Time to cherish this earth, our common home

Christmas.  For most a season to share good times with friends and family, to relax and regenerate in the outdoors, and to give and receive gifts.

For many, it is a time to celebrate our faith and to recover from the many activities that celebrate the time of year – the work functions, school prize-givings, and the commercial pressures to spend, spend, spend.

For some, it is a hedonistic time of over-indulgence in food and alcohol, and the consumption of stuff that we want but do not need.

For a few, but still too many, Christmas has a downside.

A time of stress, resulting in a surge of domestic violence and disorder.  Or of grief, consequent on the annual spike in the number of road and water deaths.

The increasing number of families queuing outside the Auckland City Mission for Christmas food parcels is a sad reflection of an unequal society.  [Don’t be too sad – donate to the City Mission’s work at aucklandcitymission.org.nz or by phoning them on 09 303 9200.]

These are the human faces of Christmas.  But Christmas is not only about the human race, as the song released in 1984 by rock band Queen, ”Thank God It’s Christmas”, reminds us.

This song brings God, and the birth of Christ, back in to the focus.

In an increasingly secular society, many question or ignore that focus and so an important message gets lost in the frenzy of shopping and partying.  The consequence of our over-consumption and hedonistic disregard for the environment, is impoverishment.

Christians believe the environment was entrusted to human beings by God, who commanded us to cherish the earth. So care for God’s creation we must. Others lived here before us they argue, so we in turn must maintain it for posterity.  Whatever your view of God is, christian or secular, this is an imperative to guide us.  It is a definition of environmental sustainability.

How many will take the time to ponder the year past, the year ahead and to reflect on the climate actions needed to address the greatest threat to our existence on earth?

Actually, I meant to say, threat to our existence.  The earth will out-survive us.

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The artist’s concept depicts Kepler-186f , the first validated Earth-size planet to orbit a distant star in the habitable zone. Credits: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

And contrary to the fanciful ideas of science fiction, nor the ambitions of Elon Musk to make human life multi-planetary, there is no way that we humans are going to escape this earth before the proverbial hits the fan.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis made an impassioned plea to all christians.  He called for us to show mercy to our common home, to cherish the world in which we live, and to have compassion for the poor.

In my context, the pontiff is appealing for us to be sustainable (mercy), mitigate the causes of climate change (cherish) and for social justice (compassion).  Please do your part to make it so.  And have a cheery Christmas whilst you do it.

Blessings
John Allen

Be a light switcher to save cash and the planet

After testing more than 3,000 different theories before finding one that worked, Thomas Edison was reported as saying “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

A corollary of this Edison quote is that the most certain way to fail, is to give up. Which is what Professor Guy McPherson is doing, giving up.

Those particular 3,000 theories were about finding a filament that worked in the new electric light bulb.

edison_bulb
Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Edison’s incandescent light was launched at a public ceremony in December 1879.  His belief then, that electricity would become so cheap that only the rich would burn candles, was proved correct.  And hasn’t our society become a better place for that invention?

Today, 137 years later, we need to move away from that old technology, not because of the cost of electricity, but because of the need to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions.

LEDs are the new lighting technology and many will be skeptical that replacing old light bulbs will have a material impact on climate change.

For sure, replacing one light bulb has only a small impact.  But if each New Zealand household, more than 1.5 million of them, replaced them all, then the impact would be significant.

How significant?  Stay with me while we do some easy maths.

Based on the average burn time for a light bulb of three hours each day for a year, a 60 watt incandescent bulb will burn 66 units of electricity and emit 9.8 kg of carbon to the atmosphere.  That’s the equivalent emissions from driving 32km in a large car.

The equivalent seven watt LED will burn less than eight units of electricity over a year and emit nearly 1.1 kg of the carbon – less than a 4 km drive in that same large car.

As well as helping save the world, light switchers will save cash too.

At $0.30 for each unit of electricity and a 3-hour burn time per day, a $9.95 LED bulb is paid for through electricity savings in just seven months.  That’s an incredible 172% return on investment.

Those returns are much greater when we factor in the lifetime savings of switching to an LED bulb – over $240 through replacing an LED once every 14 years instead of replacing an incandescent every year for each of 14 years.

led-bulb-green-backgroundThese comparison apply to LEDs of the same brightness and with a range of colour tints available, switching to an LED, gives no loss of light quality.

Being a light switcher is an easy do, will save you cash as well as demonstrating that we are not giving up on saving the planet.

Biochar a foil to doomsayer Guy McPherson

Climate doomsayer Guy McPherson was in Auckland last week, talking about Runaway Abrupt Climate Change.

I do not call him a doomsayer to belittle him or what he has to say.  For he is saying things that need to be said, things that too few want to acknowledge, let alone take action on.

When McPherson says “the situation (climate change) is far worse than it was (in 2014)”, the scientific evidence proves him right.  Atmospheric carbon levels have now exceeded 400 ppm and 2016 is projected to be the hottest year on record.

But then he goes on to say, “There’s no point trying to fight climate change … there’s nothing we can do to stop it”.  His denial of our will to survive is beyond defeatist.

For sure, the task of bringing atmospheric carbon back to levels the earth can sustain is ginormous.  But not even worth trying for?

As Yoda said in the future, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

And do two things we must, if McPherson’s non-future is to be avoided.

One is to eliminate burning fossil fuels.  As unlikely as that is, it will not avoid catastrophic climate change as the carbon already in the atmosphere will continue to drive warming for decades yet.

Second is to take carbon out of the atmosphere.

High tech Carbon Capture and Storage processes are seen by many as the way to save the world.  But they either do not work yet, or are too expensive.  While politicians wait for technologic fixes, the risks become ever more dire.

There are two low tech means to sequestering atmospheric carbon that could be implemented from tomorrow if there was the political nous.

First is planting trees.  We can and should do that, but it will have only a small impact in the time scale McPherson talks about.

Biochar_1694Second is to make biochar and bury it in agricultural soils.

Making biochar from forestry and municipal waste would give us the win-win-win of renewable biofuels, improved soils and less atmospheric carbon.

This sounds an easy do but the scale of the challenge before us is daunting.

To hold global warming to under 2°C, atmospheric carbon needs to be under 350 ppm.  If emissions reductions had begun in 2005, a reduction rate of only 3.5% per year may have sufficed.  Starting today, the required reduction rate is 6% and if delayed until 2020, then it is 15%.   Biochar sequestration can achieve a 12% rate.  So doable it is if we start now.

As discussed last week, it is our perception of the risks that determines whether we take precautions or not.  If we assess a low risk to catastrophic climate change, Guy McPherson will be proved right.

Without healthy soils, our changing climate matters less.

Today, Monday December 5th 2016, is World Soil Day.

Who knew? Who cares?

There are more than two reasons to care. First is that nearly all of our food production requires soil to grow in. Second is that we have only 60 years of food harvests left at current rates of soil degradation.

The 60-year estimate comes from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in their first Status of the World’s Soil Resources report published last year.

The FAO argue that “Without soils we cannot sustain life on earth and where soil is lost it cannot be renewed on a human timeline. The current escalating rate of soil degradation threatens the capacity of future generations to meet their needs.”

a hand full of wormsLet’s be clear what soil is. Soil is one of our three major natural resources, alongside air and water. It is so much more than the dirt that covers much of the earth’s land. Soil is made up of three main components: the minerals that come from rocks; organic matter from the residues of plants and animals; and the living micro-organisms that live in soil.

It takes nature 200 – 400 years to make a layer of soil one centimetre deep. To make it fertile, may take 3,000 years.

The FAO estimate that between 25 and 40 billion tonnes of topsoil are eroded by wind or rain every year.

Not only does this loss lower farm profitability, it is also a major driver of climate change.

Soil organic matter is exposed when forests are clear-felled and when agricultural lands are tilled. The exposure of soil organic matter to oxygen means that previously sequestered carbon joins the carbon cycle and is added to the atmosphere as a new source of carbon dioxide.

To avoid catastrophic climate change, the world needs us to stop putting new carbon in to the atmosphere. The longer it takes us to act on that need, the harder it is to avoid catastrophe.

As well as driving climate change, the loss of soil organic carbon reduces the availability of nutrients and minerals to plants and so affects the quality and safety of our food. It also leads to increased pests and diseases which, in a downward spiral, further reduces food availability.

For the sake of our climate and our food supply, the health of our soils needs to be assured. This can best be done through regenerative farming and gardening practices.

One regenerative action that anyone can take, is to add carbon, in the form of compost and biochar, to our gardens and farms.

By looking after our soil, so the soil will look after us.

This is not a time for whimsy…

The time has come,’ the Walrus said, ‘to talk of many things

This whimsical line is from the poem The Walrus and the Carpenter in Lewis Carroll’s book Through the Looking-glass. It was said after the oysters had been lured from their oyster beds with the promise of a ‘pleasant walk, a pleasant talk’. The oysters were eager for the treat and ventured to the beach. ‘Their coats were brushed, their faces washed, Their shoes were clean and neat’ is how Carroll described them.

the-walrus-and-the-carpenterMuch like the gathering of politicians at COP22 I imagine. Their time has again come, to talk of many things. A walk on the beach (180 km from Marrakesh) is not likely and my hope is that oysters are not on the menu. Otherwise Carroll’s poem looks too much like a parable.

Conference Of the Parties is what COP stands for, and this will be the 22nd such conference organised by a UN Climate Change body.

The body’s objective is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

Despite the action verb that starts their objective, the framework has set no binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions and contains no enforcement mechanisms.

In the previous twenty one conferences, has their talk been more than whimsical?

COP21 in Paris last December was lauded for the fact of its agreement but provided no solutions.

Our government ratified the Paris Agreement in October, and agreed to target an 11% emissions reduction by 2020. They seek to achieve that target by economic sophistry – a combination of purchasing carbon credits to pay for business-as-usual emissions plus the gains from new forest plantings.

As a consequence, our actual gross emissions will increase. What the world needs, is a better than 40% reduction in actual emissions.

In the absence of meaningful government-led climate actions, it falls on us, individually, to take action.

Climate actions by individuals

led-bulb-green-backgroundOne simple way that we can contribute to actually reducing carbon emissions is by replacing our old incandescent light bulbs.

A 60 watt incandescent light bulb burning for just one hour per night will cost less than 2 cents per night to run. Burn that bulb for a year and the energy cost totals $6.48.

Install an equivalent LED bulb and the energy consumed will cost just $0.76 per year. That’s a $5.75 saving every year for the next 20 years. $115 saved for a $10 investment! If the bulb burns an average of three hours per day, well, you do the maths.

For those with 100 watt bulbs, converting to LEDs will save you even more – $9.50 per year or $190 over 20 years for the same $10 investment. That capital cost will be paid for by electricity savings in just 12 months. If the bulb burns for three hours per night on average, expect to recover the purchase cost in four months.

The carbon emissions reduction is small but multiply the savings from a single replaced bulb by the number of bulbs you have and by the number of households in this country, and the impact on our national carbon emissions is significant, and greater than what our government are doing.

These are the savings from reduced electricity consumption. For every LED bulb purchased, the purchase of 15 – 20 incandescents will be avoided. So there are also capital savings to be made if those old bulbs are thrown away.

An incandescent bulb has an average lifetime of 1,000 hours. Burn it for an average of three hours per night and you will replace it every year. The equivalent LED will last at least 15 years before needing replacement.

Waste not, want not.

This was something my parents said. Throwing away a 98 cent bulb does go against my waste minimisation principles, but that cash saving of $5.75 in electricity costs is just too great to justify holding to that principle.

You might also say that the price of LED bulbs is dropping and waiting another year will mean they are cheaper. That’s likely true enough, but again, that $5.75 saving in electricity costs in the first year of replacing a bulb, means that the future cost would need to more than halve for that argument to hold.

Or you might say that you prefer the softer light from an incandescent than an LED. That was true a few years ago but today, there is so much variety in the colour output of an LED. The alternative is to get out to the rubbish dump and collect all the old incandescent bulbs that the rest of us are throwing out.

And then there are the procrastinators amongst us, those who put off the replacement of old bulbs because it’s a hassle. Far better it is, to go around the house once and replace all the bulbs than having to do it many times over the next year or two. So next time you have the step stool out to replace one bulb, replace them all and save yourself having to do it again for many many years.

This is not a time to be whimsical: how many bulbs do you have that could be replaced to save you money, and contribute to saving the planet?

Climate action: is there a place for the church?

Church leaders, lay people, activists, scientists and politicians gathered in Mangere on Saturday, 20 August for a Church Climate Workshop to explore what churches can do to address climate change. The workshop was an ecumenical event co-hosted by the Methodist Public Issues network, Sinoti Samoa and the Anglican Diocesan Climate Change Action Group.

Over 120 people were in attendance with Methodists, Anglicans, Catholics, Presbyterians and Quakers coming from across the country to discuss what their congregations could do.

img_5993-1
(L-R) Su’a William Sio; Korea Tiumalu; Dr Adrian Macey; Revd Prince Devanandan; … (hidden Prof. James Renwick);  organiser Betsan Martin

Keynote speakers were scientist Professor James Renwick, former climate negotiator Dr Adrian Macey, Mangere MP Su’a William Sio and Pacific Climate Warriors spokesperson Koreti Tiumalu.

Matheson Russell, convenor of the Diocesan Climate Change Action Group highlighted what already has been done in some churches including divesting from fossil fuel companies, statements by the Anglican bishops, and local initiatives to make church buildings energy efficient.

But the emphasis of the workshop was on the need for more action, urgently required to limit the worst effects of climate change, especially for our Pacific neighbours.

Koreti Tiumalu, leader of the Pacific Climate Warriors inspired everyone with the prayerful, culturally based and courageous actions of her group. She detailed their venturing to sea in vaka near Newcastle, Australia to protest against coal mining expansion, and a prayer vigil at the Vatican during the COP21 proceedings, where the group of Pacific youth were able to give a fine mat woven in Tonga to Pope Francis.

University of Victoria Wellington environmental scientist James Renwick showed graphs that detailed the dramatic increase in global temperatures over the last 150 years. 2015 temperatures were the highest on record, and 2016 looks set to be even hotter. He says the time for action is now, rather than waiting a decade or more to implement real change. “If we continue at this rate, we could be facing an ice free Arctic in a few decades.”

President elect of the Methodist Church Revd. Prince Devanandan proposed that clergy start preaching on climate change, and emphasized the major need to re-orient the education programmes of the church – theological education, and parish level adult and children’s education.

He also interviewed Cardinal John Dew as a special discussion for the workshop, reflecting on the papal encyclical on climate change ‘Laudato Si’. They explored questions of dominion and stewardship, and the links between poverty and the environment. Cardinal Dew emphasized the gift of ‘Laudato Si’ for all churches, indeed for all peoples.

Cardinal Dew suggested it is time for advocacy from churches. While working in our own organizations and institutions, we can bring an ethical approach to press for action from business leaders and government.

The workshop gave opportunities for attendees to find out and partner with the practical work and advocacy of climate organizations Generation Zero, 350 Aotearoa, Christian World Service, Coal Action Network, and A Rocha, as well as our own Diocesan Climate Change Action Group.

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Part of the 120-plus audience listening to a range of climate activists. 

Churches were also encouraged to sign up for the ‘Pray for the Pacific’ campaign, where participating churches will hold a special service either on September 4th or 11th to pray for the Pacific and start a conversation about rising sea levels, coastal erosion, and changing weather patterns.

Ms Tiumalu said: “We cannot build a Pacific Climate Movement without engaging our faith communities. Faith is pivotal to our people, and like the ocean, it connects us. In the face of the climate crisis, we need prayer to carry our people and faith to build resilience.”

Pope Francis reinforces his Laudato Si’ encyclical

Pope Francis made an impassioned plea to all christians last week.  He called for us to show mercy to our common home, to cherish the world in which we live, and to have compassion for the poor.

In my context, the pontiff is appealing for us to be sustainable (mercy), mitigate the causes of climate change (cherish) and for social justice (compassionate).

Ilaudato-si400n his message for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation (on 1st September each year) the Pope declared as sins, actions that “… destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation”, “… degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands” and “… contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life…”

The strength of leadership shown in this blunt words is to be commended.

What can we do individually to follow this lead and change our course from  a system that “has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature”, to a system that is more respectful of creation?

An course changes within a modern lifestyle will be around reducing waste, planting trees, separating rubbish and minimising energy use.

We can also do something else the pontiff called for – to press our governments to act on the commitments made in Paris in December of 2015 and to advocate for even more ambitious climate mitigation goals.

The Anglican Diocese of Auckland’s Cherished Earth initiative is exactly aligned with promoting these changes.  The parish level actions around energy, food, waste and water sustainability can each be easily implemented in our own home.

Pope Francis has gone a step further by advocating for care for creation to be added to the seven spiritual works of mercy outlined in the Gospel.  This would be a significant and controversial change but one that fronts up to the seriousness of the crisis we now face.


To learn more about the Anglican Diocese of Auckland’s sustainability work, contact John Allen through the contact form below.

 

Biochar, a climate action that anyone can take

When buried in the soil, biochar is an easy means to sequester carbon and so mitigate some of our green house gas emissions.


That our climate is rapidly changing ought to be clear to everyone now. Scientific analysis provides clear and sufficient evidence that the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, is caused largely by our burning of fossil fuels and removal of carbon sinks including forests.

The issue is not why is it is occurring or how we got to this stage of chaos.

No, the issue is: what can we do about it?

‘We’ means you and I, not just our national or local governments.

The need to take action is now urgent.

An analysis of data from the Global Carbon Project, has concluded that the world has only five years left before the IPCC(1) carbon budget(2) for 1.5°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, is blown.

To express that another way: if the current rate of carbon emissions continues, there is a 2 in 3 chance that sometime in 2021, the mean global average temperature will reach 1.5°C of warming above the internationally agreed baseline of pre-industrial levels.

The forms of action that we need to take are clear.

The first is to reduce our carbon emissions immediately. That is, reducing individual emissions from travel (especially vehicles fuelled by fossil fuels), waste disposal, electricity, gas and coal use, and food production and distribution.

Another worthy action is to lobby government to either introduce a carbon tax, or strengthen the emissions trading scheme so that the country’s gross green house gas emissions(3) are reduced.

Doing these things will slow the rate of global warming but will not stop it dead.

So the second necessary action is to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Planting trees is one way to achieve that outcome, and is the preferred net emissions reduction strategy of this government.

Another way is to sequester carbon where it can be locked away for a very long time.

Biochar_1694
Biochar

That can be achieved by manufacturing biochar from waste organic materials like at municipal landfills (domestic waste), and forestry (tree waste), horticultural (crop waste) and animal (e.g. chicken) waste.

These are waste streams which, if they are not pyrolysed and buried, would decay quickly and add to our green house gas emissions.

Pyrolysis (derived from the Greek ‘pyro’ meaning fire and ‘lysis’ meaning separating) is a process of heating organic materials in the absence of oxygen. The process changes the chemical and physical structure of waste organic materials to produce charcoal.

Turning charcoal into biochar is a process of inoculating the char with beneficial bacteria and fungi.

A very efficient way of achieving that is to use it first as animal bedding in the dairy, equine or poultry industries.  Or it can be used as a water filter in waste treatment systems, added to compost or soaked in a tea made from compost or worm farm castings.

Biochar is a soil amendment that realises significant benefits to the soil and thus the crops we grow.  Biochar achieves this by replacing the need for fertilisers that require fossil fuels in their manufacture and distribution.  When buried in the soil, it is an easy means to sequester carbon and so mitigate some of our green house gas emissions.


Footnotes:

(1) IPCC: The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is an internationally accepted authority on climate change, and was established to assess the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change.

(2) In it’s 2014 Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), the IPCC argued, with high confidence, that “Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today … warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts globally.”  The IPCC’s goal is to limit global warming to less than 2.0 °C but preferably to less than 1.5 °C by 2100. This lower limit equates to an atmospheric concentration level of 430 ppm CO2-equivalent.
How this relates to New Zealand is covered in a separate report by the NZ Climate Change Centre.

(3) Gross greenhouse gas emissions are defined as the total emissions from the four defined sectors of Agriculture, Energy, IPPU (Industrial Processes and Product Use) and Waste. Net emissions are the gross emissions plus or minus the emissions or removals from the LULUCF (Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry) sector.  When forests are being planted, carbon is being sequestered which subtracts from the gross emissions to yield the net figure.

Governance for Sustainability

Only a little off-topic is this scientific exploration of governance issues in an increasingly complex society.

The topic became clearer to me when I landed on step 8 – Governance Styles – Typical Characteristics (10 clicks of the mouse) that contrasted the characteristics of three different approaches to how we govern social enterprises.


Governance-for-Sustainability


Waste sustainability through composting

Of the four sustainability issues we individually can do something about (energy, food, waste, water), there is one that almost everyone can take action on today and every day.


So easy it is to put your domestic waste in to the rubbish bin each week and see it disappear. Out of sight and out of mind? No, not at all! And nor should it be.

We see our rubbish dumps growing from the unwanted detritus of a consumer society. We smell decaying organic matter as it putrefies away. We hear the big trucks transporting huge quantities of waste around the city and country side.

In 2010, Aucklanders sent over one million tonnes of waste to landfill with around 20% of that being organic waste that could have been diverted from landfill sites.

To enable that diversion, Auckland Council initiated a waste minimisation program that aims to avoid the social, environmental and economic impacts of excess waste.

A major part of that initiative is the composting of domestic organic waste streams as a simple way to divert waste from landfill.

cherished-earth_compost_0510
Easy composting method makes for an easy sustainable waste management process.

Composting at home is one part of that program.

Why make compost?

Composting your kitchen and garden wastes turns the nutrients, minerals and organic matter in those wastes, in to a resource for your garden.

The first reason to make compost is that it saves you money by retaining soil moisture levels and avoiding the need to apply fertilisers. Compost replaces the soil nutrients and minerals depleted when crops are harvested and adds organic matter to the soil.

It also sequesters atmospheric carbon in the soil, reducing the release of carbon dioxide and methane gases from landfill to the atmosphere. So the second reason to compost, is the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming and hence, climate change.

Who can compost?

Anyone can – just choose a system that is appropriate to your site, your waste types and the amount of waste you create.

Those with a garden and sufficient volumes of waste can install a compost bin to manufacture a beneficial garden resource. A worm farm that converts the same range of wastes to vermicast is better suited to smaller gardens or those with small waste volumes. For those living in an apartment without access to a garden, a Bokashi system achieves the same result – the conversion of wastes to a useful resource.

When to compost?

All the time. Year round, your composted kitchen and garden wastes are an accumulating resource that will save you money.

What to compost?

It is easier to define what not to compost than it is to list what can be composted.

Don’t compost meat, bones and fish scraps as these may attract pests that you do not want around the garden. The Bokashi composting system can handle these scraps but I find there is too much competition for kitchen scraps to use this system. Those who live in an apartment where access to a garden is not easy, will find the Bokashi system ideal for all of their kitchen wastes.

Inadvertently spreading pests and diseases around your garden can be avoided if diseased plants and the seed heads of perennial weeds are not added to the compost. Likewise manures from your domestic pets (dogs and cats mainly) are best not added to compost, especially if the compost is to be applied to food crops.

Foods that may contain pesticide residues, for example banana skins, or are allelopathic, are best kept out of the compost. Allelopathic crops (for example black walnut leaves) exudes chemicals that inhibit germination or growth of other organisms).

Finally, petroleum based machine oil or chain oil ought be avoided.

Otherwise, compost everything, including small amounts of paper and cardboard.

How to compost

Instructions on purchasing or creating your own bin compost, worm farm or Bokashi system can be found at our household composting page.

Composting has so many advantages that it is an integral part of our communal food gardens project.