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State takes ppp route
Five waste-to-energy plants on the anvil
At its wit’s end on how to tackle the impasse over waste disposal, Oommen Chandy’s United Democratic Front government is now focusing on modern technologies. “Drastic and immediate solution is required. Policies can wait,” says Manjalamkuzhi Ali, the state urban development minister.
The state government will pursue a three-pronged action plan—treat municipal solid waste at source, modernise and upgrade the existing waste treatment plants, and adopt modern technologies, says George Chackacherry, executive director of Suchitwa Mission. The government has opted for gasification technology to produce energy from waste through public-private partnership. Gasification technology requires waste to be burnt at high temperature in a low-oxygen chamber.
Waste-to-energy plants will be set up in all the five civic corporations and Kottayam and Kannur municipalities, where protests are raging. Suchitwa Mission has already called tenders. As a pilot project, a 35 tonne capacity plant will be set up in Thiruvananthapuram at Chala, a busy market area. The state government will give 0.8 hectare to Loro Green Energy, a consortium that has won the bid. The plant’s capacity will be upgraded to 100 tonnes later.
“We envisage this project as an island of salvation,” says Chackacherry. “The technology has not been used anywhere in the country, so we have to convince people and the media that such plants can work,” he adds.
The state government also plans to buy a mobile incinerator at the cost of Rs 5 crore. This will burn one tonne of waste in an hour. “More the investment on waste management, better will be the benefits,” says Chackacherry. “The previous government spent only Rs 4 crore. We spent more than Rs 50 crore last year (2011-12). This year, we will spend about Rs 200 crore,” he adds.
Waste-to-energy not viable
However, making energy from waste is not viable in Kerala because of its high moisture content, low calorific value, high biodegradable fraction, high ambient temperature and humidity, says R Ajayakumar Varma, scientist at the Centre for Earth Sciences Studies in Thiruvananthapuram.
“The best method is to convert it to biofertiliser through composting,” he says. He has analysed technical options for waste management in the state. His study shows that waste in Kerala has substantially high levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. “Composting has a very clear edge over processes like incineration, pyrolysis and gasification,” he says. Gasification requires that moisture content of waste should be well under 20 per cent. Besides, waste has to be converted to pellets before feeding it to the plant. This needs high energy and capital input.
The technology violates Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000 which do not allow waste to be burnt without segregation.
Gasification has been slammed even by a state government expert committee that was set up to shortlist companies for the bidding process. The committee, headed by R V G Menon, a rural technology expert, suggests using a mix of technologies. For biodegradable waste, the committee recommends biological treatment that involves biogas production or aerobic composting.
For non-biodegradable waste, it recommends incineration, gasification and pyrolysis.
But the state government is not ready to consider clean waste management options. “Composting requires land and can be done only where quantity of waste is less,” says Chackacherry. Gasification does not require landfill, so there will be no leachate or stench and people will have no problem, he claims.
As per the public-private partnership terms, local bodies will have to provide the private party enough waste. Failing this, local bodies will have to pay compensation. Chackacherry makes it clear that the government will ignore any opposition to these projects. It is convinced that people will benefit from them. Waste management issue will be tackled within one-and-a half years, he says confidently.
The way out
The present state-wide impasse is because waste has not been perceived correctly, say waste management experts. They are highly critical of the state government going for untested, high cost, high energy consuming technologies. Especially when there is no successful model in the country making energy from waste through burning.
“Why are the state government and local bodies taxing their brains over biodegradable part of the waste which comprises more than 70 per cent of the waste?” asks Shibu K Nair of Thanal, a non-profit in Thiruvananthapuram that works on waste management.
To start with, collection of biodegradable waste from households, slaughterhouses, hotels and markets must stop, says Shibu. Waste from these places can be treated by using simple composting methods. Thanal has developed a two-pot composting method for households (see box).
Shibu also suggests biogas plants for hotels, markets and slaughterhouses. Segregated biodegradable waste can also be sold to farmers. With such simple practices, a good chunk of waste can disappear from public space, he says. The authorities can then focus on treating non-biodegradable and slow degradable waste.
Rag-pickers and scrap collectors, who do not find a place in the present waste management system, should be brought back to tackle paper and plastic waste. Pune-based Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakri Panchayat, a cooperative of ragpickers, collects plastic for its recycling units. Paper and plastic waste can be sent to common collection centres within a locality, which can hand it over to ragpickers. Each city can prepare a directory of ragpickers and give a copy to resident associations. Thanal is in the process of making one such directory for Thiruvananthapuram, says Shibu.
A lot of responsibility must also be taken by manufacturers who bring an array of non-degradable products into the market. They should be ready to take back products that cannot be treated, processed or recycled. If manufacturers have a role in waste management, they will be forced to substitute their products with treatable material.
“True, local bodies have shown a lackadaisical approach towards waste management and violated laws. But they cannot be wholly blamed for the worsening situation. The issue involves manufacturers, markets, consumers, lifestyles, cultures and traditions. To solve it, an integrated approach is required,” says C Jayakumar of Thanal.
Wrong questions yield wrong answers. The question, “What to do with waste?” should be replaced with, “Why waste happens?” Its solution will take time to materialise, but is not impossible.
| Attingal to Sikkim
At a time when Thiruvananth- apuram is weighed down by the garbage burden, neighbouring Attingal prides itself for winning the state Pollution Control Board’s clean city award the seventh time in a row. Attingal generates about 16 tonnes of solid waste in a day, of which 60 per cent is biodegradable. Three units of Kudumbasree, a women’s self-help group, collect waste from community bins and households, segregate it and take it to the 1.6 hectare municipality plant.
For many decades, the site was a dumpyard. In 2005, the municipal body decided to build a composting plant here. Non-profit Kasaragod Social Service Society designed it. As a first step, the municipality banned plastic below 30 microns. Then it compressed all the accumulated waste and built the plant on it. The 24-staff plant became operational in 2007.
For a second round of segregation, a vermicomposting plant was set up at the same site. It is run by Kudumbasree women and treats a portion of biodegradable waste. Along with the composting plant, a biogas production unit treats waste from the markets. The area also has a 0.6 hectare scientific landfill and a plastic shredding machine. In its second phase of construction, the municipality has built a second shed at the site.
What is the secret behind the success of the plant at Attingal? “Nothing more than proper monitoring,” says K Mohankumar of Kasaragod Social Service Society. “We never keep waste for the next day.” However, it is essential that specifications are adhered to while building the plant. To compost one tonne of waste, at least 80 square metre land is required, he says. Leachate from the plant is collected through underground pipes in a closed tank, which is connected to the biogas plant. The slurry from the plant is used in the composting process. For every kilogramme of compost, the municipality gives 20 paise to the service provider. The rate fixed by the state government is very low, says Mohankumar. The non-profit takes the fertiliser and sells it in the market. Earlier, the charge was Rs 1.40 without the fertiliser. How does the non-profit gain? “There are times when I have to give money from my pocket,” he smiles. But he wants to prove that a composting plant can work.
The success at Attingal has intrigued state governments. Sikkim, for instance, has sought Attingal municipality’s help in efficiently composting waste in low temperature.