Friday, October 10, 2008

Home Composting - An Individual Environmental Responsibility

As urban India is witnessing unprecedented growth, our cities are also confronted with increasing quantities of municipal solid waste across the country. Heaps and mountains of garbage characterise the landscape of urban India. Delhi, the capital city itself is generating around 7000-8000 metric tonnes of mixed municipal solid waste every day and it is estimated that daily waste generation across the country is of the order of 120,000 metric tonnes. This is expected to double by 2015 and quadruple by 2025. Unfortunately the municipalities of large and small cities alike are unable to handle this mounting crisis as they do not have adequate resources to collect, transport, treat and safely dispose of the waste. As a result of systemic limitations, a large part of the waste is not collected and it is found accumulating within residential areas. The other part which is collected and transported is disposed of in open dumps on the outskirts of the towns, along highways, near river banks, etc. Among others, because land is scarce and expensive, municipalities have not been able to construct sanitary landfill sites, and as a result they resort to unscientific methods of disposal. Open disposal of waste is unsafe because it creates breeding grounds for pathogenic bacteria, viruses and other disease vectors which adversely affect public heath. Diseases that can be spread because of poor solid waste management include dysentery, viral and bacterial diarrhoea, gastro-enteritis, typhoid, trachoma, plague, typhus, salmonella, leptospirosis, filariasis, malaria, tapeworm, etc. Open dumps also cause river and groundwater pollution and release odour which lead to severe environmental and psychosomatic health impacts on the surrounding communities. Decaying waste in dumps and more so in the landfills also releases methane - a powerful green house gas, which contributes to global warming. Last but not the least, because open dumps attract scavenging birds, they are a major threat to air traffic as many a times accidents take place when birds hit aircrafts near the airports.

In order to address this growing public health and safety concern, the Foundation for Greentech Environmental Systems has developed an alternate approach which involves motivating urban residents to start exercising their ‘Individual Environmental Responsibility’ by adopting the ‘Earth Friendly Green Hobby’ of ‘Home Composting’ and thereby evolve as concerned ‘Earth Citizens’.

In this approach, the biodegradable kitchen waste (whatever a cow can eat!) from a house is put in the Green Earth Machine (GEMÔ) – an improvised bin of 100-150 litre with plenty of holes for composting which has been developed by the Foundation. A GEMÔ is designed for Indian conditions such that it can absorb 1-2 kg/day of vegetable waste from a typical family on a continuous basis, all round the year. The GEMÔ works on completely natural forces - it requires no energy, chemicals, earthworms or bacterial solutions; it works under aerobic conditions and transforms the waste into a good quality compost.

The art and science of ‘Home Composting’ requires maintaining a balance between vegetable kitchen waste, dry leaves (or waste paper, cartons boxes, etc.), moisture and mixing the contents once a fortnight with a rod or a garden rake. From time to time one can sprinkle garden soil, compost, ash or neem khali (de-oiled cake of neem seeds). First compost will come out in about 3 months and then every month one can take out small quantities. Users can integrate this practice with or cultivate the hobby of gardening and derive joy from doing good for the environment.

For the motivated individuals, this practice represents sacrificial offering to the Mother Earth which one can perform by chanting the mantra “Peace be in the universe, peace be on the Earth, peace be in the water, peace be in the herbs and vegetation and peace be everywhere…” which is normally done on completion of a Hawan. For a municipality, this represents an ultimate form of community participation and decentralised solid waste management which offers reduction in cost of collection, transport, treatment and disposal.

To promote this practice and help clean up our cities, the Foundation for Greentech Environmental Systems has launched a War on Waste, set up a Compost Help Line 011 2697 4941 in Delhi and a created a website Over last 2 years it has enabled about 500 families in Delhi area to adopt this practice which enables returning kitchen waste in a humble manner back to the Earth. In this regard, the Foundation aims to create India Home Compost Network with committed NGOs and municipalities such that more cities and towns can adopt this approach and improve sanitation levels and safeguard public health respectively.


Swarna said...

Was happy to blog on your GEM.
AN, a few weeks ago the Delhi Govt sat on the Plastic bag act (it has a much fancier name). But nothing has come of it. I despair on seeing merry shoppers carry away scores of p.bags everyday. It is ridiculous to say "Delhiites are doing their very best by reusing each bag many and many times over". (see
What can we do about that?

Foundation for Greentech Environmental Systems said...

Hi Swarna,
I fully appreciate your despair, there is so much of rubbish going on in the name of garbage management. Municipalities and their councillors actually look at this as an opportunity for making money becuase measurements and monitoring are very difficult. Likewise, other agenicies are only doing superficial work. With regard to plastic waste, it a very difficult challange because there is a very strong industrial lobby steered by one of the largest industrial houses in the country. I do not see any solution on that front in a forseable future.

By and large, the attitude of the people, the administrators, the regulators, the municipalities is very casual and all cities are rotting with problems of solid waste, poor sanitation and wastewater mis-management. But we as professionals can not despair, we need to keep the faith and positive outlook. Just do our bit, be it home composting, motivating others or planning and designing appropriate solutions.

Best regards
Asit Nema