Clean it like Pune

Written by Isher Judge Ahluwalia | Updated: Oct 31 2012, 06:18am hrs
Punes range of solutions for managing waste range from the most traditional to the most modern and scientific, and are already resulting in saving money for the municipalityand thats without even accounting for the carbon credits

Pune, the second-largest city in Maharashtra after Mumbai, offers a shining example of what a city can do to manage the growing menace of garbage as it urbanises at a rapid pace. Widely known as the cultural capital of Maharashtra, Pune is also called Oxford of the East because of its many fine educational institutions, attracting migrants and students from all over India and abroad. The city has always been an important commercial centre of Maharashtra, but the rapid growth of industry in the Pune district, particularly the concentration of IT companies and of automotives and auto-components, has added a modern flavour to its development.

Growing numbers and rising prosperity has meant that not only is the quantity of solid waste growingPune generates 1,400 metric tonnes of solid waste per daybut its composition is also changing with more plastics and non-biodegradable elements to reflect the changing patterns of consumption of the growing middle classes.

The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has been trying a range of solutions from the most traditional and informal to the most modern and scientific, converting waste to energy with state-of-the-art environment-friendly technology and developing scientific landfills for depositing the much reduced garbage that cannot be reused. Rag-pickers cooperatives are participating in the clean-up as much as the corporate sector with the latest technology.

Pune was no different from other Indian cities in having piles of waste on street corners and overflowing community bins which were rummaged by rag-pickers to seek out a living from selling the recyclable bits. Garbage used to slowly find its way from the bins to transfer stations and was finally transported to the dumpsite 22 km away at Urali to rot.

Things began to change in the 1990s much before the government of India notified the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules in 2000 for all Indian cities. The inspiration for change came from Poornima Chikarmane and Laxmi Narayan, two lecturers at the SNDT University in Pune who urged city residents to segregate wet and dry waste so that the scavengers did not have to sift through the garbage looking for what they could sell. Their efforts led to the setting up of the Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP) in 1993, a trade union of waste-pickers. The municipal corporations of Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad started issuing photo ID cards to rag-pickers, which allowed them to scavenge, reducing the scope for police brutality.

When the PMC set out to develop an integrated strategy to comply with the SWM Rules of 2000, they found the arrangement with the rag-pickers as well as the habit of segregating dry waste from wet waste on the part of households very handy. In 2007, the PMC and the KKPKP jointly promoted the creation of SWaCH, a cooperative of waste-pickers and other urban poor, using their members to provide door-to-door collection services for households, shops, offices, etc. Those not covered by door-to-door collection, were required to use containers and compactor buckets as prescribed by the PMC.

SWaCH members are authorised to collect service-based user fee. They work in pairs covering 250-300 households for segregated waste collection, further segregating the recyclables and dropping the non-recyclable waste at feeder points. From there, the waste is collected by Ghanta trucks. Altogether, they collect more than 600 tonnes of solid waste per day; in addition, about 10 tonnes is composted and 150 tonnes is recycled by them in spaces provided by the housing societies themselves.

The PMC has agreed to pay R8.6 crore for the administrative and management cost of operations if the collection coverage is 100%, under a five-year MoU. So far, 35% of the households have door-to-door coverage, and the PMC has paid R3 crore towards administration costs and R70 lakh for uniforms, gloves, badges, wheelbarrows, buckets and sorting sheds, to improve the working conditions of the rag-pickers. On the other hand, the PMC saves on handling cost (estimated at R12 crore per annum) and the cost of transportation of the waste to the landfill.

Another very important initiative of the PMC is the Zero Garbage project in Katraj, the largest ward in Pune. Launched in February 2011, this was a collective effort of Janwani, an NGO, Cummins India, and SWaCH, who came together to provide the model, the financing and manpower. The result is that only two tonnes of waste is sent per day to the landfill site, compared with 10 tonnes per day earlier. The PMC is determined to scale up this initiative.

A pioneering initiative of the PMC has been to set up 14 biomethanation-cum-power generation (BCPG) plants, mostly of 5 tpd capacity. The technologies were selected on the basis of competitive bidding and O&M contracts for five years were granted to the different parties which brought in the technology. Transporting wet waste to them is the responsibility of the PMC. These plants treat organic waste in a decentralised and environment-friendly manner. Given the collection efficiency of 80-90%, of which 45% is segregated waste, the PMC has allotted separate vehicles for the collection of wet waste, which comes to about 300-350 tonnes per day. For each BCPG plant, the PMC provides 600 sq metres of land, 5,000 litres of water and electricity connection at site (both water and electricity free of cost).

The waste is treated in two-stage biomethanation process by using closed vessels where, in the absence of oxygen, micro-organisms break down the organic matter into a stable residue, and generate a methane-rich biogas in the process. This gas can then be used as a source of renewable energy to produce electricity (net surplus after own requirement) of 400 kWh per day, which is being used for street lights in the surrounding area. The solid residue is used as manure, and the aqueous liquor is a nutrient-rich fertiliser which can be used to recycle nutrients back to agricultural land.

As Mahesh Pathak, municipal commissioner of Pune, put it, Besides the income of R1 crore resulting from savings in electricity and from the sale of manure from the 11 plants, the saving on the cost of transportation and dumping is R80 lakh. The environmental saving because of the reduced transportation of the waste, is an added bonus.

From June 1, 2010, the PMC has stopped open dumping, and the total waste generated is processed scientifically. Hanjer Biotech is operating a processing plant of 1,000 tpd of mixed waste producing RDF, manure and fuel at the old dumping site at Urali and Fursungi. The company has constructed a scientific landfill to dispose the inert waste (about 20%).

At the high end of the technology spectrum is the non-incineration based thermal waste to energy plant set up in a PPP model in the Ramtekdi Industrial Area. The investment of R140 crore was made by the private company, Rochem Separation Systems India Pvt Ltd, based on the patented Concord Blue gasification technology on the 2.5 acre land provided by the PMC on a lease-rental basis. This state-of-the-art technology, for which the patent is held by Prayas Goel, Managing Director of Concord Blue, processes unsegregated waste to produce energy, fulfilling the requirements of the EPA and European standards with regard to emissions.

The syngas (synthesised gas) is produced from unsegregated waste, which is a combination of biodegradable and non-biodegradable components by a thermal process of heating in complete absence of oxygen followed by reformation of the produced gas, which leads to a clean hydrogen rich gas that can be utilised for power generation (currently operational in the said facility). Unlike biogas which is produced from a biological activity of bacteria breaking down only the biodegradable component of the waste, syngas is produced from a thermal process and hence is a solution for the complete spectrum of solid waste sans inerts. Also, syngas is rich in hydrogen, making it one of the cleanest fuels, unlike biogas which constitutes about 50% methane.

With the increment in the quantum of plastics in our lifestyle, we need an environmentally friendly solution for its disposal. Owing to its non-biodegradable nature, plastics cannot be landfilled. Incinerating plastics without expensive control equipment gives rise to dioxins and furans from the PVC component of plastics which are carcinogenic in nature and hence extremely harmful to all living beings. The Concord Blue technology, owing to its non-incineration platform, converts solid waste into gas without production of dioxin and furans over the permissible limit.

The PMC is committed to transporting 700 tonnes of unsegregated waste for 30 years, and the company has to process the waste on the same day. The PMC has to pay a processing fee of R300 per tonne of waste, and the company is free to sell the power to appropriate third-party buyers. The carbon credits when realised will be shared equally by the two.

With 28 surrounding villages added to its jurisdiction only last week, Punes population has increased from 39 lakh to 50 lakh and the area under the jurisdiction of the PMC has expanded from 244 sq km to 430 sq km. The challenge of solid waste management and disposal is that much greater. The vision shown by the PMC in garnering the support of important stakeholders from among city residents is the key to preparing for the future.

The author is chairperson of ICRIER and former chairperson of the high-powered expert committee on urban infrastructure services