Four years ago, if you happened to visit the Navade village in Navi Mumbai, you would most probably hold your breath to avoid the stench and walk carefully to dodge the heaps of garbage thrown there.
Today, though, the situation is entirely different, and this is all thanks to a humble farmer.
Popat Lokhande grew up in a farming family in Phaltan, Satara. He did not have the privilege of studying beyond high school, and like thousands of others, he reached Mumbai in search of a job more consistent than farming.
Here, he got appointed as a labourer and even as he lived a hand-to-mouth existence for a few years, he strived through it to become a labour contractor.
“But even that work did not suit me very much, so I shifted to the wet waste business about 3-and-a-half years ago,” Lokhande informs The Better India.
But the shift wasn’t as organic as Lokhande might make you believe. It happened because of a conflict that arose between the gram panchayat in Navade and the industries who were dumping their garbage in their land.
Every month, the Panvel City Municipal Corporation had to shell out about Rs 8 lakhs to collect the waste, transport it to appropriate landfills and dispose of it responsibly.
That’s when Lokhande approached them with a proposal, that would help the companies manage waste and also help farmers.
“I, along with my wife, Sangeeta, started PSL Waste Management—a small-scale waste management plant—in Navade. When the gram panchayat prohibited the industries here from dumping their waste in open areas, the gram sevak approached me and asked if I could help them in any way. Accordingly, I went to them with a proposal to collect their wet waste and convert it into manure.”
Lokhande’s proposal was accepted almost immediately by Hindalco—an industry that makes aluminium products. The Satara farmer had bagged his first client!
The job was to load kitchen waste generated by the company in trucks, transport it to the plant and convert it into manure.
“Soon enough, we expanded from one big industry to 11 more companies. Today, my team collects waste from 12 companies, 27 restaurants and about 3750 flats in Navi Mumbai to manage their waste. The clients, of course, have to segregate the waste themselves. My labourers only check that it is, segregated,” the 51-year-old explains.
Lokhande earns between Rs 40,000-45,000 per month, but income comes in from various sources. According to their capacity, some houses and companies pay for their transport, some also for the loading and others for the labour too.
He explained to us how the waste turns into manure in his plant. When the 7.5-8 tonne of waste is brought in, the leaves, twigs and the relatively dry material is separated to be distributed evenly. Then particular loads of waste are put in the machines to be ground into a paste.
“About 50-60% of this paste is water, which is removed before the paste is added with cow dung, gypsum, minerals, zinc and silicon.
We let this mixture run through the machine again to form a fine paste which is let to rest in various pots for 90 days, so it becomes manure. Following this, the manure is distributed to various farmers in Phaltan, my hometown. We produce about 3.5-4 tonnes of manure every day, and we give all of it away to one farmer each day. This, of course, is given free of cost.”
While the Satara farmers are benefitting massively through this initiative, the PCMC authorities too are very impressed by how Lokhande is impacting their premises.
Speaking to the Times of India, Daulat Shinde, a sanitary inspector with the civic body said, “Due to this noble project, this area could become a model place, which should be visited by the Swachh Survekshan team. It’s a challenging task to process such a huge amount of waste, which saves PCMC lakhs towards the collection, transportation, segregation and processing. It will help us in our mission of being a zero-garbage city.”
Lokhande’s next plan is to make cremation bricks from the wet waste, and he is urging the municipal corporation to adopt this eco-friendly method to curb the use of wood in funeral pyres and reduce the burden on our trees and air.
If you wish to contact Lokhande for his services, you can call him on 96995 38366.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)