Make wealth from waste

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

By Satwik Mudgal
Published: Saturday 15 November 2014

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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