Sixty-year-old Vani Murthy aka Wormrani, as she is fondly known on Instagram, is truly the queen of composting and low-waste living. She posts informative reels on how to manage waste in urban spaces and live sustainably. From the plants she grows in her terrace garden in Bengaluru to the sustainable practises from her childhood that she misses, there is a lot this homemaker-turned-changemaker has to talk about. By Adila Matra
T+L India: How and when did you get into composting?
Wormrani aka Vani Murthy: I was a city girl and had no clue what compost was all about. I am a homemaker and began doing things outside of the home. I found the resident welfare association doing a lot of things in the vicinity of Malleshwaram, Bengaluru. During that time, I met Meenakshi [a veteran gynaecologist and solid waste management expert in Bengaluru]. We joined hands to do numerous projects for our vicinity. One such project was ‘wealth out of waste’ where we would collect bags filled with paper and plastic from every house in the area. That’s when I heard that 17 trees can be saved from being chopped down if one ton of paper is recycled. It got me thinking about what we could do with kitchen waste. We then met with Srinivasan in Vellore [who is an expert in solid waste management]. He showcased several models on composting and we returned excited about it. In 2009, we formed a team of all practitioners from different parts of Bengaluru. Since we felt so good about not sending waste out and managing it ourselves at home by segregating, composting, and sending it to recycling, we planned on involving more citizens of the city. Since then, we haven’t stopped talking about how important it is for the citizens to take responsibility for the waste they generate.
T+L India: What is composting?
Wormrani: Composting is the breakdown of organic matter, the end result is a natural fertiliser available for the plants to absorb instantly. It is ready-made food for plants. In nature, composting happens all the time. If there is an undisturbed leaf on the ground, within months it becomes a part of the soil. In urban spaces, we can do two types of composting– aerobic and anaerobic. Aerobic composting is the process of converting organic waste into compost in the presence of air. Anaerobic composting is decomposition with microorganisms that do not require oxygen.
T+L India: If a young city dweller wants to start composting waste, what are the basic things they would need to do?
Wormrani: The one basic thing city dwellers can do is segregate waste every day so that all the dry waste goes into one container and the wet waste goes into another. The rejected waste goes into a separate container. Beginners pay attention, don’t add everything that comes out of your kitchen–such as leftover food–into compost. Just stick to those that come off your chopping board such as fruit peels, vegetable peels, tea powder, flowers, and eggshells. This is the first category of ingredients one will need for composting.
The second set of ingredients comes from brown waste which is dry leaves. The third will be the microorganisms that accelerate the process; they can be introduced in several forms such as cow dung, sour buttermilk, etc. More the microbes, the faster the breakdown.
The fourth ingredient will be an aerated container placed in a corner of our balconies, which is not exposed to rain. Since this is an aerobic method of composting, you can help the compost breathe by turning it once every five days, this also helps your compost not stink. Once the bin is full, make sure to keep it covered as it takes around 40 days to turn into a sweet-smelling black gold.
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T+L India: What are a few sustainable practises you remember from your childhood that you wish we practised now?
Wormrani: My entire childhood was about sustainability. We were minimalists, we would buy clothes once a twice a year, and would reuse them all through hand-me-down tradition. My dad would fix our uniforms every now and then. After a few years when they would fade, he would open them, turn them around and restitch them as the colour inside would have remained intact. We were so proud of him. I wish more of us could stop spending on fast fashion. I feel ashamed for having so many clothes, at times. There are so many things through which we could be minimalists, such as not wasting food or not having to store it in refrigerators. Freshly cooked food is good for our health as well. We should stick to regional, seasonal, and safe food grown in natural soil.
T+L India: You are the founding member of Solid Waste Management Roundtable Bengaluru. Tell us about the objective and working of this organisation.
Wormrani: We are a public interest collective of waste management practitioners. It was formed in 2009, we worked extensively with the municipalities and government, and several communities around Bengaluru. Solutions are derived from our practises and the models that we set up. We collaborate with many people such as known academicians from research institutes and have worked not only locally but all over the country too. The organisation is also a part of the ‘Green the Red Campaign’ which is about sustainable menstruation.
There is a composting learning centre in HSR layout set up by the citizens of the area based on our advice. People from in and around the country visit this centre. All the compost that we create is directed toward the farmers, and this initiative is called Compost Connect. We do a great number of workshops too.
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You also promote sustainable travel. What are some of the things you carry while travelling?
Wormrani: Be it a short trip or long, I carry water bottles so we can fill them up anywhere, it also helps us avoid the use of plastic bottles. When you order food at a restaurant while travelling, you don’t know if the food will be served in a reusable or disposable utensil. Hence, it’s always better to equip ourselves so that we can refuse anything single-use.
The same goes with using plastic straws and coffee cups while you make a stop to drink some coconut water or a cup of coffee. I make sure to carry a steel straw and steel tumblers. Even when I attend a wedding, I don’t accept paper cups, I just pull out my own cup and take the kheer, water, or rasam in it. I also carry my own handkerchiefs that are upcycled from my old curtains, so I can refuse tissues. They are washed after every use with other clothes that go into my machine.
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T+L India: We love your terrace garden. What all do you grow?
Wormrani: I have learned how to grow my own food and since I compost, I don’t grow all my food but some of it. There are squirrels, birds, and monkeys who share the produce with me. I don’t grow the food because I need it, I grow it to understand what real food looks and tastes like. I haven’t been to a supermarket for over six years, it is always the farmers’ market or Community Supported Agriculture. There are all kinds of stuff in my garden, from local to exotic. I grow greens like palak, methi, coriander, tomatoes, drumsticks, and figs. Herbs include oregano, basil, and rosemary. I also grow lettuce, cauliflower, cabbage, and red cabbage.
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T+L India: Are you a travel lover? What destinations are on your bucket list?
Wormrani: I don’t have a bucket list of places I want to visit but I do have a list of places I don’t want to visit because they have a very sensitive ecosystem. I don’t want to be a part of the crowd hurting that ecosystem, or travel to places where resources are low. I would love to visit a beach, go on a wildlife safari, or spend some alone time at a resort. Maybe Africa one day.
T+L India: Out of all the places that you have visited, which has been the greenest and most sustainable?
Wormrani: For my 50th birthday, my twin and I visited Kabini River Lodge. It was the most sustainable I had seen. There were no plastic bottles and had installed RO everywhere. They had a fantastic waste management system too.
Related: Eco Friendly Travel: How To Make Your Trips And Your Lifestyle Sustainable