By Rina Mukherji
Editor's note: In the Yahoo voices on the World Environment Day theme of 2012 - Green Economy, hear the sound of green solutions coming from municipal corners of our big cities and towns. Where the term ECO travels seamlessly between its economic and ecological meaning. Dr.Rina Mukherji, a senior environmental journalist tracks Pune's green strides that tie up India's biggest bane — garbage, with a greener local economy too. (This series is in partnership with FEJI, Federation of Environmental Journalists of India).
Pune's green strides
Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat —three states with more than 40 per cent of their population in urban areas are likely to turn into full blown urban majority states by 2021. India's urban population across tier 2 and tier 3 towns is on its way to matching the predictions of The Census Commissioner and the Registrar General of India .In 2001 285 million were urbanites; in 2012 - 360 million. Meanwhile, infrastructural problems like municipal solid waste disposal and power shortages are both immediate and long term concerns.
In this context, the Pune Municipal Corporation has come up with a win-win solution. Decentralized bio-methanation of household garbage is helping the Corporation cut down on staff and vehicles used for waste collection, while helping generate electricity for lighting, and organic manure for its gardens. But it started like a nightmare.
Only a few years ago
The dumping of garbage was raising more than a stink in the villages of Urali, Devchi and Phunsungi. The villagers and their respective panchayat samitis were up in arms against the dumping of garbage from the ever-expanding Pune city into their villages. The bane of being on the outskirts- meant flies, mosquitoes and yet, Central govt. formulated Solid Waste Management guidelines were in their favor.
The Pune Municipal Corporation realized the legitimacy of their protests. One solution was, decentralize the handling of garbage to smaller pockets in the city, and recycle the same for economic benefit. In November 2009, Pune thus got its first bio-methanation plant at Model Colony.
The plant, designed by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, was implemented in a modified form by Enprotech Solutions, in keeping with operational needs. "There was a lot of scum that would float on top when the plant was fed the garbage. Scum, being fibrous, can interfere in the working of the plant, and eventually stop its functioning. Hence, we needed to make few changes, 'explains Enprotech Solutions Director Sanjay Nandre. Currently, the garbage generated by the 4000 houses that make up Model Colony find their way into the 5 tonne capacity bio-methanation plant, where they are first fed into a crusher, and then a digester. The end products are biogas, which is used to light up 250 lights in the colony for 12 hours, and slurry. The slurry served as fertilizer for the PMC public gardens in the city, and assists in keeping Pune clean and green.
Why it was an 'electric' success?
The project was so well—received, that it was replicated in several other parts of the city. At Hadapsar, the biogas generated is used to run the composting plant at the transfer station, and light 40 bulbs of very high luminescence. In Bawdhan, the plant generates 18 KW of power to light 200 street lights. Enprotech Solutions is now in the process of setting up 4 more bio-methanation plants in Dhairi, Baner, Erandwana and BT Kavade road. "However, we are now opting for our own design and no longer relying on the earlier BARC-designed plants."
The PMC has also set up 7 more bio-methanation plants and plans to ultimately set up a plant in each of its 144 wards, to achieve complete recycling of the city's solid waste. The PMC's public gardens have totally done away with the use of chemical fertilizers. "The slurry from the bio-methanation plants takes care of all their needs," Nandre gleefully informs me.
According to PMC Additional Commissioner Pramod Yadav, "the city will have 15 more plants in operation by June 2012.Our aim is to particularly deal with the garbage generated by hotels and restaurants that are concentrated around the Pune railway station area".
Lighting the parks and selling 'out'
At the moment, the plants in operation yield 40,000-50,000 litres of slurry for the 120 public parks and gardens managed by the PMC. The commissioning of the additional plants by mid-2012, is expected to yield around 1.25 lakh litres of slurry. "There is a large number of agri-farms in and around Pune. We intend to market the slurry to them for use as organic fertilizer, and earn revenue," saysYadav. "The green energy yield, which shall amount to 10 megawatts from the 25 plants, will be an additional saving for the civic body."
How this has helped the PMC
Decentralized biomethanation of solid waste, in Yadav's opinion, is all set to benefit PMC and Pune city in several ways. "We are saving on transport costs, and reducing the number of vehicles on city roads. We need just 4 people to handle garbage collection and operating of our plants, as against 10 times the number for transferring to dumping sites. Waste recycling is preventing dumping and hence, spreading of disease. By converting solid waste into biogas and hence, green energy, we are contributing to the drive against global warming and the use of fossil fuels. Putting slurry to use as manure is another major contribution to a healthy, organic lifestyle bereft of chemical fertilizers and poisonous pesticides."
The city's other green moves
Since 2000, the PMC has been giving a 5 per cent cut in tax rebate to residential complexes that are treating their waste. Initiatives like rainwater harvesting or using solar panels for domestic power needs each fetch an additional 5 per cent tax rebate for housing complexes. Thus, opting for all three green initiatives can fetch a housing society a total of 15 per cent rebate in municipal taxes. Where new buildings are concerned, builders cannot get a no-objection certificate unless they have a sewage treatment plant in place. The measures are meant to keeping the twin imperatives in mind: meeting the growing energy needs and treating urban waste and sewage.
What Indian towns can learn from Pune
According to a study of Class I and Class II cities done by the Central Pollution Control Board in 2009, treatment capacities for sewage equaled only 31 per cent of the total generated. In the case of metros, the total installed wastewater treatment capacity equaled 68 per cent; even here, 39 per cent of the treatment plants did not conform to discharge standards into water bodies. The CPCB estimates that only 13.5 per cent of the sewage from Indian cities is treated; this partially treated and untreated sewage ends up causing water pollution by increasing the mean biological oxygen demand (BOD) in 6 of the major 18 rivers in the country.
The Pune Municipal Corporation has scored on both counts. It has managed to recycle its waste, and turn it into value-added slurry to green the city, while meeting the challenge of generating decentralized power for its citizens. Residential colonies in the city are now producing electricity-albeit in a limited way- at the point of use and being provided the same without using the grid. This truly demonstrates renewable power at its best. Additionally, it is saving on scarce financial resources, caring better for its public gardens and looking forward to generating revenue. One only hopes this is emulated in many more towns and cities racked by waste disposal bottlenecks to pave the way for a greener, cleaner, brighter, and better-lit India.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A version of this story appeared in the publication Planet Earth