The Mamallapuram branch of Adyar Ananda Bhavan generates 30 kg. kitchen waste a day. A seaside resort across the East Coast Road accounts for 10 times more of food waste. There are 700 odd eateries in this tourist town. Till about five years back, food waste from Mamallapuram restaurants and hotels wound up at the municipal landfill.
And then, came a bio-gas plant that converts kitchen waste into electricity. I don’t know who made the first move, but Vivekananda Kendra - a Kanyakumari based NGO - designed and set up this plant, on a reclaimed patch of the municipal garbage dump yard. The waste-to-energy plant is run by another NGO – Hand-in-Hand.
Mr M Raja of Hand-in-Hand who conducted us around the plant - a group of OMR Greens members from Padur - explained at length the waste-to-energy conversion process, from door-step collection of food waste to transmission of the converted electricity that powered 25 street lights. Over 40 waste collectors are engaged; and their remunaration is covered by the collection charges paid by the eating houses. A minimum levy for kitchen waste collection is Rs.50 a month and the chrages vary in accordance with the quantum of food waste collection.
The Mamamallapuram waste-to-energy plant is a collective enterprise, of several stakeholders. The plant, designed by an NGO, and located on panchayat land, is run by another NGO, with monthly contributions by eateries. The 10 kilowatts generator running on bio-gas produced by Kirloskars, costing Rs.20 lakhs (at the 2008 price level), is a donation from Sweden. Under the renewable energy programme the town panchayat is eligible to Rs.4 lakh subsidy.
Mr Raja, so knowledgeable on so many aspects, couldn’t, however, tell us the one thing we needed to know - the unit cost for producing power from kitchen waste. OMR Greens would want to sell this waste-t0-energy proposal to Padur panchayat and other stakeholders. Ideally, there should be a waste-to-energy unit for every panchayat and in setting it up all stakeholders in the neighbourhood need to be involved - residents, other individuals and institutions generating waste, property developers responsible for mushrooming residential high-rises , and the panchayat.
A bio-gas plant developed by Bhaba Atomic Research Centre (BARC) lends itself to decentralized waste disposal system. For a plant with capacity to process one tonne waste daily requires no more than 300 sq.ft. of land. And a tonne of bio-degradeable waste can produce 25-30 kg. of methane, about 150 kg. carbon dioxide and nearly 60 kg of organic manure. Besides kitchen and veg. market wastes, and those generated in abattoirs, the BARC bio-gas model can take in even hazardous biological sludge.
The plant, they say can be operated by unskilled workers such as rag-picker Ramesh and his folks at Padur . All they require is one-month training.