Temple offerings in Mumbai make for good compost
Recently, certain Mumbai temples have become sites of an initiative that's not entirely religious. Nirmalaya, floral offerings made by devotees, is composted at these temples and the manure is sold for Rs 20 per kilogramme. Nirmalaya manure has become quite a hit among devotees.
The project is the brainchild of Prathibha Bawlekar, vice chairperson of Mumbai Grahak Panchayat (mgp). "Mumbai's temples generate about 15 tonnes of nirmalaya waste every day. Earlier, much of this made its way to the sea despite a ban on such disposal. Many local train passengers would carry the flowers in polybags and throw them out in the Mithi river," she says. About seven years ago, Bawlekar began persuading temple authorities to compost their waste. She was rebuffed time and again. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (mcgm) also offered no support.
After much persuasion, in 2002, authorities of the Parleshwar temple decided to allow Bawlekar to compost nirmalaya. "They did set two conditions though: I will not ask for any financial help or human power," she reminisces. mgp decided to fund the project. A contingent of waste-pickers was hired, the composting area was covered with a shed and the project took off.
"We follow the simple aerobic composting method: heaps of waste are accumulated and powder is added to culture it. A gram of powder is mixed with 1 kg nirmalaya, every other day. This goes on for about 20 days. Water is sprinkled regularly. It's important to churn the waste regularly, to prevent leachate formation and avoid stink. The compost is ready within 35 days," explains Bawlekar.
Meanwhile, Bawlekar worked with the Mumbai-based Excel Industries Ltd (eil) to develop a machine that reduces the total volume of waste and reduce the composting time.
After due testing they gifted one such machine to the Parleshwar Temple while the Siddhi Vinayak Temple Trust purchased another one for Rs 4 lakh to give the programme added impetus. "The floral waste is fed into the machine along with the powder that's used to culture the nirmalaya. By running the machine for a mere 15 minutes the waste gets reduced by about 60 per cent. The waste is then heaped and composted.
"The entire procedure takes 15 days. A complete 20 days less than what would have taken otherwise," explains Sandeep who has worked on the project since it was introduced in the Parleshwar Temple.
Bawlekar also has other problems. "I cannot hire more than three people because we lack the money. We can afford to pay our workers only Rs 2,000 per month. Most of them don't stay on. The only way to retain them is to pay them high salaries. The compost we sell is on actual cost basis so there aren't any profits. I hope temple trusts share the financial burden because most of them are extremely rich," says Bawlekar.
Moreover, most temples do not have a space to dry compost and the monsoon washes away everything. The space constraints and inadequate staff have meant that Siddhi Vinayak's composting unit cannot make use of the 200 kg nirmalaya generated on Tuesdays. The offerings on that day consist of sweets mixed with flowers. Bawlekar wants to hire a waste-picker to segregate these offerings, but she has no finances. Bawlekar has offered to take over all Siddhi Vinayak's waste management system, if the municipality provides mgp with land and finances. But the civic authorities haven't responded as yet.
Minor hiccups aside, there is no stopping mgp. The Tirupati temple in Andhra Pradesh has approached mgp to compost its floral waste. So has the Shirdi temple in Pune, Maharashtra. Another Pune temple wants mgp to manage its coconut shell waste.
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