waste management…

Just finished watching this very nice interview with Vikram Seth on NDTV. What I would give to live in his head for a day or two. For long, I have always thought that The Golden Gate is the most remarkable novel, or a novel in verse if you will, that I have read. Imagine, he dropped his PhD program midway through to write it. Thank God for that. Now I just have to read A Suitable Boy.

Have had a good Saturday so far. Visited a retired NASA scientis Dr. V. K. Balasubramanyan in the morning. Had read an article in the TOI a couple of weeks ago about an effective waste management process that he had invented. Met up with him at his residence near Mekhri circle to check it out. Nice, sincere and passionate old man. An astrophysicist who decided one fine day that he just had to do something about the garbage problem. And over the last 6 years or so, he has certainly done a great job of that.

Currently his technique is being trial run in his locality. Well, not really trial run, given that they have been using it there for almost 5-6 years now. About 500 families in all. In brief, the process is as explained below. Worth reading IMHO.

About 4-5 trained ragpickers first collect the garbage from the homes in handtrolleys and get it to one central location. Then they set about segregating the garbage into three kinds (if not segregated already) of waste

1. Biodegradable kitchen waste
2. Plastic and toxic waste like batteries. Newspapers as well.
3. Tree leaves and other such foliage

Different stacks have been set up to hold the different categories of waste material. The easiest to process is the non biodegradable stuff. All of that except for maybe plastic (which the ragpickers sell in any of the scrap markets) is dumped into one stack and collected by the corporation daily. Approximately 60 kgs per day.

The 3rd category, the tree leaves, dead shruberry etc are all dumped in one large stack and allowed to compost naturally. This takes about 3 months or so.

The 2nd category, the kitchen waste is the one that needs to be treated. For 500 homes, about 11-12 stacks (boxed into 3 compartments each) are required to process the kitchen waste. A grid at the bottom allows the water in the kitchen waste to seep through and this waste water is subsequently collected in a bucket, treated with some herbal concoction to eliminate the odour. This treated water is then used to speed up the composting of the tree leaves. A completely aerobic process is used to treat the kitchen waste. Hosepipes attached to an air blower are used to circulate air into all the stacks. The blower is run from 9 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon (which is when the ragpickers generally leave) every day. In this process, the microbes in the waste are apparently activated and in turn start acting on the waste. They also cause the temperature to rise to about 65-70 degree celsius in the process killing almost all the disease causing bacteria, the bacteria causing gastroentitis for instance. The top of each stack is covered by a box containing charcoal pieces. Charcoal I was told is an excellent absorbent of CO2 which is released in the process. (Methane released from the decomposition of the kitchen waste is automatically converted into C02). Over a period of about 30 days, the kitchen waste composts after which the compost is removed from the stack.

Both the tree leaves and the kitchen waste result in pure organic compost though the kitchen compost is typically the richer of the two. The compost is then sold either in the market or to the residents themselves for use as manure.

Here are a few statistics.

About 65-70% of waste is kitchen waste, almost all of which is treated and converted to compost. That implies a substantial reduction in landfills and generation of high quality organic manure.

About 10%-15% is tree leaves, shrubs etc. This is likely to be much lower in typical apartment complexes. Just about 2% or so I would guess. So we don’t need to bother about it.

The rest, i.e. about 30%, is plastics, glass, toxic, paper, and other non biodegradable waste. Of these paper can be incinerated. Plastic, glass etc could possibly be recycled. Still pretty much for most of it, nothing much can be done. Got to be dumped at some landfill somewhere I guess. For the moment that is not our concern either.

From what I saw today, it seems to me that this clearly is a great way to start managing our waste, and is something that all of us need to start thinking about seriously.

From what I have seen and heard, the good doctor’s process is quite excellent, manageable and inexpensive.

To give you an idea about the cost, here’s how it would go.

For an apartment of say 100 families, here’s what the numbers would look like roughly. Possibly an overestimation.

Initial costs

4 stacks * Rs. 6,000 per stack = Rs. 24, 000
Blower & hosepipes = Rs. 5,000
Charcoal boxes = Rs. 5,000
Other initial costs (trolley, buckets, whatever else) = Rs. 5,000

Total initial cost = Rs. 40, 000

Divided by 100 families, that is around Rs. 400 per family. Certainly quite reasonable.

Monthly costs

Ragpickers salary = 2 * 3000 = Rs. 6,000
Charcoal costs = No idea (negligible surely)
Electricity costs = Not sure, but negligible
Blah, blah, blah…

All together, this means not more than Rs. 100 per family per month.

The BDA commissioner Srinivasa Murthy has apparently promised to assist anybody willing to try it out. And they may even fund a part of the costs. Even assuming that they don’t, clearly this is a fairly inexpensive proposition.

In sum, these are the real clinchers –

* You don’t need much space. Maybe about 500-600 sq foot for 100 families. The good doctor is very confident that you could even do it on the terrace.

* No toxic emissions.

* No Hydrogen Sulphide like fragrance

* Completely aerobic process – No incineration required

* Inexpensive

* Easy to manage

Hmm… Guess that’s about it. Any omissions/errors are mine.

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Posted on December 20, 2003, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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