Get involved in YOUR city and locality - Improve Your World
Get involved in YOUR city and locality - Improve Your World
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Mrs Almitra H Patel, MS MIT USA , Member, Supreme Court Committee for Solid Waste Management, 50 Kothnur, Bagalur Road , Bangalore 560077.

Every town and city can improve its existing dumps and manage its city waste hygienically and sustainably, starting today, at minimal start-up cost.   

There are three different stages of waste management.  Firstly, city waste needs to be sanitised ( a process of controlled decomposition that makes the waste free of smell, flies, smoke or fires, and producing minimum leachate that can pollute ground-water).  This obligatory duty must and should be done immediately, without waiting for fancy solutions or expecting any income from waste treatment.   In small towns, this can be done by sprinkling each day’s heaps of fresh waste with a 5% solution of fresh cowdung in water plus preferably 5 kg per ton of rock phosphate powder.  Today there are many many biocultures available which can do the same job of starting eco-friendly decomposition more conveniently : fermentation cultures like EM which require no turning of the waste, aerobic cultures like those of Excel Industries and Eco-save, and those like BTM from Earthcrop which can treat both solid waste as well as septic tanks and polluted water.  Sanitising costs are low and are more than paid for by savings in health-care costs to both cities and citizens.  

As a second step, the stabilized waste can be sold as compost after sieving to remove plastics and unwanted items.  Sieving is currently the major cost in compost production and will remain so until cities improve their collection of biodegradable waste free of recyclables, debris and road dust.  This makes compost hard to sell for two reasons.  Firstly, the price seems too high to farmers, even though one ton of compost can give the same results as 4-5 tons of traditional farmyard manure and, being weed-free, saves labour as well.  Secondly, farmers fear they may be paying for just dust and soil instead of useful microbes and water-holding humus content.  Once farmers have tried city compost, replacing part of their chemical fertilizer cost with at least 0.5 ton per acre of city compost, yields clearly improve, and stay improved over time.   

Finally, like our century-old grass farms for sewage treatment, the ultimate aim of  waste management is to turn waste back into food.  The stabilized garbage after sieving can be moved to farms or gardens for use.  Or, unsieved sanitized waste can be spread over part of the former dumpsite, as at Dhapa in Calcutta , and used to grow low-cost produce on-site for the city. In order of preference, one should grow flowers or non-edible crops, or things that can be peeled before eating, such as bananas, maize, pumpkins etc rather than hard-to-wash vegetables like cauliflower or greens.    

This is called Urban Agriculture, and is lowering the cost of produce for the poor in 30-40 developing countries and even for charities in developed countries.  Urban Agriculture also helps to keep down the dust at disposal sites and prevents their illegal encroachment by shanties.`  

In India , one must avoid arrangements that can confer tenancy or cultivator rights on hard-to-get public lands for waste management. This conference can debate possible options, such as allotting plots for cultivation by rag-picker cooperatives, perhaps on rotation basis.  

For rapid progress and quick results, some immediate policy decisions are absolutely necessary:  

>>   No municipality should expect or demand payment from private waste managers.  They should rather be encouraged to earn profits so as to sustainably do an eco-friendly job of  what is basically the obligatory duty of the city administration.  Lease rents for space should be a minimal Re 1 per acre or per sq meter per year, payable in compost or produce, not in cash.  

>>  Tender-free systems should be put in place for purchase of composting biocultures.  AILSG can take the lead in putting the half-dozen city-tested ones on their approved product list for purchase in Maharashtra . Experienced and reputed organizations in the field of  testing, compost and agriculture like CESE, KVIC Wardha can be asked to help evaluate the effectiveness of  such biocultures for the guidance of purchasers, for whom ultimately successful results are the best test. BIS is apparently working on standards.  

>> If composting or vermi-composting (an alternative to sieving of stabilized waste) is the chosen option for a city’s wastes, that effort must be encouraged by purchase of the end-product by the city.  There should be a minimum and maximum purchase price established, say Rs 1200-1500 per ton, and a minimum guaranteed monthly purchase quantity equal to at least one-day’s waste-production in cubic meters.  Payment for this should be through bank against acknowledgement of supply.  

>>  Waste-processors should be given preference in collecting biodegradable market and hotel wastes if they so desire, on the same terms as those negotiated for other contract transporters, without the need for separate tender procedures.  

>>  Decentralised waste-processors who undertake on-site waste-processing that saves transport, stabilizing and landfilling costs to a municipality, should be paid at least 70-80% of such avoided costs, so as to have a win-win situation for both the city and the cooperating residents or entrepreneurs.  

>>  Finally, first and last, waste minisation at source should be the goal of every town and city.  This can be achieved by requiring users of above-average open spaces, like golf courses, racecourses and clubs, large hotels or halls, colleges, housing estates etc to become zero-garbage campuses, or alternatively to pay polluter-pays fees for trade wastes and wastes generated in the course of their activities.

It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. --Charles Dudley Warner