Building a compost plant, part 1

This is part 1 in series that I’m assuming will be extended with a couple of more entries as the next month goes by. As I’ve said previously, I’m currently in Bokaro Steel City, working together with my CEO on consulting a local NGO on building a compost plant.


Building a compost plant isn’t as easy as it might seem. First of all there are a number of questions that need to be answered – how many tons of waste per day should it handle? what is the organic content (vs. recyclables and other materials) of the waste? where do we have the land to build one? what kind of support do we have from the municipality? what are the funds available to build it? how should the design of the plant be to ensure best efficiency / lowest cost? what building materials to use? And so on and so on.


After a bit more than a week of work (albeit at a not too high pace – I’ll blog about Indian time-keeping shortly!), we’re now coming as far as that we have all the contractors in place, the land, the money and the design of the plant done, and the leveling of the ground has got underway. The plant will be built on a site next to the general dumpsite, which means that we don’t need to worry about any neighbors complaining (in case they’re not bothered by the dump site – I’m sure they won’t mind a composting site) and that space is ample.


Some tricky things we bumped into during the construction phase were trying to figure out a good design of the plant (none of us being construction engineers), finding the right materials and eventually getting the budget to be slim enough to fit our NGO partner.


Personally, I found one situation especially challenging. In India, one of the most commonly used materials for roofing is cement laden with asbestos. Asbestos cement is highly toxic, but very durable, fire-retardant and quite cheap. It’s by now forbidden in over 50 countries and would probably have been put on an international list of restricted materials were it not for Canada’s financial interest in asbestos mining. For the project – the most economic and simple option would be asbestos. Pragmatically, you could argue “this is not going to be the place where the workers are exposed to the most asbestos throughout their lives, and it’s an open area so there’s not going to be greatly increased exposure for the operators of the plants”. Arguing based on principle you would say “working with a sustainable venture means not creating built in risks that will be exposed when the asbestos eventually degrades and might create health problems as far as 20-30 years from now, the only way to stop asbestos from being used is not to buy it”.


I think I’m getting my position pretty clear by now – what’s yours?

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