Features, Highlights

At Toh Yi, composting is a neighbourhood affair

Have you ever finished meal preparation and found yourself with a pile of fruit and vegetable peels that cannot be consumed? For many of us, this kitchen waste goes straight into the bin. Amelia Hang, 36, who attends Cairnhill Methodist Church, found a way to turn this waste into something useful. She turned to composting, which is a process in which plant and food waste is decomposed and recycled into nutrient-rich matter that can be used to enrich soil.

It all began when Amelia, a stay-at-home-mum and a part-time tutor, needed somewhere to bury partially decomposed kitchen waste, also called pre-compost, to complete the composting process using the bokashi method. This involves a two-step process in which food waste is mixed with bran and first fermented in a sealed bucket before it is buried in soil to complete the process for making compost. She chanced upon a YouTube video about composting and contacted the creator of the video, Rina Lai, who coincidentally lived in the same estate and was part of a group that had started a community garden in the Toh Yi neighbourhood.

“I contacted Rina and asked to join the community garden where I could also contribute my pre-compost,” says Amelia. Once she got the greenlight from Rina to bury her pre-compost in the community garden, Amelia took the first step towards composting vegetable and fruit scraps in her flat.

Rina, 50, who works as a Community Services Manager at Mount Carmel Bible-Presbyterian Church, welcomed Amelia to the community garden.

The two ladies found that they were likeminded in their views about waste reduction, inspired by a common understanding that they were to be stewards of what God had entrusted them with.

“It is about stewardship and looking after this world for the generations beyond us,” says Amelia, whose children Katelyn and Nathaniel are 8 and 6, respectively. “I tell my children that what we do is about looking after what God has given us first, for the sake of them and their children.”

Rina shares another perspective, “It’s Creation Care. Whatever God has given us has a good purpose. If we do not make good use of it, such as through growing plants and recycling, or in our case, composting, we are creating a problem for the earth.” She adds, “I want people to see how we can take care of the world God has given us.”

Together, they decided to start a community composting initiative with the goal of using the mature compost as nutrients for the community garden.  The Toh Yi Community Compost group was formed in 2021 and about 20 households from the estate contribute actively to it. This includes six children who join their parents in this green community exercise.

With funding support from the SG Eco Fund (a fund launched by the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment to support the co-creation of solutions for a sustainable Singapore), Amelia and Rina purchased composting bins into which they layer the components for making compost. “For one hour every Saturday morning from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., and every Tuesday evening from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., residents drop off vegetable peels, coffee grounds, tea leaves and egg shells at our compost bins. Volunteers help to supervise the bringing in of this form of kitchen waste, which is also known as green waste.”

Rina (left) and Amelia (right) turning the compost mixture in the bin

Further involvement of the community comes from contributions by the estate cleaners, who help by collecting dried leaves, which are then shredded. Other volunteers approach vegetable sellers from the nearby wet markets for sawdust used as packing material, which they would have otherwise thrown away. The leaves are shredded and mixed with sawdust to form brown waste, which is layered with green waste in the compost bins. This traditional method of making compost differs from the bokashi method which Amelia used at first in that it is a one-step process and can accommodate larger quantities of waste.

Amelia told Methodist Message, “We have been very blessed in that we have had no push back from the town council or the residents. They see the benefits of the project—it doesn’t just reduce waste, it also creates community. People in the estate recognise each other from the composting initiative and they can say hi to each other because of that connection.”

“Some of the residents bring their children with them when they drop off the waste, and the children play with Amelia’s children who will be helping her,” Rina lets on with a smile. “The aunties and uncles who exercise come by to offer to help and they also bring their fruit and vegetable peels to add to the compost heap.”

Children from the estate play while their parents drop off vegetable waste at the compost bins

Even though Amelia loves growing plants, she ruefully acknowledges that she is better at composting than she is at gardening. She says with a laugh, “It is like the body of Christ. We are all good at different things. Some people are good at growing things; I am good at decomposing things!” With this contribution of different abilities to the Toh Yi Community Compost, an effort to be good stewards of God’s gifts has also brought about unity in the community.

If you would like to try your hand at composting:

  1. Find a bin that can be tightly sealed (look out for recycled bins!).
  2. Drill holes in the top and bottom of the bin to allow oxygen to enter and for liquid to drain.
  3. Place one layer of brown waste (e.g. shredded dried leaves and sawdust) at the bottom of the bin.
  4. Place one layer of green waste (e.g. fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, tea leaves and egg shells).
  5. Alternate layers of brown and green waste until the bin is filled. Place one layer of brown waste as the top layer.
  6. Add some water to help with the decomposition process.
  7. Cover the bin and leave it for 2 weeks.
  8. After 2 weeks, use a stick to stir the contents of the bin and introduce oxygen to the mixture.
  9. Wait for 1 week and stir the contents again. Repeat this weekly for 2 months.
  10. Be prepared for fruit flies and expect that juice from the decomposition will leak from the bin! The result is nutrient-rich compost which can be mixed into soil to help plants grow.
Green waste that has been cut into small pieces and layered into the compost bin
Plant and vegetable waste on the way to becoming compost

Janice Khoo serves in the Choir and Media & Comms Ministry at Kampong Kapor Methodist Church. / Photos courtesy of Amelia Hang