Make wealth from waste

Residential societies can set up their own composting plants to tackle biodegradable waste profitably

By Satwik Mudgal
Last Updated: Monday 17 August 2015

Make wealth from waste

Decentralised plants can make rich organic compost. They can also reduce the burden on Delhi's landfill sites by at least 40 per cent

DELHI IS notorious for its stinking heaps of garbage, choked drains and an army of ragpickers who make a living out of this waste. With a population of over 17.4 million, the capital churns out 8,000 tonnes per day (TPD) of garbage every day. So after the recent announcement of “Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan” by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the real question is: will citizens do their bit to keep their city clean?

Experts say Delhi’s garbage problem can be substantially reduced if residential societies locally process their biodegradable waste, which includes kitchen and horticultural waste. What’s more, communities can make money out of biodegradable waste. Here is how: 40 per cent of Delhi’s waste is biodegradable which, if processed properly, can be turned into high-quality manure. The trick, however, is to ensure that biodegradable waste is not mixed with ordinary waste, which can be checked if the processing happens locally. The practice can substantially reduce the current dependency on land to dispose of waste. It will even take care of the stench that emanates from landfills when biodegradable waste decomposes and releases methane, a greenhouse gas.

Delhi's potential

Kitchen waste accounts for 50 per cent of household waste in the country. Shyamala Mani, a professor at the National Institute of Urban Affairs, New Delhi, estimates that an average Delhiite produces at least 50 grams of kitchen waste in a day. Thus, the city produces at least about 870 TPD of kitchen waste.

Green areas such as parks also produce biodegradable waste, which can be used to produce rich compost. “Conservatively, every hectare of urban green produces about 100 kg of horticultural waste every day,” says Saurav Bardhan, co-founder and technical head of Green Bandhu Environmental Solutions & Services, a company that runs a decentralised composting plant at Delhi University. Thus, Delhi produces about 1,100 TPD of horticultural waste that is usually set on fire by street sweepers. “Ideally, three portions of kitchen waste are used with one portion of horticultural waste to make the best mix for composting,” says Bardhan.

According to Mani, at least 40 per cent of the waste going to landfills is easily compostable. “This will include the huge amount of kitchen waste discarded from hotels in addition to regular household and horticultural waste,” she adds.

Delhi has three centralised composting plants at Narela, Okhla and Bhalswa which collectively process about 500 TPD of compostable waste. “It is quite a challenge to sell the compost that is produced because the waste we get from the Municipal Corporation of Delhi is mixed with debris,” says Subash, manager of Nature and Waste Management Pvt Ltd, the composting plant at Bhalswa.

Money down the drain

Let alone make profit, Delhi is spending a fortune to dispose of its waste. As per the latest draft manual on municipal solid waste management prepared by the ministry of urban development, three million tonnes of waste can be accommodated on 40 hectares of land, considering the life of the landfill to be 20 years. But for Delhi that generates 8,000 TPD of garbage, some 800 hectares of land is needed and that would cost Rs 800 billion at the present circle rate. But Delhi does not have the land. In addition, municipalities are required to incur recurrent operating expenses on labour and machinery at the landfill and on transportation of waste which is nearly Rs 1200 per tonne, says Tufail Ahmed, who has been managing landfills in Delhi for almost three decades now. Thus, every tonne of waste disposed of at a landfill costs the Municipal Corporation of Delhi about Rs 14,500. Bardhan says a smart solution to the problem is decentralised plants.

He, however, warns the plants will only be successful if the right technology is used that is cheap and easy to operate. In fact, some communities are already benefiting through local waste management plants in Delhi (see “ Small steps towards a cleaner locality”). And to popularise it further, experts say, the municipality should provide incentives to communities for waste management. “It can fund these plants out of a cess on total municipal expenditure on waste management,” suggests Subir Paul, a visiting professor at the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi.

Sunil Mehra, chief town planner, East Delhi Municipal Corporation, says, “The municipality is willing to provide rebate on property tax to the owners who manage solid waste locally, but a policy needs to be worked out.”

Small steps towards a cleaner locality
Three places in Delhi where people are successfully managing their biodegradable waste using different technologies
Miranda House, Delhi University

imageTechnology: Rapid composting
Raw MATERIAL: 1:3 mix of horticultural and kitchen waste
Final PRODUCT: Organic compost
Composting PERIOD: 15-20 days cost PER HOUSEHOLD TO SET UP
THE PLANT: Rs 1,350

Land REQUIRED: 60 square metre (sq m)

How THEY DID IT: "We wanted effective solid waste management within the campus," says Pratibha Jolly, principal, Miranda House. In 2013, the college invested Rs 4 lakh in a plant to make organic compost out of its biodegradable waste. It tied up with Green Bandhu Environmental Solutions & Services for this. Today, the college produces 60 kg of compost every day from its waste and uses a bulk of its compost in its gardens. The college earns Rs 4,000 a month by selling the surplus compost and saves Rs 12,000 on transportation of waste.

Green Planet, New Moti Bagh

imageTechnology: Excel composting
Raw MATERIAL: Kitchen and horticultural waste
Final PRODUCT: Organic compost
Composting PERIOD: 15-20 days cost

Land REQUIRED: 300 sq m

How THEY DID IT: General Pool Residential Accommodation Complex at New Moti Bagh is a 110-acre campus housing 1,100 families. In 2013, Green Planet Waste Management PvtLtd started a waste management plant in the complex. The company invested Rs 8 million to set up the plant, which receives around 900 kg of horticultural waste and 700 kg of kitchen waste every day. Being so expensive, the plant's operators are struggling to recover losses. Rajesh Mittal, CEO of the plant, says the municipality should pay back the communities that are taking care of the garbage themselves.

Defence Colony compost facility

imageTechnology: EM1 microbial solution-based pit composting
Raw MATERIAL: Kitchen waste
Final PRODUCT: Organic compost
Composting PERIOD: 3-4 months cost
Land REQUIRED: 30 sq m

How THEY DID IT: What distinguishes this plant from the others is that the residents themselves manage it. It was conceptualised by the RWA with the help of non-profit Toxics Link. The facility was set up at a cost of just Rs 70,000 a decade ago. The compost facility was set up in a small unused corner of the neighbourhood. "Our priority was to get rid of the smell from the colony bins," says ShammiTalwar, joint secretary, RWA, Defence Colony. The RWA has trained two rag pickers to run it and their salaries come from the plant itself.

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  • "Make Wealth from Waste" by

    "Make Wealth from Waste" by Satwik Mudgil is a well-researched article presenting three different options of managing waste in an urban situation as Delhi. The author's recommendation of managing bio-degradable waste in a decentralised manner by housing societies of Delhi & other cities is welcoming and it seems the only way forward to make PM's Swachh Bharat Abhijan a reality. Or else the city administration will continue to spend huge sums of tax payers' money in landfills and still not be able to manage the ever-growing generation of garbage. Will the citizens wake up & take the right step?

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Satwik, I must

    Dear Satwik,

    I must congratulate you for a positive sounding article, professionally written, on a not so supportive methodology in handling solid-waste - i.e. de-centralized way of managing our waste.

    Your sincere efforts, thorough research, and comprehensive reporting on the various methods / technologies of de-centralized solid-waste management will be widely appreciated and definitely intrigue the people at large and encourage them to adopt one of these methods / technologies in their respective colonies, institutions etc.

    This is one of the very few "technically sound" articles I have read with empirical data, but, at the same time simplistic at its best for a layman to understand the various de-centralized composting methodologies.

    Look forward to more such article from you!!

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • The article- "make wealth

    The article- "make wealth from waste' is an eye-opener. ItÔÇÖs true that MCD is only collecting and transporting waste instead of processing it or making money out of it. Most surprisingly MCD is rather wasting crores of money every day on an age-old practice, whereas communities have really taken the lead this time. A very well written article. Easy to comprehend and yet technical. Kudos to people, who are already composting.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • The article-"Make wealth from

    The article-"Make wealth from waste", is an eye-opener. ItÔÇÖs true that MCD is only collecting and transporting waste instead of processing it or making money out of it. Most surprisingly MCD is rather wasting crores of money every day on an age-old practice, whereas communities have really taken the lead this time. A very well written article. Easy to comprehend and yet technical. Kudos to people, who are already composting.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • article gives a good

    article gives a good perspective how we, informed citizen can convert a problem into an earning opportunity.All we need to create a functional local waste management system and increasing public participation into it by promoting practices like separating the organic and in-organic waste, giving rebate in property tax etc.the responsibility of running such management can be delegated to private sector supported by government aid.this will contribute heavily in our swaksha bharat abhiyan , which is precursor to healthy india.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • Indeed very commendable story

    Indeed very commendable story and easy read for even a lay person. However, the three case studies have a definite scale and has institutional backing That absorbs a lot of initial risk involved. The challenge is to break it down to household level. There are options available http://ow.ly/DY18P but costs deter across the board adoption. Can we devise a cheaper solution?

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • Thanks everyone for reading

    Thanks everyone for reading and adding your perspective to the story.

    Prof. George,
    Thank you for sharing the link. Zero waste homes are wonderful. I always face this query that composting needs a lot of space. I guess this community has solved it. And yes, it's always better to segregate and compost at the source itself. But, to answer your question regarding cost - I shall point out to the third case study I took. It is a very simple arrangement which costs as low as Rs. 45/- per household and I think, it's the cheapest that's possible. And there is very little initial risk involved, when there is so little investment and such a simple technology that is to be used. And if one has the support of the RWA, like Defence colony, then the community can even employ some rag-pickers full-time for managing the composting plant.

    Posted by: Satwik Mudgal | 3 years ago | Reply
  • As mentioned in the

    As mentioned in the article(Make wealth from waste,Nov 1-15)the best way to tackle biodegradable waste is to make compost which can be profitable. But what about Non-biodegradable waste which is often the major portion of the landfills? Here I would like to share that one of the novel methods to exploit Non-biodegradable waste is to produce electricity by setting up Waste To Energy plants. Though the technique is not alien to our country as we have Okhla Waste to Energy plant in South Delhi,the first of its kind in the country,it is yet to be started.But its not new in a country like Sweden which produces electricity not only from its municipal waste but also from the wastes of other European countries by importing it,thus making it a profitable business. So in a power starved country like India which has committed itself to provide 24/7 uninterrupted power to households in the upcoming years and has taken up Clean India campaign Waste To Energy Plants are something one should think about.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • when we have started brooming

    when we have started brooming the streets (swatch bharat)its time to take garbage to next level of acceptable form in our lives and our ULTIMATE MOTHER EARTH.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • This can be done very easily

    This can be done very easily in your house or in your residential complex, see products available at,

    I use khamba for producing compost out of my house's kitchen waste. I keep this small unit in my apartment's balcony.
    If used properly, it doesn't smell bad at all. Trust me, carbon-nitrogen proportion is quite easy to learn.
    The earthy and amazing smell of well done compost is worth trying this composting activity. My balcony garden and trees around my house are now happy and healthy with this regular dose of compost. :)

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • It will be highly appreciated

    It will be highly appreciated if you favor us with detailed process involved in carrying out the operation.
    I am particularly interested in a system which will suit a small housing society of about 12 to 16 families in a city like MUMBAI.
    As far as garbage problem is concerned MUMBAI & DELHI are no different
    Thanking you in anticipation of quick response

    C R Mishra

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • Mr. Mishra, I would suggest

    Mr. Mishra,

    I would suggest simple pit composting as the Defense Colony in Delhi is doing. It is good for a small number of households also and the cheapest of all. You will have to construct 2-3 composting pits depending on the amount of land at your disposal. We can discuss the design in detail. You can even do it in earthen pots, if land is a constraint (See - http://www.thehindu.com/features/homes-and-gardens/green-living/zero-waste-homes/article4057770.ece). For better compost and quicker process, you can use, EM1 microbial solution.

    The kitchen-waste and horticultural waste shall be your primary source of biodegradable waste and it needs to be collected separately from the colony and dumped in the composting pits for about 2-3 weeks until the pit is full. Meanwhile, EM microbial solution should be added to the pit daily for odor-control and enhancing growth of micro-organisms. Once the pit is full, it should be closed for another 2-3 months but the pit still needs to be churned once every day. Meanwhile, you can use the other pits for waste-filling. At the end of this cycle, the pit shall yield rich black-compost that can be used for gardening purposes. Though, with only 12-16 families, not much waste would be generated, thus, not much compost shall be generated, but it shall surely be a contribution from your neighborhood towards making the best out of waste instead of just letting it being dumped on the landfill. However, as a thumb-rule, one can expect 30% of their biodegradable waste to be churned into compost.

    I hope that suffices. If there is anything else that I can do to help you build your own little composting plant - do let me know.


    Posted by: Satwik Mudgal | 3 years ago | Reply
  • Dear Raghavendra C.G. Thank

    Dear Raghavendra C.G.

    Thank you for sharing your comment. A study conducted by NEERI shows that Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) in India has about 40-60% of biodegradable component, another 11-22% of recyclables and 20-30% of inert and moisture including non-recyclables. (Refer: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18595684)

    Moreover, MSW is mostly dealt by the rag-picking community who then recycle most of the non-biodegradable waste, informally. I am sure, the situation is very different in European countries and others that you have quoted. Also, the emission standards are way stricter there, in addition to the waste characteristics being different; when the technology is the same. Also, a W2E plant demands segregated waste with low moisture content to be incinerated, which is quite difficult to obtain in India that experiences high levels of humidity & poor segregation as of date; and which is why many of the pilot plants are running in losses. Also, the Okhla plant's cost was Rs. 250 Crores. Do we have so much of money? Is it even financially sustainable?

    I think, we need solutions, that are socially, environmentally and financially sustainable.

    Posted by: Satwik Mudgal | 3 years ago | Reply
  • One's Trash is some one

    One's Trash is some one else's treasure - Don't waste waste from Delhi.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP)

    Posted by: Anonymous | 4 years ago | Reply