, and visited them first, presuming that their inhabitants were more interest in producing their own fertilizer. This method is being successful, and the people who adopt our idea become promoters of the project, and even ask their neighbors (who don't  compost yet or don't have enough space for it) to give them the organic waste.
  2. If the system is so easy, cheap and effective, what is impeaching its quick spreading in the region?
    Our main constraint is the proverbial lack of productivy of the local official agencies, similar to what happens in the federal and state levels. If they were more commited to help spread community composting in the region (and in Brazil), we could expect to reach the SRNL goals...  
    Confirming this assertion, in April 2014, the important Secretary of Strategic Issues (a federal agency directly related to the Presidency of the Republic) has published a study made by another important federal agency - the Institute for Applied Economics Research - that verified the "increasing" lack of productive of Brazil when compared to the productivity of other nations.
    Now, our productivity is 20% of the USA's, 25% of Germany's and South Korea's, and 33% of the average reached by the developed countries of the world.
  • Luis Armondi, agricultural engineer, collaborates in all the projects developed in Visconde de MauŠ e Resende.
  • The current project in Visconde de MauŠ has the support of three NGOs (ABIDES, Mauatur and ACVM) and of its two official partners (Mantiqueira's EPA and AMAR - the Environment Agency of Resende).
  • The pictures shown on the slide 9 were collected on the internet (Google), and it was impossible to identify their authors.