Pluridisciplinary Institute opens composting area in celebration of World Climate Day
March 29, 2022

Although the compost bin of the Multidisciplinary Institute (IP) has been in operation since 18 February, it was decided to take advantage of World Climate Day to inaugurate it, with the presence of the vice-rector for Technology and Sustainability, Jorge Gómez, in addition to three conferences and a visit to the facilities. David Castejón, PAS of the ICTS Bioimagen Complutense, explained that four bins have been installed in the IP to collect vegetable waste, white napkins without oil, eggshells… To all this are added the remains of pruning trees and shrubs, as well as fallen leaves and the remains of weeding in the surroundings of the car park. This waste goes into two 1,000-litre compost bins (after passing through the green and dry matter bins), where it is composted.

Marisol Fernández Alonso, director of the Pluridisciplinary Institute, says that “the beauty of this project is that it is something collective, and probably the embryo of something bigger”. Both she and David Castejón recall that the compost bin has been installed in an unused area of the IP gardens, an area that was degraded and has now become an area of socialisation, a social project, “almost like an “area of nature and biodiversity in which anyone can participate, in a transversal way”. The Campus and Environment Unit is going to enrich the area with nesting boxes and it is hoped that it will become a practice and teaching area for developing future composting projects at UCM.

The idea of setting up these compost bins, according to Castejón, came up as early as July 2021, and it was at the beginning of this year when it was put into operation, “which was really easy and fun to set up”. To start the work, the association Compostaje Comunitario en Hortaleza provided two bags of unsieved compost, on which waste has already begun to be placed. Castejón recalls that “composting produces a fertiliser, made from organic waste”, and that it is the micro-organisms that convert this waste, in this case mainly vegetable waste, into bio-available substrate. This will not only provide compost for the IP’s facilities, but also reduce the amount of waste going to landfill or being incinerated, as well as providing the soil with high quality organic matter that improves fertility and resistance to erosion. Some of the Institute’s members have decided to bring plant waste from home to add to the waste produced at the PI.

Actions for the planet

The circular economy, such as composting, is one of the measures that must be taken to make our planet sustainable, as Rubén Miranda, lecturer in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, reminded us in his lecture. According to him, the Earth’s natural resources are limited and today we consume and throw away much more than the planet is capable of producing and absorbing.

The ecological footprint, which measures the environmental impact of resource use and waste production, already tells us that right now we are consuming 1.7 times what the Earth is capable of regenerating. That figure is an average, so it is much worse if you focus on individual countries. Thus, the United States would need 5 Earths and Spain would need 2.5 planets for all the inhabitants of the Earth to consume at our rate.

Of all resource consumption, food takes up a large part, and specifically in terms of water, 70% is dedicated to agriculture and livestock farming, sectors that use 50% of the habitable surface area. The problem is pressing because the earth’s population continues to grow, and although the rate of growth has slowed, we are already at 7,971 million and it is predicted that by 2050 we will reach 10 billion inhabitants.

Miranda pointed out that the least efficient form of food, due to the high consumption of land and water, is livestock farming, since, for example, 15,000 litres of water are needed to produce one kilo of beef. He also referred to the problems caused by pig waste and slurry, especially in a country like ours, which is the fourth largest producer in the world, which is leading to very high percentages of contaminated soil and groundwater.For the chemistry professor, the solution lies in a change of diet, opting for a vegan or at least a flexitarian diet that reduces animal-based foods to a minimum. Miranda is confident that in this way it will be possible to feed the entire world population and is even optimistic that “science and technology will provide the solution” so that we can all live better.

Turning points

Alejandro Rescia, advisor to the vice-rectorate of Technology and Sustainability for Biodiversity and Environment, added that it is possible to think of a sustainable agriculture that has an optimal production, with a higher profitability than the current one and that seeks human welfare.

To achieve this, however, it is essential to change our current habits, because “if we continue as we have been doing, we are heading for an irreversible crisis”. According to Rescia, this new time we are living in, the anthropocene, is governed by economic laws, not biophysical ones, and this has led us to pass four of the nine turning points of no return, which are the ones that mark the moment from which there is no turning back.

So far we have already passed thresholds such as land use, and the worst thing is that the changes have been accelerated “by an economic model that is taking us to the technosphere, which is a new sedimentary layer of technological waste”.Jorge Gómez, vice-rector for Technology and Sustainability, was much more optimistic. Like Miranda, he believes that science and technology will allow us to find solutions and that “if everyone does their part” we will manage to avoid disaster. To this end, we must commit to the circular economy, such as this composting, but also to food that is more sustainable and environmentally friendly, as well as better land management.

The vice-chancellor encouraged anyone with initiatives to send them to the Campus and Environment Unit to implement them on a campus that is making progress in these areas and which has already made us the most sustainable university in Spain, according to the Green Metric ranking for 2021.