Composting

[no author]

Penguin, March 2009, $19.95

Cradle to Cradle

Michael Braungart and William McDonough

Random House, April 2009, $24.95

Composting is a brief but very practical, hands-dirty, guide to turning garden waste, food scraps and waste paper into the kind of soil that will have your plants moaning in ecstasy as they grow a mile a minute. As the authors say, it isn't rocket science and there are no hard and fast rules. Anything organic will rot if you leave it long enough, and learning about composting is simply learning how to make the process work better for you and your garden.

If you just want to put lawn clippings on the garden beds, fine. If you want to buy a bokashi bucket to keep in the kitchen, fine. If you want to make a worm farm, fine. If you want to establish a hot-compost heap and turn it every week, that's fine too. Composting points out that many people evolve a mixed system for dealing with waste and when I looked at our own household to check, I counted nine different paths we use to convert green stuff into good soil or dispose of what we can't use. Our system makes the most of our resources with the least possible time and effort but it was never planned, it just grew. The garden does, too.

Cradle to Cradle applies the composting model to industrial design. The authors, high-powered environmental engineering and architectural consultants, argue that we need to move beyond the one-way trip that our raw materials usually take, to the model of traditional farming practices which return nutrients that have been taken out so that the land remains productive.

They acknowledge that the 'cradle-to-grave' eco-efficiency model is better for the planet and its inhabitants than the old habit of treating resources, and rubbish dumps, as effectively infinite. But, as they say, merely slowing down the rate of resource depletion and environmental degradation will still leave us with no resources and a polluted environment: it will just take longer.

They want us to plan ahead so that industrial products can re-enter the resource cycle as 'technical nutrients' alongside the biological nutrients and they give diverse examples of how this philosophy can be applied. They do over-sell their idea somewhat and are a bit too dismissive of the benefits of eco-efficiency but their concept is sound and timely and their book should be a source of inspiration for engineers, architects and industrial designers.

Reviews originally published April 2009
Page created July 2009