Kitchen waste powers street lights

Mamallapuram.17.9.12 111The 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.

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Trash-busters @ OMR, Chennai

OMR Greens write-up0001A reader of TOI article – OMR residents go on trash-busting drives – left a comment, asking “Where does the garbage and trash go? How do you transport it ?”   Philo Stalwin,  a resident of Kelambakkam, provides the answer:  In a mail to  OMR Greens   Stalwin says the garbage that the local panchayat collects from households and streets is dumped in make-shift landfill  by the side of  a lake  behind the Puravankara residential complex that is under construction. The trash heap is set on fire ,  every other night, burning the dump to make space for more garbage.

Trash that is burnt,  unsorted,  may include used tyre,  plastics,  spent battery,  expired medicine , and substances generating toxic fume that spread in the wind in populated neigbourhoods.  Isn’t it time people living in emerging high-rise buildings took congnizance of this smouldering health hazard ?

Skeptics ask  OMR Greens,  ‘what is the big deal in trash-busting  when garbage gets dumped at the same spot the day after it is done’?  Trash-busting is not a waste disposal solution,  but a token initiative by a community group,  to create public awareness  that waste disposal problem  can only get worse, and eventually,  unmanageable,   if we continue to  ignore it.  And   a solution has to be sought with community participation.

OMR Greens is for  a cluster approach to creating infrastructure,  for effective waste and sewage disposal. Government and civic bodies never allocate adequate funds .  Trash-busting is our ways of mobilizing support for setting up area-specific,  locality-wise waste-to-energy plant.  It is  a residents  initiative to bring together,  neighbourhood people,  panchayat, and property developers , as joint stakeholders  in creating and sustaining  social assets such as  waste-to-energy plants,  sewage-free neighbourhood lakes,  community tree-planting in public space.

Hand-in-Hand,   an NGO runs  Mamallapuram waste-to-energy unit  fed on kitchen waste collected from households,  restaurants, and hotels.  They generate energy enough to light their 3-acre unit,  and also the street that leads from the plant to ECR. The land for the waste conversion unit has been given by the local panchayat. The Mamallapuram waste-to-energy plant is located on land that was used as a trash dump by the civic authorities.

Kelambakkam panchayat can learn a lesson here.   What they can do :

1) Set aside ,  for waste-energy conversion plant,   a part of the land that is now used for dumping and burning trash;

2) Seek guidance of  NGO – Hand-in-Hand, Exnora  IndrakumarVivekananda Kendra  –  to prepare a project proposal, and costs estimate.

3) Convene a ‘town-hall’ public hearing,  to share with residents  project details,  and proposal for a monthly waste-disposal charges  (like OMR Expressway toll)  to be  collected from residents,  shops, eating houses and corporates located in the panchayat area; and

4) Levy social infrastructure fee on property developers, in proportion to the scale, size and the number of apartments.