Lessons from two cities

Pune aims to become a zero-landfill city by 2015. With a range of solid waste management options, the target does not seem too ambitious. Bengaluru, on the other hand, is forced by a court order to do what Pune is already doing.

Arnab Pratim Dutta reports from Pune and Aparna Pallavi from Bengaluru

By Aparna Pallavi, Arnab Pratim Dutta
Published: Monday 31 March 2014

Lessons from two cities

People of Uruli Devachi village are up against the Pune Municipal Corporation for dumping waste at the landfill there

The 600-square metre compound that shares its boundary with the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) ward office in Aundh, an affluent suburb, gives no sign of what happens inside. Strollers cheerfully walk past it. Behind its green steel gates is the city’s cleanest weapon to fight garbage. The five-tonne per day (TPD) biogas plant silently operates all day decomposing organic waste—vegetables, fruit rejects and stale food—and converting them into methane. The gas is injected into a generator to produce electricity. The leftover is excellent organic manure. Yet, passers-by have nothing to complain. There is no stench around; no flies or eagles hovering above food. Life goes on, the way it would with any other commercial compound there.

The plant is Pune’s experiment to ensure that no waste goes to the city’s landfills. “The aim is to make the 244-sq km municipal area zero-landfill by 2015,” says Sanjay Gawade, additional commissioner, municipal solid waste, PMC. Pune generates about 400 grams of solid waste per person per day. The 2011 Census puts the city’s population at about 3.5 million. Another 0.5 million come into the city every day. This translates into 1,400 to 1,600 tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) every day, say PMC officials. Of this, 65 per per cent per cent comes from residences, hotels and restaurants (see ‘Waste contributors’). Wet waste accounts for about 70 per cent.


PMC’s projections show that by 2031, daily waste generation would reach a whopping 3,600 tonnes. To solve the MSW conundrum, Pune has used a cocktail of technologies. “We are looking at all options to recycle, reuse and recover, so that no waste goes to the landfill,” says Gawade. Besides biogas plants, the city boasts centralised and decentralised composting and vermicomposting facilities, a waste recycling plant using refuse-derived fuel (RDF), and a waste-to-electricity plant using thermal gassification technology (see ‘Pune’s arsenal against waste’). Pune’s current capacity to process waste is about 2,100 tonnes per day.

Pune’s arsenal against waste

Tackling wet waste

It started in 2009, when pmc decided that localised energy generation was a good way to mitigate part of its waste. Sanjay Nandre, owner of city-based bioenergy firm Enprotech Solutions, proposed the idea of decentralised biogas plants to pmc. He had helped Thane Municipal Corporation build a five-tonne per day project for a housing complex of 10,000 flats. A team of pmc officials visited the Thane plant and decided to try the technology. The first municipal biogas plant was set up in Model Colony, a locality of 4,000-odd residences.

“The experiment assured us that biogas plants can take care of a part of city’s wet waste. The plant can process five tonnes of wet waste in one day and generate 375 units of electricity to power 250 streetlights (a mix of 70, 100 and 250 Watt bulbs),” says Nandre. The residue from biomethanation, compost, is used in PMC’s gardens. The plants can produce 150 tonnes of compost in a year. “Moreover, there is no smell, fly or insect around,” he adds. Not all the waste that reaches the plant can be used. Usually, 20 per cent of the waste is rejected after segregation. “Yet, Pune has the best segregated waste,” says Nandre, who runs similar plants in other cities of Maharashtra.

'Ghanta (bell) trucks' transport most of the wet waste generated by the city

The model is based purely on the ability to continue functioning within the actual bid amount, says Suresh Rege, chairperson of Mailhem Engineers Private Limited, which also runs the Aundh biogas plant. “However, these plants can be commercially viable if good quality segregated waste is available in larger quantities,” he says. Tipping fee and generation-based incentives can also make these plants profitable, he adds.

The success of the Model Colony experiment led PMC to sanction more biogas plants. Pune now has 20 commissioned biogas plants. The number will reach 27 by year-end, says Gawade. The plants were set up on the private-public partnership model with PMC as the owner. The municipality provides land, capital and maintenance amount for five years. The plant operator gets Rs 60,000 per month for maintenance, with 10 to 15 per cent annual increment. The contract can be renewed after five years. When the plants were set up in 2010, each cost about Rs 60 lakh. Now the cost is Rs 90 lakh.

PMC has not done an economic feasibility analysis of these plants. “We know that we save from Rs 650 to Rs 700 per tonne of waste in transportation to an MSW processing facility about 20 km away at Uruli Devachi village,” says Gawade. The corporation spends Rs 1,300 to Rs 1,400 ferrying one tonne of garbage to this facility. Transporting waste to biogas plants within the city costs only half. Nandre’s calculations show if a plant is run full capacity, it may recover the cost in five to seven years (see ‘Economics of Model Colony...,’).


Segregation pays

The city’s collective effort in garbage segregation and collection is the main reason for the success. PMC forces people to segregate dry and solid waste. It has also integrated a sizeable number of waste pickers into a formalised door-to-door garbage collection network. In 2008, PMC signed an agreement with SWaCH Seva Sahakari Sanstha Maryadit, a cooperative of waste pickers. SWaCH is short for solid waste collection and handling. Every day, its 2,300 members go house to house and collect 600 tonnes of garbage, 140 tonnes of which is dry. The cooperative covers 400,000 households of the total of 800,000 households in the city, says Gawade (see ‘What a bright idea’).

What a bright idea!
Organised waste collection has boosted segregation at the source

“My day begins at 7 am when I start visiting apartment complexes to collect waste,” says Maina Bai Gangaram Narode as she sorts a bundle of creased paper and plastic wrappers. She fishes out a few alcohol bottles, drains out the liquid inside and places them on the ground. For half an hour she diligently segregates her day’s collection and puts them in different sacks.

Narode is part of an army of waste collectors who go from door to door to pick up what most people consider garbage. She collects dry waste like paper, bottles, metal waste, and plastic packets and containers. “Part of the waste I collect is recyclable which I sell to the scrap dealer,” she says. “I earn Rs 50 to Rs 75 daily.”

Maina Bai Gangaram Narode is part of SWaCHLike Narode, every day 9,000-odd collectors scrounge the city picking up waste. “We are an essential service like the police and the medical profession. The day we go on strike this city will stink,” she says. Her confidence comes from being part of an organised group of waste collectors which operates under a cooperative called SWaCH Seva Sahakari Sanstha Maryadit. SWaCH is short for solid waste collection and handling. It is a wholly owned cooperative of self-employed waste pickers, with about 2,300 members. Authorised by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) to go door to door to pick up waste, SWaCH operates in all the 15 wards of Pune.

“Pune is the only city in India which recognises picking waste as a formal profession,” says Mangal Pagare, chief executive officer of SWaCH. In 1993, waste pickers and waste buyers decided that to have better working conditions and to get their work recognised as a profession, they must unionise themselves. This collective resolve gave birth to Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP). Poornima Chikarmane, associate professor at SNDT Women’s University in Pune, was one of academics who helped KKPKP mould into a union. In her paper, ‘Integrating Waste Pickers into Municipal Solid Waste Management in Pune, India,’ published in 2012, she said waste pickers recovered material for recycling, reduced the cost of handling municipal solid waste, generated employment and contributed to public health and the environment.

After the rules for handling municipal solid waste (MSW) were notified in 2000, Pune found itself terribly unprepared to comply with them. It did not even have an MSW department. “Using its own vehicles and staff, PMC could collect waste from only 7 per cent of the households. Of this 86 per cent was collected from community bins placed in public areas,” says Chikarmane. The practice was to collect, transport and dispose of.

PMC was also facing court cases filed by residents against open dumping of waste. In 2001, residents of Paud, then a suburb of Pune, won a court case against PMC to close its dumping ground. Around 2005, PMC began its ChakaChak (sparkling) initiative. It wanted to hand over the task of garbage collection and segregation to private companies. “KKPKP told PMC it was a bad idea,” Pagare says. “We pushed for incorporating the existing waste pickers into the municipal waste collection system.”

SWaCH was set up in 2007, and in 2008 it signed an agreement with PMC. Every day it collects 600 tonnes of garbage, of which 140 tonnes is dry. It covers about 400,000 households, which is nearly half of the total in the city, says Sanjay Gawade, PMC’s additional municipal commissioner in-charge of MSW. SWaCH members collect garbage and deposit it at the designated PMC collection points. The user fee varies from Rs 10 a month to Rs 40, depending on the area. SWaCH members sort unsegregated waste before handing it over to PMC. They can also sell the recyclable waste to kabadiwallas to earn extra income. Households can call up a helpline, run by SWaCH, to access these services or to complain about bad service. SWaCH’s entry into waste management has increased the rate of segregation at the source. It helps in maintaining compost pits at about 80 large residential societies, with an aggregate capacity of 6 tonnes of waste per day across the municipality.

Close to 56 per cent of the waste Pune generates is segregated, says Suresh Jagtap, joint commissioner, PMC. “Segregation is low at 22 peths (localities), which are mostly slums. About 36 per cent of Pune’s population lives in slums,” he says. In February 2011, PMC joined hands with Marathwada Chamber of Commerce and Industries and SWaCH to minimise garbage going to the landfills. They initiated Zero Garbage Project in Katraj ward. PMC’S figures show that 82.5 per cent of the waste from 8,500 residences was segregated; 60 per cent of commercial waste produced by 2,000 establishments was segregated; but slum area comprising 1,200-odd houses gave only 4 per cent segregated waste.

The corporation gets a little over 500 tonnes of good segregated waste from households, hotels and vegetable markets. Biogas plants can take 80-85 tonnes of wet waste. “Hotel wet waste is good for biomethanation because it is better segregated,” says Nandre. The sizeable portion of wet waste that remains is processed in big and small composting plants. Pune has two big composting plants—200-TPD Ajinkya Biofert and 100-TPD Disha Waste Management. Small mechanical compost plants are located in PMC’s two ward offices that have a combined capacity of 4 TPD.

Composting has really been decentralised. People in apartments and houses have started composting their wet waste, relieving PMC of a huge burden. Magarpatta, a 170-hectare (ha) privately managed mini-township in Pune, not only cultures 1.5 tonnes of garbage into vermicompost every day, but has also installed a biogas plant that can process two tonnes of wet waste (see ‘Magarpatta model’ on p28). “The first thing we give to new residents is a pamphlet explaining segregation,” says Manik Sharma, vice-president, sales and marketing, Magarpatta. Those who deliver unsegregated waste are fined (see ‘The town farmers built’, Down To Earth, January 15, 2009).

Magarpatta model
Magarpatta is a private township in Hadapsar ward of Pune. In 1990 when the municipality was expanding, 120 families decided not to sell their land to private real estate developers but build their own township. Farmers pooled together their land and became shareholders in a company called Magarpatta Township Development and Construction Company (see ‘The town farmers built’, Down To Earth, January 15, 2009).

Wet waste from households is used for vermicompostingAbout 40,000 people live in Magarpatta and 70,000 people who work at the special economic zone and information technology park housed here. All this produces 350 tonnes of waste every month. Every day, 390 people go from door to door collecting segregated waste. Every household and office has two dustbins, blue for wet waste and red for dry waste.

Dry waste is segregated for paper, plastic, metal and cardboard. These are sold to vendors. Wet waste is segregated into food leftovers, and vegetables and fruits. Food leftovers from commercial areas are used at biogas plants. Residential wet waste is sent for vermicomposting. The township has biogas plants with a total capacity to process 8 tonne waste per day. It generates 150 units electricity per day which is used for auxiliary consumption and to power streetlights. The generation capacity will increase to 400 units once it starts running to its full capacity. The compost is also used in the gardens.

Compared to 2009, when only a handful of people composted waste, now more than 10,000 of the 80,000-odd commercial and residential buildings have installed vermicompost arrays. What attracted people was the rebate on property tax that PMC offered under its Eco-Housing Scheme on buildings constructed after 2001. Buildings with eco-friendly features like rainwater harvesting, solar heater and composting pits are eligible for the discount. A building with any one feature gets a five per cent rebate, which increases to 10 per cent for two features. In 2013, as many as 2,544 residential complexes availed this. To ensure no foul play, PMC inspects compost pits biannually. “If we find them not functioning, we revoke the rebate,” says Jagtap. PMC inspectors conducted their last check in December 2013 and found 661 defaulting societies.

Waste that is not processed at homes is picked up from primary collectors like SWaCH by a fleet of PMC vehicles, called Ghanta (bell) trucks. They are called so because of a small contraption placed over the driver’s cabin that resembles the public address system. Of the total 248 PMC trucks, 90 are Ghanta trucks. These, along with 23 trucks designated specifically for picking up hotel garbage, transport most of the segregated wet waste generated by the city. Everyday at about 6.30 am, the trucks start for their designated localities. They have two chambers, one for dry and unsegregated waste, and the other for wet waste. “Hotel waste is segregated into two bags, green for wet and black for dry,” says an employee of Prabhat Road on Hotel Swaroop. He estimates that about 20 kg of waste leaves the premises every day.

The Ghanta trucks pick up about 1,500 tonnes in a day. The hotel trucks pick up another 125 tonnes. Segregated hotel waste is directly sent to biogas plants and compost facilities, while rest goes to waste transfer sections within the municipality limits. Besides, there are 17 compactor buckets that help reduce the size of waste through compaction. The containers are placed at certain locations in the city where people dispose of their waste. A total of 936 containers and 412 compactor buckets are placed across the city.

Perils of relying on one plant

Pune’s stragety to handle MSW is not without problems. In June 2013, PMC stopped dumping all the waste in the landfill near Uruli Devachi—it claims to have capped 70 per cent of the landfill with soil and geomembrane. Instead, it started processing unsegregated waste at the 1,000-TPD facility set up by Hanjer Biotech Energies Limited in a 9-ha plot adjacent to the landfill. The company, headquartered in Mumbai, operates MSW processing plants in 24 cities across India. It works on a zero-tipping fee model where mixed waste is turned into useful products and sold in the market. In Pune, the company makes RDF. Compost and plastic ingots are the secondary products. After processing the waste, two per cent inert material remains, PMC claims. This is sent to the landfill.

In 2009, Hanjer signed a 30-year contract with PMC to treat unsegregated waste. The plant is both the backbone and crick in the neck for Pune. When it works, the city is garbage free. When it does not, the municipality becomes a dump yard. Over the last year-and-a-half, the plant has been operating below capacity, processing only 600 TPD waste, even though it receives 1,000-1,200 tonnes a day.

On January 18, 2014, a major fire broke out in the plant. When Down To Earth visited it, very little waste was being processed there. The plant looked more like a dump yard than a waste processesing facility. The blue and white walls of the building were half covered with waste. There were heaps of garbage inside the plant. The machinery was drowning in this quagmire.

The first municipal biogas plant at Model Colony can process five tonnes of waste in a day

Two days after the fire, PMC’s garbage collection plummeted. The streets turned putrid. From 1,400-1,500 TPD till January 18, 2014, collection dropped to less than 400 TPD. Records of PMC show Hanjer was receiving from 924 tonnes to 1,245 tonnes waste a day before the fire broke out. But after the fire, in January, the waste that Hanjer received never crossed 723 TPD. Even this, the company could not process and stored within its complex.

PMC was forced to open the landfill it had closed last year claiming it would keep the city clean. This, along with the waste already piling up in the Hanjer plant, invited more trouble. People living near the two sites began to protest. Residents of Phursungi and Uruli Devachi united under a forum called Kachra Depot Hatao Sangarsh Samiti and stopped PMC trucks from going to the landfill. “All attempts at dumping garbage in the open will be stopped,” says Vijay Badale, a samiti member. “We will allow garbage only if the plant processes it”.

Every year during summers, garbage catches fire causing smoke to engulf their village, he says. People have bronchial problems. It emits stench and toxins leach into water bodies, (see ‘14 km from Pune, its footprint’, Down To Earth, July 15, 2009). A recent study, which covered five areas adjoining the landfill—Manjari, Hadapsar, Phursungi, Mantarwadi and Uruli Devachi—found high acidity level in groundwater. The study titled ‘Assessment of impact on the groundwater quality due to urbanisation by hydrogeochemical faeces analysis in SE part of Pune city, India’ was published in 2013. It was conducted under the supervision of M R G Sayyed, head of the geology department, Poona University. The study concluded that the acidity was because of a “strong influence of leachate emerging from the waste disposal site”.

Hanjer’s project design document seeking carbon credits under clean development mechanism says every tonne of MSW yields 19 per cent RDF, 13 per cent compost and 1 per cent plastic.

The plant has also been facing its own set of troubles for the past one year, says a senior management official of the company who did not wish to be quoted. Till February 2013, it had run an electricity bill of Rs 80,00,000. It stopped paying its 250-odd labourers. Many of them left. The reason for the company’s downfall, says the official, is its inability to sell its products. Due to economic downturn, demand for RDF from cement factories and paper mills dipped, putting the financial model into jeopardy, he says.

The official says the company is unable to sell its plastic ingots because of cheap imported plastic powder from China, which is available at half the price. This apart, he says, the plant was designed to handle 750 TPD waste in a day, but in order to close the landfill civic authorities put pressure on the company to take in more waste, leading to breakdowns in the plant.

Now, PMC is under immense pressure to dispose of the waste piling up in the city. On February 25, local BJP leaders stormed the office of Municipal Commissioner Vikas Deshmukh and dumped garbage on his desk to protest mishandling of waste. PMC then agreed to pay Hanjer Rs 80,00,000 per month as temporary support.

Mechanical vermicomposting plant at Aundh

Gawade says the assistance will be given till the company becomes economically stable. “We have also decided to provide 75 people from our staff to help in the plant’s operations,” he says.

PMC may not have faced the problem had another MSW plant, built over two years ago at Ram Thekde, been running full steam. The plant set up by Rochem Separation Systems India was to process about 700 TPD of unsegregated waste and produce 10 MW electricity. The technology used at the plant is thermal gasification, where metals, soil and debris are segregated, waste crushed into small pellets, and treated over 700°C in absence of oxygen. The resulting volatile gas is channelised into a generator to produce electricity. The plant began operating in early 2012 but has been able take in only about 250 TPD waste per day. The Maharashtra Electricity Development Agency has not given its approval to send the electricity produced to the grid, says Gawade. It is processing waste sufficient only to produce electricity for its own consumption.

Is there a way out?

According to Jagtap, the Zero Garbage Project is a good way to tackle waste. “Initial results from 11 wards were heartening in non-slum commercial and residential areas. The project has now been extended to 20 more wards. Work on 11 of these wards began in January 2013 and the remaining nine in December 2013,” he says.

In February-end PMC also called for global expression of interests (EOI) to set up more waste processing facilities in the city. It has identified five locations—Baner (0.97 ha), Wadgaon (2 ha), Ambegaon (2 ha), Kondwa (2 ha) and Hadapsar (2 ha)—to set up 500 TDP waste processing plants. “EOI is technology neutral. We want to look at the best technologies used worldwide before deciding on what is suitable for Pune,” says Jagtap. PMC also plans to set up smaller plants of capacities ranging from 100 TDP to 250 TPD. Their technologies have not been disclosed yet.

Decentralised biogas plants have worked for Pune and it plans to set up another 10. But finding land within the city for setting them up is difficult.

Nirmala Kandalgaonkar, managing director of Vivam Agrotech, which helps families and municipal corporations across the country set up compost and biogas plants, says PMC should continue to stress on household-level segregation. “PMC should introduce schemes that promote household composting and biogas where most of the waste is consumed where it is generated,” she says.

With inputs from Joel Kumar

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