How a 19 Year-Old From Kosovo is Turning Waste Into Organic Fertilizer

Around one third of all food produced in the world for human consumption (that’s 1.3 billion tons) is wasted. Fruits and vegetables are some of the foods that have the highest rate of wastage. In some countries, food and other biodegradable materials constitute 40% of all waste. It is possible, however, to divert these organic materials from the waste stream and recycle and repurpose them using techniques such as composting which significantly reduces methane emissions and decreases leachate from landfills.

Now, a group of young people from Kosovo have started introducing a new eco-friendly waste management concept for organic waste: Diella, Visar and Natalia have started recycling small amounts of organic waste, transforming it into organic fertilizer for plants. This innovative decomposition process is done using a special kind of worm that uses organic waste as food. Besides facilitating waste management and diversion, this process also creates a product that enables natural plant growth without using artificial fertilizers—it improves soil fertility and significantly reduces the need for pesticides!

19-year-old Diella explains how her recycling endeavor first become a reality: “When I moved to Prishtina for college, I began missing home-cooked food, so I started cooking myself. At some point I noticed that I was producing a lot of waste which would start giving off a bad smell if I didn’t dispose of it every day. This is where the idea of recycling first came to me. There was a better way of doing this, ”she said.

While researching, Diella came across various studies and articles showing the magnitude of food waste and its effects on the environment. She started reflecting on the matter and it wasn’t much later when she figured out her own little way of living a near zero-waste lifestyle that helps the community and the environment.

“This is how I started recycling my waste using a special species of worm. I got the worms from a friend in Macedonia who also lives a near zero waste lifestyle. It’s not a complicated process, the worms do most of the work. I am intrigued by these worms because it’s not only food waste that they decompose, it’s also paper, cartons, newspapers, and most packaging that doesn’t contain plastic,” Diella said. “And in the end, you will have created your own organic fertilizer,” she added excitedly.

After attending UNICEF Innovations Lab Kosovo’s UPSHIFT: Social Impact Workshop Diella and her friends turned their passion of recycling waste into a full-fledged social venture which they call ‘Terra Crawlers’. Initiated by the Lab, UPSHIFT empowers young people to become social innovators and entrepreneurs by using design thinking, and human-centered design techniques. It also provides funding, equipment, and mentorship to initiatives like Terra Crawlers.

“Terra Crawlers’ main product is the organic fertilizer which we will introduce to the market by the end of this year. We hope it will make our initiative sustainable so that we can expand in different neighborhoods and cities—at the moment we operate in Prishtina and Gjilan,” Diella said. “We are also working on a few new products that pertain to improving the quality of air in closed spaces, and we’re also working on ideas on healthy eating.”

Terra crawlers is now donating their fertilizer to another youth-led UPSHIFT venture called ‘City Tree’, which fights air pollution in Prishtina using moss panel installations.

Terra Crawlers is one of  230 youth-led projects supported through UPSHIFT: Social Impact workshop, and Diella is one of more than 40,400 UPSHIFT beneficiaries.

UNICEF Innovations Lab Kosovo will continue to create new educational spaces for adolescents and young people while exploring innovative ways of investing in skills for life and work through combining 21st century tools with human centered design.