Friday, May 29, 2009

Experiements of Vijayawada in MSW treatment

Vijayawada, a medium size town in Andhra Pradesh in South India has come full circle. About 10 years back it started with a large scale compost plant of 300 MT/day, then about 5 years down the line it set up an RDF plant of 500 MT/day for power generation (WTE), and subsequently with GEF funding it set up a small biogas plant of 20 MT/day. As of March 2009, the status is that the compost plant operator has closed the shop due to poor sales, low realisation and mounting losses. The RDF plant is operating only at 20% of the rated capacity, the operator is incurring major losses, and the biogas plant has come to a stand still. While the biogas plant is pretty well designed and it has been producing fairly regular quantity of gas, this time the problem has occured in the gas engine section. A critical engine part is not available in the local market and neither the overseas supplier is in a position to provide a replacement. As a result the cumulative investments in mixed municipal solid waste treatment to the extent of about Rs. 550 million have come to be classified as 'non-performing assets' and the urban local body is back to the old practice of disposal in 'low lying areas' - which is simply put 'open dumping' of waste as well as open burning of waste (see the pictures). Unfortunately the overall scheme did not consider provision of a sanitary landfill site as the foundation for an effective and sustainable treatment and disposal model. There are major lessons to be learnt from this experience. First lesson is that MSW treatment plants can not pay for themselves - they need to be adequately supported by urban local bodies with appropriate fiscale and financial incentives if they are to be operated by a private service provider sustainably. Second, they are strongly under the influence of the Second Law of Thermodynamics as well as under the Murphy's Law. As per the former - its the entropy that rules the world of municipal solid waste management and as per the latter - if any thing that can go wrong will go wrong any time, not just at the worst possible moment !

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