Sweden generates 20% of their electricity using waste imported from Norway. Sri Lanka recovers metals by recycling old CFLs, fluorescent tubes and electronic waste. Bhutan paves durable green roads using waste plastic. Believe it or not, garbage management can generate self-sustaining jobs for the unskilled and poor, where they are most needed. India’s Municipal Solid Waste (142000 tons daily) can be worth Rs 120,000 Crores (US$ 18.5 Billion) annually. We can realize the full potential of recycling, so we don’t have to live with rotting wet waste and acrid carcinogenic smoke from burning garbage. It is better to ‘keep it clean’ instead of ‘keep cleaning it’; ‘recycle’ instead of ‘dump’; and ‘create wealth’ instead of ‘allot funds’. Segregating garbage at source and recycling will create wealth out of waste as follows:-
Wet Waste. 70%, i.e. 99,400 tons daily with all the nuisance value; a simple and effortless aerobic process produces excellent vermicompost. 20% compost output @ Rs 100/ kg (worth Rs 198.8 Crores/ day). Removing wet waste will make recycling of other components easier.
Recyclable Waste. Dry waste (25%) segregated at source can be recycled as follows: -
- Paper. 8% i.e. 11340 tons daily; recycling one ton of paper saves 17 full grown trees. @ Rs 15/ kg (worth Rs 17.04 Crores/ day).
- Plastics. 7% i.e. 9940 tons daily; @ Rs 50/ kg. Recycled Polyethylene, PET, HDPE, LDPE, PVC, etc are value added (worth Rs 49.7 Crores/ day).
- Metals. 4% i.e. 5680 tons daily; Recycling scrap metals reduces pressure on mines. @ Rs 80/ kg (worth Rs 45.44 Crores/ day).
- Glass. 6% i.e. 8520 tons daily; Recycling one ton of glass reduces 315 kg carbon emissions. @ Rs 10/kg (worth Rs 8.52 Crores/ day).
- Reduced transportation (60%) saves Rs 5.72 Crores/ day.
- Daily Benefits. Rs 328.77 Crores. (Rs 120,001 Crores/ Year)
Miscellaneous. 5% i.e. 7100 tons daily; combustible matter should be incinerated to generate steam/ electricity; electronic/ electrical waste and batteries can be dismantled by skilled workers to recover chemicals/ metals; and demolition/ construction debris must be recycled or sent to landfills.
Corporate involvement should not take over basic duties of the Municipal Corporation. They should ideally set up recycling facilities for paper, plastic, metals and glass; e-waste processing plants; thermal plants to generate energy; research on innovative uses of recycled plastics, etc. NGOs should establish workable methods for segregation, collection and recycling through people’s involvement.
We must avoid the ‘YES, BUT’ game, where a solution is unanimously agreed, but excuses found why it cannot be done. We need to overcome resistance and misconceptions that hinder effective garbage management. Although it is unpleasant work, we can make things work or make them better. ‘Triple Bottom-Line’ benefits will include jobs for the poor (social), generating wealth out of waste (economic) and improved living conditions (environmental).
Wet waste and leaf litter comprises 70% of all garbage generated, creates all its nuisance value and hampers handling of recyclable waste. Burning either of them produces acrid smoke that can only be harmful to our health. More important, it prevents sequestering of carbon from the natural carbon cycle. Separating and disposing of wet waste locally eliminates non-value-adding work and reduces cost of transportation (the carbon footprint). Fewer garbage trucks on the roads reduce traffic congestion. Organic compost produced enriches soil and sequesters carbon. Composting happens naturally during the rainy season, but can be replicated round the year with a simple effortless system by maintaining the right moisture and aeration level (avoid drying or flooding).
Aerobic composting is unobtrusive and without odor or pests nuisance. It has two steps, viz., ‘Decomposition’ and ‘Maturing’ (earthworm-casting) as follows:
- Step 1- Decomposition. Wet waste is dumped in open bins/ buckets having a few holes (one square inch each) for drainage, placed on unpaved earth. Regular watering and loosening encourages decomposition by microbes, fungi, maggots and other natural fauna. The waste may attract dogs, rats or crows due to its food value; after 8 - 10 days of decomposition it is ready for the next step. Keeping it longer may create foul odor/ maggots’ nuisance due to anaerobic decomposition.
Fresh wet waste Decomposed waste
- Step 2- Maturing (Earthworm-Casting). The waste from Step-1 is transferred to large plastic bags (with small holes in the bottom) placed in a garden next to plants. The contents are loosened and watered regularly. There is slight odor during transferring, but it subsides quickly with watering. In a few weeks earthworms appear from the ground and digest organic matter into rich castings. The compost gradually reduces in volume and turns into soft dark humus in three- four months, which improves soil nutrients and water-holding capacity. Leaf-litter is initially voluminous, but when piled into bottomless barrels and watered regularly, it gradually reduces in volume and decomposes into humus.
Flora and Fauna. A natural ecosystem of micro-organisms is quickly established and some bio-culture from an old batch can be used to facilitate decomposition of a fresh batch. In a few weeks earthworms appear from the soil and digest the decomposing material. By-products of decomposition drain into the soil and nourish plants like a slow release drip irrigation system. Maggots/ flies are kept under check by birds attracted by the shelter of trees. Seeds from vegetable/ fruit waste, weeds and leaf-litter germinate over time and are simply weeded away.
Composting wet waste locally reduces 70% of transport requirement, thus reducing the carbon footprint and eliminating subhuman labor. It facilitates recycling of dry waste and prevents air pollution from burning of trash. Earthworm-castings are in great demand and command a very good price.
Lt Col Satish M Vaidya (Retired) has considerable experience as a Paratrooper (Special Forces) officer of the Indian Army. His second innings with a hotel chain involved security and loss prevention for 10 years and Six Sigma/ change management for two years (where he got a Green Belt). His main interest lies in environment and resources conservation. In his current third innings, he has completed Masters in Environmental Science and Six Sigma Black Belt. He is working on a system that purifies liquids, works on low-grade waste heat, can conserve energy & prevent water pollution. Over the last 3 ½ years he has established a wet-waste composting system, which can help large scale solid waste management. He actively campaigns for a clean environment and writes regularly.