December 10: What belongs to Nature must be given back to it, is what guided me as I decided to wade right into helping manage waste, specially the biodegradable kind that has been neglected for too long. As the first woman entrepreneur in Gujarat to have ventured into solid biodegradable waste management, I consider my work as both a contribution to societal well-being as well as a spiritual journey.
If we are a nation that considers the cow as a holy animal, surely we need to do more to prevent cows from eating plastic bags because of the organic waste we discard so callously. In fact, this has been a major trigger for this venture. Besides, merely picking up a broom and sweeping the streets under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is nowhere near enough. Instead, it is about providing an end-to-end solution to what must be done after waste reaches the dustbins. Segregation at source, awareness about what is recyclable and what is not, emphasis on zero-waste campuses and areas can only make the Clean India Mission a success.
Unfortunately, however, waste management is confined to an emphasis on collection and transportation in the country rather than on treatment and safe disposal. The prevailing political climate has encouraged transport contractors rather than the operators and manufacturers of equipment for the scientific treatment of solid waste, in particular. From this we can infer that the politico-economic climate has not been conducive for start-ups, PPPs and licensed operators in the field of the solid waste management industry.
The focus of my venture WastePro has been on decentralisation of biodegradable waste management. I set up projects in both small and large spaces like factories, industrial units, hotels, resorts and households, by utilising a small area to set up a greening zone and training personnel and labour – thus converting canteen food waste, garden waste and stationery (paper) waste into organic compost and vermicompost. This set-up prevents garden waste from being burnt and pares down the costs of transportation for the dumping of such waste in an unorganised open landfill.
Routinely-generated biodegradables are prevented from reaching a dump site, while making clients self-sufficient in their yearly requirement of fertilizers for landscaping. The addition of organic compost replaces the use of artificial fertilizers that spoil the top soil and fertility in the long run. Using vermicompost for golf courses, for example, can save acres of land that may not respond to urea and other synthetic fertilizers after a span of 15 years.
An average household of four members can easily generate 7-10 kgs of compost from kitchen waste, including food leftovers. This can also be sold for Rs. 10/kg to neighbouring residents, gardens and nurseries, among others. Much like selling old newspapers, used milk bags or oil tins to the kabadiwallah to get some money back each month, organic waste can also fetch or save you both money and effort put into buying fertilizers from a nursery. Such a decentralised approach or projects also reduce the carbon footprint of an organisation and help it get better ratings from the concerned state pollution control board for adopting best practices in waste management and, in many cases, ISO standards can also be met for waste reduction and reuse.
A major problem of manufacturing companies using wood as a fuel for boilers or furnaces is also resolved by adopting the composting of waste. Wood ash – the residue left over after wood is burnt – is used as an amendment to the composting process, thus providing a permanent solution for such forms of residual waste.
With the magnitude of the waste menace in urban areas worsening, it sometimes feels good to know that the old practices of giving away food leftovers to the needy and offering organics like fruit and vegetable waste to cows and other animals who wander on our streets, is still practical.