Environmental studies

Days 23 – 24: smidgins of joy

Smidgins of vegetable waste in a pile bring joy.

The title is what my classmates and I had to write on the cover of one of exercise books at the beginning of our second year at school in 1971. I referred to this in a restrained rant three years ago on terminology.

Some 48 years and a bit later, it seems the theme has finally caught on, and has been a persistent theme for at least the last fourteen hours.

Yesterday I walked down to the village in the early evening to get some cash from the ATM and a handful of basic supplies. Absent-minded me: I did not take the right bag with me, so needed to pay for one at the supermarket.

The said supermarket now has only paper carrier bags (with handles) in size small. I wondered aloud whether it would last for the 4.5 kilometre walk back home. The woman behind me in the queue assured me that they were strong, and strong enough to withstand such a journey.

Before I began a mini-guilt trip, I reminded myself that the said supermarket does indeed have a huge plastic but metaphorical elephant stashed out back. My sin of not bringing a cloth bag with me, that I sewed circa 1990, for the first time in ages pales by comparison, even if one divides the total amount of trash the store generates by the total number of employees (both guesstimates on my part), to bring it down to the level of individual environmental transgression.

This morning, while enjoying an early-morning coffee just around the corner from where I live, the television news was talking about a vegetable waste scheme being introduced on a pilot-project basis in Lisbon and Porto. If you have ever seen the two or three daily shifts of refuse collection that occur in the city centre of the former, then you will know that we are talking about a whole lot of waste.

The scheme works as follows: you put your vegetable peels into a (new) plastic bucket, and empty that into one of the plastic “organic” waste bins, brown in colour, supplied by the organic waste collection company. The company carts it off in a huge dumpster to a (series of) huge biodigesters, which produce (a) biogas and (b) composted soil within the space of 30 days. I wasn’t really paying attention, but that is what I thought they said.

I was going to make a wisecrack about how we simply toss it on the compost heap in our back garden here in this part of the Algarve, but thought better of it since I was not really sure of how common a practice it is among the crowd in the café at the time.

So, I came home, and tossed a couple of prune pips (yes, plum drying experiment was successful) into the brown bucket, with its funny, bent wire handle from another bucket that had a hole in it, that I have been using daily for five years for all vegetable waste.

Compost drum for vegetable waste

I then took the bucket out to my vegetable waste compost bin near the avocado tree, which has vegetative waste around its trunk for the purposes of water retention and worm life encouragement below ground level.

While I was there, I checked on the progress of the fruit (a hybrid of grapefruit and orange, I think). It, too, has vegetative waste around it. Come spring, after winter rains, it will all have decomposed into serviceable compost.

Note large vegetable bed in background full of soil which started out as cut grass.

Actually, serviceable compost from vegetable and vegetative waste is what all the soil in all my vegetable beds once was. One crappy old brown bucket, and no fancy biodigester! Fancy that!

Smidgins of joy as vegetable peels and cut grass. And “brown paper packages tied up with string.” If you don’t know where that quotation is from, google it – because I am now going to get myself a cup of coffee which I shall pour into my ceramic, reusable mug.

©2019 Allison Wright

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