Wonders with waste: A Kanpur success story

Written by Isher Judge Ahluwalia | Updated: Jul 25 2012, 06:26am hrs
How public private partnership is working to convert waste to wealth

We Indians have got so used to seeing garbage spilling over from municipal dustbins at street corners and often even strewn around in open public spaces, that we accept this phenomenon as inevitable. We look the other way with what seems like futile hope that some day, someone will find a solution to our problem and rid us of this major health hazard of urban living in India.

The integrated solid waste management project in Kanpur offers hope. Located on the western bank of the Ganga, Kanpur is an important industrial city of Uttar Pradesh, the largest state of India. With a population of 36 lakh (3.6 million) and a total area of 260 sq km, the city is divided into 110 Municipal Wards. Kanpur has been home to textiles, leather, fertilisers and arms manufacturing, each with its capacity to pollute.

The state of solid waste management in Kanpur was no different from most other Indian cities until only a few years ago. Kanpur Nagar Nigam (KNN) had the responsibility for collecting, transporting and disposing of the solid waste generated in the city, estimated at about 1,500 tonnes per day. There were numerous collection centres in the city, more than 400 of which were open dumps. A fleet of 132 vehicles and 3,000 safai karmacharis were supposed to collect and transport the city garbage and dump it at an authorised site a few kilometres away from the city. This they did at an annual cost of R42 crore, which has now come down to about half. Scientific disposal of the garbage was not even contemplated. The collection and transportation activity was financed out of grants from the State Finance Commission. A community of rag-pickers was involved in removing recyclable waste from the waste chain.

It is worth recalling that it was only in 2000 that the Government of India, exercising its powers under the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986, notified the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules. The Supreme Court played an important role in nudging the Government of India to act in this area, which is otherwise the responsibility of the States. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) launched by the Government of India in 2005 further focused attention on the need to improve public service delivery in urban areas in general and solid waste management in particular and provided funds to support such activity.

Seizing this opportunity, KNN and the government of Uttar Pradesh worked together to experiment with public private partnership in transforming the system of solid waste management in the city.

On a recent visit to Kanpur, I was pleasantly surprised to find hardly any garbage on the streets. I visited what earlier were garbage collection centres in Shastri Nagar and near MG college, Civil Lines. These have now been converted into parks with the help of the local community. One of the largest dhalaos (open, temporary dumpsite) has not only been converted into a park but has also become a public space for the expression of art; 11 art enthusiasts have made beautiful paintings on a wall that once stood as testimony to public apathy towards urban hygiene. Yet another garbage collection centre has been converted into a Ward office.

How did this happen In June 2008, KNN gave a BOOT (build, own, operate, transfer) contract for processing and disposing of solid waste to A2Z Infrastructure, a private company that was selected through a process of competitive bidding. Land (46 acres) was given free on a long lease of 30 years for the project. The plant with capacity to process 1,500 tonnes of solid waste per day was set up with a tipping platform, a pre-segregation unit, a composting unit, a refuse-derived fuel (RDF) unit, a plastic segregating unit, a briquette manufacturing unit, and a secured landfill in place.

Of the total project cost of R110 crore, R56.6 crore came from JNNURM and the rest from the private partner. Subsequently, the contract for collection and transportation was given to the same company, once again through a competitive bidding process. This created conditions in which the waste collection and transportation activities could be integrated with waste processing and its scientific disposal, with possibilities for revenue generation.

Door-to-door collection of garbage is being done in bins attached to rickshaws by safai mitras using hand gloves and protective masks. The garbage is directly unloaded into refuse compactor trucks of varying capacity, which can typically take the load of 40-50 bins. This way, the garbage is compressed while being transported and more of it can be accommodated in the vehicle. There are still a few dumpsites on the streets, but they are on their way out. Each transport vehicle is equipped with GPS and every incidence of the compactor halt to collect garbage is monitored and recorded. This minimises the scope for deception and discourages fuel theft.

Monthly user charges have been set by KNN in the range of R30-50 for households, R1,000-6,000 for industry and R15 for the urban poor. These are collected by A2Z on behalf of KNN, and the monthly collection at present is R0.75 crore. To sensitise people to the benefits of door-to-door collection, there was no charge in the first three months. Mr Vikram Singh, former Municipal Commissioner of Kanpur and the promoter of this partnership says, There is scope to recover up to R1.5 crore from user charge collection. And rag-pickers have been given the opportunity of starting a new life. As Rajneesh Mehra of A2Z told me, Some of the former rag-pickers (130, to be precise) now earn a regular salary as safai mitras, sport a bank ATM card, enjoy social security and health benefits, and their young kids have started going to schools. We plan to employ many more.

The garbage is taken to a central site where it is sorted, segregated and transformed into a number of products of value, such as premium quality compost, RDF, and interlocking tiles from construction debris for use in footpath paving. After selling off some other recyclable material, very little (less than 2% or so) remains to be deposited in the landfill. The landfill which was expected to fill up in 7 years may actually take much longer thanks to the success in reusing most of the waste.

The Kanpur Waste Management Plant is the largest producer of compost from organic waste; about 50% of the waste collected from Kanpur is biodegradable. The quality of the compost is enhanced by scientific inputs coming from the R&D lab at the plant. The premium quality organic fertiliser is sold through fertiliser marketing companies like KRIBHCO, IPL, Coromandel, Green Star, and also directly under their own brand Vasundhara. The plant is not able to meet the growing demand for organic fertiliser, thanks to the Fertiliser Control Order of 2010 that has defined the specifications of the compost made from organic sources (including food components) and the scarcity of quality compost in the country.

In 2010, A2Z Infrastructure, the private company, invested R110 crore of their own money in setting up a waste-to-energy plant, thus creating the largest integrated project in solid waste management in Asia. This power plant enabled the company to exploit the synergies between collection, processing and disposal. The plant produces 15 MW of electricity, using RDF produced in-house. It uses circulating fluidised bed combustion (CFBC) technology, an advanced fuel combustion technology from Germany. These boilers burn RDF, a fuel made from garbage, at low temperatures, ensuring that the plant does not emit any oxide of nitrogen or sulphur, nor dioxins and furans. It has negligible particulate emission, several times smaller than the national standards prescribed by the Central Pollution Control Board. This is the first use of CFBC technology in India and also its first use in a less than 100 MW power plant in Asia. The plant has been registered with UNFCCC for carbon credits, claiming certified carbon reductions achieved by CDM projects under the Kyoto protocol.

It is not surprising that the project has been recognised for its significant achievements. KNN received the JNNURM award of excellence for Best City for Improvement in Solid Waste Management from the Prime Minister in 2011. While setting an example on solid waste for others, Kanpur must now address the challenge of liquid waste, joining hands with others to remove filth from the holy waters of the Ganga.

Dr Isher Judge Ahluwalia is Chairperson, ICRIER and also former Chairperson of the High Powered Expert Committee on Urban Infrastructure Services, which submitted its report to MoUD in March 2011