It’s sad that the Indian government still (and now with renewed vigour under Swachh Bharat) goes on about the idea of Waste-to-Energy – technology entirely unsuitable to our conditions.
“The fundamental reason (for the inefficiency of these plants) is the quality and composition of waste. MSW (municipal solid waste) in India has low calorific value and high moisture content. As most wastes sent to the WTE plants are unsegregated, they also have high inert content. These wastes are just not suitable for burning in these plants. To burn them, additional fuel is required which makes these plants expensive to run,” said Swati Singh Sambyal, author of the report and researcher on waste management, at the CSE.
Source: Wasted effort: half of India’s waste-to-energy plants defunct – The Hindu
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?
Mondays are garbage collection days on my street in Brussels and they are also a good day to think about sustainable practices for the coming week. Garbage in Brussels is collected in 3 differently coloured plastic bags (actually 4 but one is only for organic waste from household gardens). The three bags separates plastic packaging (blue), paper and cardboard (yellow) and all other waste (white). There’s a fine that can be imposed for sorting stuff incorrectly – however my street seems not to have bothered much about the potential for a fine, the street is usually only filled with white bags…
This illustrates one of the problems with sorting at source – that it can be hard to get the general population to sort out their garbage properly. My hometown of Södertälje achieved over 90% of recycling (that is only 10% going to landfill) by using a system with only two bags – green for organic and any other bag for other stuff. The system uses infrared light to sort out green from other bags and then a mix of automatic (vibrating drums, eddy currents
and the like) and manual (people) sorting to separate the “other” material. Companies like Wastetec
in the UK hopes this is the solution to UKs horrible recycling record
If you like me, think waste management is more exciting than football
, then a nice overview
can be had over at BBC and a google on “solid waste management
” brings up a lot of interesting articles, mostly related to projects in developed countries. For the full developing country perspective – World Bank has a lot of resources