Richness of Waste

3 problems - 1 answer

Sujata Devadas, October 06, 2019

The unforgettable logo ‘Wealth From Waste’ is emblazoned on Kunnamkulam municipality’s product package, sold from what was once its landfill or dump yard at Kurukkampara - proof of managing green waste generated in bulk quantities from commercial space, shops and cafes.

Towering 15 feet


As Kerala Municipality Act made amendments in Ordinance No.52, 2011 (section 334A) detailing responsibilities of bulk waste generators to segregate and dispose it off judiciously, Kunnamkulam municipality had already discussed it with Integrated Rural Technology Centre(IRTC).

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After the agreement for a Solid Waste Management Plant was signed, work to construct a shed began on their 5-acre dump yard in 2010, a landfill area with 5 trenches - each trench a 100 metres long, 15 metres wide and 20 feet deep - holding stinking dumped waste that rose to the height of 15 feet attracting dogs, rodents, birds and cattle, impelling local residents to move out.Protests and bureaucratic delays dragged completion of the shed’s construction to 2013.


Propelling first initiative


Consistent progress began after the local municipality election in October 2015. Testing a 1 tonne green waste composting model got great support but was still shackled by resistance. On July 06th Ramadan, gates to the dump yard closed. It opened again on July 08. The stench of TWO DAYS WASTE outside the gate, reeked across the area, fuelling public outrage.


From left to right: IRTC Secretary Manoj Kumar V, Seetha Ravindran, Jean Bonhatol, Head of Waste Management Institute Cornell University, uniformed Kudumbashree worker, Dr.Joshy V Cherian 

In minutes, Municipality Chairperson Seetha Ravindran reached there to address the protestors.

In front of them, she directed the waste to be mixed with coir pith and composting inoculum. In 10 minutes, the foul odour disappeared. Amazed protestors became silent. Seetha invited them to monitor this bio waste management model for 1 month. They accepted. In spite of resistance from other quarters, this composting system designed and developed by environmental microbiologist Dr.Joshy V Cherian, founder and MD of Omega Ecotech Products India, recommended by IRTC began in right earnest as the first such initiative by a municipality in Kerala on October 06, 2016. Whetted by public monitoring, it got approval on January 28th, 2017 and continues to operate to this day.

Earning from upcycled waste

IRTC Secretary and State level Coordinator Manoj Kumar V. details how “Kudumbashree Self Help women’s collective efforts are pivotal. 2 different batches - SevanaShree and Aishwarya - collect green waste from commercial units in their own vehicle and charge those businesses for this service.

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Another Kudumbashree section, Samata  group of 6 micro entrepreneurs - Sheeba Shaijan, Sheeba Subramanyan, Mini Varghese, Rama, Emily and Shirley - purchase and add activated aerobic composting medium containing coir pith for moisture regulation and biological inoculum to this green waste delivered to the dump yard. This mix is shredded to smaller particles increasing the surface area for composting. This manure is sieved when composting is complete, Trichoderma, Pseudomonas and Vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhiza (VAM) enrichment microbes added before packing it for sale. Samata group women earn through the sale of this bio-fertiliser.”


Municipality gives the area for the composting work and financial aid through IRTC to Samata, Rs.0.65/-(paise) per kilo for operation & maintenance. Since the technology is IRTC recommendation, they monitors its proper use.

Leading others


Lush green proof of success is the plantain crop grown over half an acre (50 cents) at Kurukkampara municipality premise. There are seasonal variations in compost sale. At times, demand exceeds supply. Composting expanded in July this year to include non-vegetarian food waste inching Kunnamkulam towards ‘greener’ environs. A second shed, same size as the first (6370 ft2 ) will be built to take in the additional waste. Businesses who do not choose this service, must dispose green waste ecologically or face penalty.


Great implementation spurred Guruvayur and North Parur to use Kunnamkulam’s method for processing bulk green waste from commercial spaces. Kalpetta, Erattupetta and Kollankode bordering the neighbouring Tamil Nadu state are commissioning it. Restaurants like Ciclo Cafe in Tamil Nadu’s capital Chennai have adopted this technology of composting with Namma Ooru Foundation’s assistance.


“A brilliant solution. No one is paying attention” can no longer be said.


The financial sink


Composting is a good easy solution, but collecting and carrying tonnes of waste to a large enough space for processing inflates management, transportation and storage cost. Neglect causes suffering. That is the penalty.


The economic wisdom of decentralisation has civic administrations across the world expound ‘the waste you generate is your responsibility’. This education was not imparted earlier. It begins now.


Collapsed projects


Tough lessons came from Kerala’s pilot project in home composting at its capital Trivandrum. It failed in 80% of 2000 homes participating in the project when rats gnawed through the low budget ventilated bags placed in laundry baskets. Aleppey failed in its Ward level community composting venture because apathetic families dumped bags of unsegregated waste at the the composting centre’s gates before the gates opened or did sloppy haphazard segregation. The absence of civic ethics drove the inability of efficient public composting home.


Aleppey’s effort collapsed in 5 months primarily due to uninformed, unmotivated apathetic residents and employees.


Do it yourself

Value of neighbourhood harmony compels households to compost their own food waste properly if it is done at their own residence. Kunnamkulam municipality is promoting families to use 3-tier air composting buckets, odour-free and hassle-free with no maggots, no leaching, approved by the state government.

“Roughly 1 kilo food waste is generated by a nuclear family each day” Dr. Joshy explains. “400 grams composting medium can turn it into bio fertiliser. Fresh waste is in the top bucket. Composting it generates hot air that goes out through a slitted lid. These buckets are perforated allowing fresh air inside. Two buckets under the top bucket contain material composting at various degrees. That keeps rodents away.”


“Composting happens in 60° to 65° Celsius temperature. 56°C to 60°C sanitation temperature for 72 hours destroys unwanted microbes like Salmonella and E. coli. It kills weeds by inactivating them.”


Spreading benign technology

Composting spread to peeling sheds that process marine fish and to several other agro industries that comply with strict environmental statute enforcement. ‘Fishlizer’ is the peeling shed waste manure sold at Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK), Kochi division. It has given better returns than chemical fertilisers. 


Tonnes of compost from prawn peels - eco-friendly volunteers make it in Kayamkulam each month. A vendor owning 30 shops in Pala composts 100 kilos fish waste at each shop daily. Gelatine is made with Ossein protein extracted from foul smelling sludge. The sludge residue is composted by Nitta Gelatin India Ltd. at Koratti. Bingo chips manufacturers compost 2 tons waste daily from peels, rotten potato and waste chips at Thekkalur, near Coimbatore.

Quail farms are keen to upcycle foul smelling litter into odour-free compost. Discussions with hatcheries and egg processing units for composting continue.  


One good answer


Composting is one good answer tying up waste management, poor soil and unemployment, all three problems. Food is carbon based. Carbon’s non-conductive character makes soil healthier by preventing soil temperature from shooting up to extreme levels in hot climates or dive drastically down during freezing winters.


Such soil enrichment also holds water better, limiting irrigation requirement. Like all aerobic organisms, plants require air and water in the soil. Some plants tolerate drought, some are okay with water-logging, but all plants look for optimum air-water balance for best performance. Optimising that balance prevents soil erosion.


Cooperating with nature enhances nature’s ingenuity. 

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Kudumbashree women: daily effort for a cleaner greener Kunnamkulam

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