Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

Not Egypt Post – Compost!

I’ve grown up around decomposing things: there’s a wood across the road from the farm, let alone the 3-6 large compost piles on the farm itself. So, when I realized the amount of food waste that would go straight to the trash, I set up my own compost. I figured that at the end of 4 months, I’d be able to have some humus perfect for invigorating the tiny woody plant that sits on the balcony, and I’d deal with the rest of the rotting waste at the end of the program. So, I set up an empty water bottle box with a lining of several plastic bags (that’s one way to reuse plastic, right?) on the balcony, and encouraged vegetable, fruit, and grain scraps into the box for all but the last week.

I encountered some issues in setting up a compost:

1. Moutaz had apparently noticed it on the balcony, but decided not to ask me about the large “trash bin.” Mariam, on the other hand, confronted me about trash etiquette one day immediately upon my arrival from school. “You know, Egyptians throw trash into the garbage. They don’t leave it on the balcony,” she said. I think the situation was humorous in hindsight, but I got frustrated that my wonderful idea of a compost pile was considered “trash”! Anyways, I reassured her that it was compost, not trash, that I was fully aware of Egyptian trash customs (pretty much exactly the same as your average city-dwelling American), and that I would deal with the box when the time came.

2. Later, I found non-compostable items in the box, and eventually put up a sign at the balcony door requesting that no bones, grease, oil, fats, skins, restaurant food, etc. enter my compost pile.

3. I also found out that pouring nasty-tasting orange juice on the pile wasn’t a good solution – that got all over the balcony until the Oct. 6th rain. :)


The contents of my compost pile before I dismantled it.

Well, the time to clean up the pile came today: tomorrow I leave the apartments. I waited until Mariam was out and rain quit for a bit, so that she wouldn’t be disgusted by the odors floating from the pile. I found that there was some useful humus – I mixed what I could grab with the spoon in with the hardened soil around the base of the woody plant, and found out that I would more bags than originally planned. Turns out the pile was good at retaining moisture, especially around, between, and below the bag-liners (partially, I’m sure, because Alexandria’s weather has been incredibly rainy overnight). So much water was retained that the box bottom disintegrated and the central layer of compost was  almost literally dripping. I spooned all remaining rotting food into the new box, set the closed box in the trash stairway, and stuffed the old box in pieces with the bag liners into two bags, layered for protection. What I could scrape of the spilled food from the balcony linoleum went into a second pair of layered bags, and after rain quits, I’ll go out and sweep more on the balcony.

Sorting through the pile…

 After I realized the old box had separated from its bottom layer…

It’s done! And you can see all of my footprints. Ha.

I learned with this experiment: I really need more than 4 months to allow proper decomposition. I also need to stir my pile at least once, to make the water more evenly distributed – the edges were very moldy and dry. Banana peels almost immediately disintegrated, but grape stems from September and early October were still visible. Pomegranate peels (the last ones I had were a couple weeks ago, as their season has more or less ended) didn’t break down easily. Bread didn’t break down either, and individual seeds and grains appeared indestructible. But the fact remains that it worked. I saved a few bits of food from trash, provided my material with an environment conducive to heating up (the first stirs released small puffs of steam, a good sign) and decomposing organic material.

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