The problems of garbage and waste disposal have reached a crisis in most cities. Municipal bodies around the country are struggling with the increase in the waste generated and the costs of collecting and transporting it.
While there is a lot of conversation around decentralised waste management, there are a number of reasons it hasn’t taken off.
Picture for representation only. Source: Pixabay
From a paucity of public land to the opposition of residents who have a “not in my backyard” mentality, to the fact that most of these solutions envision composting at a scale which—beyond the operational challenges—has low financial viability.
Traditional bio-gas plants have also had limited success because of the primitive technologies and operational inefficiency. While a lot of the focus on waste has rightly been around plastics and the damage they cause, effective solutions for wet-waste management make it easy to handle dry waste too.
Having said that, I believe that managing waste in a decentralised fashion is the only sustainable way forward. Financially, it’s going to be impossible to keep transporting garbage to landfills that are 100 km away, not to mention the moral and environmental implications of dump sites near villages on the outer peripheries of cities.
This is where educational institutions can play a vital role.
Most of these institutes have a large land area, fully residential campuses, central kitchens, consume an immense amount of power and are now situated in densely populated localities—prime examples being campuses like IIM Bangalore and IIT Bombay.
Their unique characteristics make them an attractive hub in a radically decentralised waste management model leveraging a 2-stage Anaerobic Digestion.
I can imagine a sense of incredulity in the readers who are wondering if I am actually suggesting that waste be dumped in these beautiful campuses. Before I answer that, it’s important that I highlight some of the recent advancements in the field of Anaerobic Digestion and explain the proposed model in more detail.
Companies like GPS Renewables have completely reinvented traditional biogas plants, producing efficiencies in the range of 70 kg of LPG-equivalent per tonne of waste, with water footprints that are 1/10th of the traditional plants.
Most importantly, they have become highly reliable systems, thanks to remote data monitoring and predictive analytics—a far cry from the days of “gobar gas” plants.
This still doesn’t solve the problem of organic waste management for bulk waste generators like apartment complexes, where there is limited waste generated at a per apartment level, little use for the gas generated, and limited land available, making investments in full-fledged biogas plants a non-starter.
While composting is a good solution, it tends to be operationally challenging and unviable for complexes which have more than 50 apartments.
This is where new inventions like the standalone Anaerobic Composters (AC) of GPS Renewables come in, which, in a world-first, has created a 2 stage bio-gas plant that’s spread over a geographical area like a hub and spoke.
These, placed at apartment complexes, convert organic waste into stable homogeneous acidified slurry.
The key advantage of this is that the ACs need to be drained once in a few days, massively reducing the cost of logistics while solving the usual issues of smell, flies, and rodents, if organic waste is not collected every day.
A dedicated vehicle transports this from the apartments (the spokes) to a central hub (the educational institutes, in this case).
The operations would look no different from the ubiquitous water tanker and the central hub, which unlike what images of a “central waste processing facility” conjure, will look like this as there is no raw-waste handling.
There is no waste being dumped in any of these campuses or creation of sore spots, with processed slurry transported in fully enclosed tankers and pumped directly into the central unit, with no leaks, smells or other commonly perceived issues with central waste handling.
These operations can be limited to 5-10 km from the hub and yet have a massive impact on both sides, given the populations served.
Campuses like IIM Bangalore and IIT Bombay have already adopted modern biogas solutions like BioUrja to replace their internal LPG requirements.
Today, IIM Bangalore meets 25 percent of its LPG requirements using this reactor, and IIT Bombay converts 25 per cent of their eight tonnes of daily waste into LPG-equivalent gas, meeting 15 percent of their requirements.
While that’s a commendable first step, by being a receiving hub in these prime locations of Bannerghatta and Powai, and not being limited by the amount of waste generated internally, they have the opportunity to be 100 per cent LPG-free, have excess gas which can be converted into electricity, reduce their financial burden (IITB alone spends Rs 33 crore per annum on electricity bills) and carbon footprint while mitigating 50-200 tonnes of organic waste from localities around its campus per day.
The financial and environmental implications of these are huge as summarised below:
By earmarking just one per cent of their land area and investments that can even be funded by well-heeled alumni, these campuses can lead the way in creating a sustainable future for themselves.
More importantly, they will help transform entire wards where they are located, giving a whole new dimension to the tag of “Institute of national importance”.
These campuses have only been taken as illustrative examples. There are 138 institutes of national importance in this country, and hundreds more that may meet characteristics that are conducive to being a vital cog in this proposed approach to decentralised waste management.
Stringent enforcement of Municipal Solid Waste management rules by the states are vital for solutions like ACs to be adopted widely by apartments and other bulk waste generators. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy currently considers Solar and Wind for meeting renewable energy targets and the Paris Agreement commitments. A realisation of the potential that organic waste handled in this manner holds and a push for the adoption of the same by the Ministry could give quite a fillip to this model.
Feature image source: Trilok Rangan/Flickr
(Written by Jidesh Haridas and edited by Shruti Singhal)