Size does not matter in solid-waste treatment
Managing waste at home, at least the biodegradable type, will help keep our neighbourhoods and cities clean, says Renu Ramanath
BACKYARD CLEANING: Vermi-compost pots designed by Sahridaya Welfare Services, Vytilla.
A SOLID-WASTE treatment plant in your balcony? Making compost in the kitchen veranda? Any reference to solid-waste treatment and composting need not conjure up images of ugly, smelling heaps of rotting waste.
That chic terracotta jar sitting slickly along your veranda can be a small-scale garbage treatment plant!
And just one sq. m. of land in the tiniest of backyards can house a mini-plant for generating gas needed to cook your food.
No fantasy these. Innovative means of solid-waste treatment in houses have started gaining popularity these days.
Solid-waste disposal has become a burning issue in our cities and even smaller townships. As towns expand into cities and cities graduate into metros, living spaces shrink. Along with it shrinks the natural space for getting rid of waste.
In earlier and much simpler times, solid waste disposal meant nothing more than flinging out the leftover food into your backyard where the wandering hens, cockerels, crows and dogs took care of all that was edible.
All that was decomposable went to fertilize the backyard banana and coconut trees. The leftover gruel and banana peels went to the cow's pitcher.
The dry twigs went to the hearth as fuel, and cow-dung had so many uses that it must have been always in short supply!
The Government and other agencies go on crying hoarse over mega projects and plants for managing solid waste generated in cities, but the surroundings continue to stink and reek.
Large apartment complexes and housing colonies employ personnel to collect garbage from the member-households and dispose of the collected garbage at spots far removed from their own premises.
There are instances of neighbourhood groups taking the initiative to organise small-scale solid-waste disposal plants that employ techniques such as vermi-composting.
At the household level
While such attempts can benefit groups of households, can the individual households do anything to `manage' solid waste?
Yes. Though never an answer to the large-scale waste treatment issue, efficient management at the individual level in households can do much towards reducing the outflow of garbage to public space.
There are many methods for managing garbage at the very point of generation, without allowing it to accumulate and turn toxic.
One popular method that can be used in individual homes is vermi-composting, a technique of using earthworms for converting biodegradable solid waste into manure. This method is suitable for individual houses since it is appropriate for treating smaller quantities of garbage.
"But, we do not have any space," is one common refrain, especially among urban families crunched for space in narrow lots and multi-storey apartment complexes. "Space is not a problem," says Jees Paul, project-in-charge of Social Welfare Services, Ponnurunny, Kochi, which runs a project for solid-waste management in individual homes.
Social Welfare Services, an organisation under the Archdiocese of Varappuzha, offers terracotta jars, which smoothly conceal the earthworms that work upon the daily household garbage turning it into valuable manure.
The smallest of these units, with 2.5 cubic feet capacity, can process up to 40 kg of household waste. Within 30 to 60 days, this can produce about 18 kg to 20 kg of compost. The terracotta jars are supplied with about 100 earthworms and two kg of compost as primary feed for them. This is because the worms should not experience a sudden change from the environment they were used to.
Any kind of waste that does not contain too much salt, chillies or masala can be added to the jar. If the masala content is higher, add more cow dung.
The jars should be placed in trays of water to prevent ants from reaching it. A liquid by-product of the composting process called vermiwash, a highly rich soil nutrient, is also obtained from this.
Similarly, biogas plants are also suitable for individual homes, especially those in semi-urban or rural locations. Biogas plants can process any type of degradable waste. The plants come with biogas burners.
The Ernakulam District Panchayat has initiated a project offering to set up biogas plants in individual households with the assistance of the Biotech Centre for Development of Biogas Technology and Other Conventional Energy Sources, a Thiruvananthapuram-based non-governmental organisation. A nodal agency under the Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy, Biotech has installed more than 3,000 biogas plants all over the State as part of the National Biogas and Manure Management Programme.
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