Nature works sustainably through various cycles. Organic wastes
feed the soil processes and the soil, in turn feeds the plants.
Soil organisms such as earthworms use the organic wastes as their
food and derive energy to carry out the vital function of producing
balanced plant nutrition. Plants that get such balanced nutrition
are free from any pest attack. When we break this cycle, we create
two loose ends (we call them problems), that of pollution due to
neglected organic wastes and expenses on synthetic fertilizers/pesticides.
Neglected organic wastes get piled up and breed pests(such as cockroaches,
ants, rodents, etc.) and also produce odour.
Pathogens that may originate from sick persons, also can proliferate
in such waste heaps and create health hazard. Often incineration
of organic wastes is recommended to kill the pathogens, but valuable
organics too get incinerated, producing greenhouse gases. Even the
conventional composting also amounts to burning about half of the
organics in the garbage, producing greenhouse gases and biological
ash called compost. Biomethanation, too, is a wasteful process.
One mole of methane in biogas is associated with one mole of CO2.
Organics that converted into CO2, thus are available neither as
fuel, nor for the soil processes. There has been, thus, a need to
develop an eco-friendly process to use our wasted organic resources(better
term for "organic wastes"). This was developed during
1987-1996 and popularized among the urban gardeners, giving an alternative
to the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides (Bhawalkar, 1996).
This paper reviews the successful adoption of this "closing
the loop" strategy and discusses the mechanisms behind this
simple eco-friendly process of organic wastes recycling.
Urban gardening needs to be encouraged to cool down the
urban concrete structures and also to take care of air pollution
created by burning of fossil fuels by our automobiles. Since garden
gets the last priority after the building, roads and the parking
area, there is hardly any space left. Terraces however, continue
to get exposed to the hot sun. The diurnal temperature fluctuations
can weaken the slabs and start leakages over the years. It is thus
necessary to develop green rooftops to keep the terraces cool and
reduce urban air pollution. But the gardening technique needs to
be eco-friendly. Use of chemical fertilizers, for example, will
produce acidic leachate and damage the slabs. Chemical fertilisers
also cause nutrient imbalances, this increases the pest attacks
and leads to the use of toxic sprays. Urban gardeners do the gardening
for pleasure and do not wish to use the toxic sprays that are also
harmful to man and several friendly creatures. We thus, need to
harness all the techniques of organic agriculture to develop urban
Technique of In-situ Recycling
Ecological Research Institute(BERI), that was known as Bhawalkar
Earthworm Research Institute(BERI) from 1980 to 1995, has been in
the field of waste management. BERI realized that instead of focusing
on collection, transport and disposal of garbage, it is necessary
to integrate garbage into plant growth cycle. Only plants can consume
our solid, liquid and gaseous > wastes(that is how, Nature is
designed) and only plants can produce our oxygen and other needs
such as food, fuel, fibre, fertilizer, medicines, etc. Current practice
of dumping garbage in the low-lying areas outside the current city
limit has no logic, it soils the groundwater through production
of acidic leachate that also has heavy metals and also pollutes
the air. This leads to pollution of rain. So the pollution comes
back to us in the form of air or water.
If we observe the Nature, plant and animal waste just falls on the
soil, the soil is rarely exposed to sunlight. The organic mulch
also reduces soil erosion due to heavy rainfall. Organic mulch is
under constant stage of accumulation and decomposition and this
liberates the plant nutrients needed > for new growth. CO2 is
the most limiting plant nutrient, then are the other plant nutrients
such as nitrogen, phosphorus and other macro and micronutrients.
The fact that CO2 is the most limiting plant nutrient can be seen
from the increased plant production in greenhouses that can provide
upto 1,000-2,000 ppm CO2 as compared to 400 ppm in the air. In fact,
the success of green revolution that used high amount of nitrogenous
fertilizers(such as urea) was based on the soil-mining reaction
that converts to soil's fixed organic reserve into CO2. This reaction
is that of denitrification and is triggered only when we provide
large amount of soluble nitrogenous fertilizers. Soil organic matter
levels have been reduced from 2-3 percent to 0.1 to 0.5 percent
and when there is nothing to mine, the chemical fertilizers are
not producing the results now. This mining technique also spoiled
the groundwater and river water and produced food with residual
nitrates. It is reported that pests attack a crop only if the crop
has residual nitrates. During storage too, food spoilage (due to
fungi, insects and rats) is due to residual nitrates. Organic farming
has reduced pest problems and the organic food also has better keeping
quality. It is also has higher nutrition(in terms of higher dry
matter, vitamins, minerals and lower nitrates). In general nitrates
have negative impact on human body and mind, so one can appreciate
the Natural mechanism of pests and food spoilage as being the quality
control mechanisms of Nature(Lampkin, 1990). If we suppress these
with the help of toxic chemicals, we end up consuming toxic food
with nitrates and toxic chemicals and this leads to cancer.
Before feeding the raw garbage onto the soil below a growing plant,
to simulate what happens in Nature, it was realized that one needs
to put a small amount of vermiculture powder(about 1 gram per pot
or small plant on the ground) to enliven the soil. Only a living
soil can consume the organic food. If we feed organic food onto
a dead soil(soil that has a predominance of nitrifying and denitrifying
bacteria, that is, a chemically fertilized soil), then the organics
get accumulated and get putrefied to produce odour. This attracts
the pests such as cockroaches, ants, rats, termites, scorpions,
snakes, etc. These natural creatures are the bioindicators of soil
that is overfed with organic food (Bhawalkar, 1996). The act of
adding the vermiculture powder is aimed at increasing the soil's
appetite by introducing a selected culture of soil's beneficial
microflora and fauna. If 1 m2 of dead soil gets 10 grams of vermiculture
powder, it can consume upto 1 kg of organic food per m2 each day,
without attracting any pests. A family of 5 persons generates this
amount of organic waste. It is thus necessary only to allot 1 m2
of gardening area per family. This can be in the balcony or on the
terrace too. It can also be in the form of 7 pots and these can
be kept in the steel grill that is common nowadays outside a window.
One pot can be fed each day, the organic food gets used up within
7 days and one can feed on 7-days' rotation.
It is estimated that about 10,000 families are using this method
of "In-situ utilization of organic food in organic garden"
in Pune and other cities, for more than 10 years. This was pioneered
by Shrimati Lata Shrikhande of Kanchan Lane (off Law College Road)
in Pune. She has been recycling her garbage since 1980 and has inspired
thousands of families to start garbage-fed terrace gardens in Pune
and several other cities. With proper communication through modern
media, it is easier to spread this further. In fact, each new building
in Pune is motivated to start such garbage-recycling activity today,
under the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court.
In Mumbai, Joshi Lane in East Ghatkopar has used this method for
the past 8 years successfully and inspired others too. BMC has involved
this method in ALM (Advanced Locality Management) movement. In Joshi
Lane, 1 potted plant per person is kept on the roadside gutter.
One person collects the biodegradable garbage each day from all
the families and feeds into these pots, the other fraction of garbage,
such as glass, paper, metals, plastics, etc. arising mainly from
the modern packaging trend, is handed over to the ragpickers(resource
recycling agents). In Mumbai, BMC spends 1.5 Rs/kg on collection,
transport and disposal of garbage. The environmental cost of this
improper disposal is not included in this figure. Now, carbon credit
is2 available for any activity that prevents production of CO2 and
in fact, converts CO2 into organic biomass. If families that take
up such urban gardening activity, are given a rebate from the municipal
taxes, equivalent to Rs 1.5 per kg of garbage recycled this way,
this concept will pick up automatically. The environmental benefits
of this eco-activity will be a bonus.
It will be interesting to discuss the key issues involved
with this garbage recycling activity. These are presented in the
Q&A format below.
Q: Why do people hate
garbage and want somebody (governmental agency) to take it away
A: Garbage, or in
general organic wastes, create unpleasant signals such as odour,
pathogens and pests. Hence the fear about garbage. But just dumping
the garbage outside the city limits is hardly a solution. We have
to understand the root cause of garbage pollution and also use 3
Reuse and Recycle to arrive at the true solution.
Q: What is the root
cause of garbage pollution?
A: Garbage or organic
wastes create pollution due to the nitrates in them. Food spoilage
is due to nitrates, lot of food gets spoiled and becomes garbage.
Out of the 3 R's, first R is about reducing the production of garbage.
This is possible if we resort to organic gardening and thus, inspire
the farmers to take up to organic farming. The nitrates in the garbage
can also be utilized if garbage is used to feed the living soil
created by adding 10 grams of vermiculture powder per m2 of garden.
This is one-time dose and takes care of all garbage problems and
in fact, converts garbage into gold(plant biomass and oxygen).
Q: How can one prove
that all the garbage problems are due to nitrates?
A: One can simulate
garbage by taking any combination of carbohydrates(sugar, starch,
cellulose, lignin, etc.), proteins and nitrates. Initial experiments
can be only with carbohydrates and nitrates, to understand spoilage
of mango pulp/juice, for example. One can see that mild signals
of harmless insects come at low ratio of nitrates/carbohydrates,
at increasing ratio one finds biting creatures, and at higher ratio,
one finds obnoxious odour and pathogen growth. Carbohydrates without
nitrates, such as heap of dry leaves, cotton, paper, etc. cause
no pollution and hence these materials get used by the society.
One can go on adding increasing amount of nitrates in these materials
and see how they create the pollution signals. Material with carbohydrates
and proteins, such as well-washed paneer can last longer than paneer
laced with nitrates. One can create an odour-bomb(typically a dead
rat odour) by putting nitrates in increasing amount on paneer. Since
the exact ratio needed to produce a given pollution signal depends
upon the temperature, exact figures cannot be given, but the trend
that increasing nitrates cause increasing amount of pollution is
obvious. In fact, BERI has now developed a BIOSANITIZER that just
locks up the nitrates and solves the garbage pollution problems
in a minute. The locked nitrates are available only to plants and
not to nuisance-causing pests, pathogens or for odour production.
One can now use the BIOSANITIZER to convert garbage into manure
that can be used later when needed. A family needs a space of 0.2
m2 only to process garbage using the BIOSANITIZER now and costs
$10,000/ per 1gram.
Several such BIOSANITIZER-based garbage-stabilization projects have
been set up in Pune and other cities during the past 5 years. It
is estimated that 300 urban buildings, 20 schools, 5 colleges, 5
temples, 8 hotels, 10 hospitals, 20 industries and 10 government
institutions are successfully operating these projects. In fact,
they have become mandatory for all new establishments now.
Q: What is the difference
between the traditional and conventional composting techniques?
A: Traditional method
uses cow manure(particularly, that from a desi cow) to stabilize
the garbage. The manure used to go to the farmers' field and then
get used by the soil. This method achieved stabilization(stopping
the CO2 evolution) by locking the nitrates. But the conventional
method that is promoted by the agricultural scientists, involves
adding more nitrates(or in general, the nitrogenous materials) to
speed up the CO2 evolution and get a
stabilized product(compost) after the CO2 evolution stops. All the
easily biodegradable carbohydrates(such as sugar, starch, cellulose,
etc.) get wastefully bio-oxidised during such composting process,
depriving the soil of her food and this also creates air pollution
by producing CO2 and waste heat(Tate, 1995). Though the high temperature
is appreciated as a pathogen-control mechanism, the compost can
regrow the pathogens after it cools down. Some pathogens will easily
survive in the cool boundary of the compost and serve as a culture.
Compost thus is a biological ash, good for chemical agriculture.
It is wrong to do a carbon-losing composting in organic agriculture.
Q: What is the drawback of biomethanation?
A: If the biogas is
not collected and allowed to be wasted in the air, it is sheer polluting
activity. However, even if the biogas is utilized as fuel, it still
a wasteful activity because the process of producing the biogas
is already consuming about half of organic food and produces CO2.
Instead, if one uses garbage directly to grow more trees, one can
get double the amount of fuel, without the risk of handling an explosive
gas. Biogas is claimed to be a "clean" fuel, but this
is far from the truth because its combustion still produces nitrogen
oxides. Traditional firewood produces no harmful smoke, in fact
that smoke is good for health. Irritating smoke is produced when
we burn firewood that has nitrates!
Q: What are the obstacles in popularizing the garbage-fed urban gardens?
A: There is a lot
of money involved in the current practices of collection, transport
and dumping of garbage outside the city. So, any other method that
suggests a decentralized solution tends to get neglected. However,
with increasing fuel prices and awareness about organic food production,
the decentralised terrace gardening using garbage will pick up.
Q: What about the
A: Western countries
have solved the problem of organic garbage just by installing kitchen
sink grinders that simply grind garbage and put it into the sewer.
But this is no solution. One can use BIOSANITIZER to clean sewage
and then use it for organic gardening. For treating 1 family's sewage,
one needs a 500 liters tank(of any suitable material), open or close
and 10 grams of BIOSANITIZER to start the system. The
project gets commissioned within a day. One can do gardening even
on rocky land because the treated sewage has all the organic nutrients.
Garbage is a resource, it has become a problem mainly because of
its increasing nitrate contamination. These nitrates are coming
from chemical farming. By conserving(locking) the nitrates and then
using the garbage(and also sewage) for organic gardening, we can
demonstrate how pollution can be prevented by using our neglected
resources. Pollution, after all, is only a signal(warning) that
we are wasting our resources. Man is after all a sensible(selfish)
animal, we just have to teach him how to be selfish, not foolish.
The act of dumping garbage outside the city and letting the sewage
into rivers, lakes, sea, etc. amounts to foolishness.
- Bhawalkar, U. S.(1996), Vermiculture Bioconversion of Organic
Residues. A PhD thesis submitted to Dept of Chemical Engineering,
- CSE(2005) A Wastewater Recycling Manual for Urban Areas with Case
Studies(2005), Published by the Centre for Science and Environment(CSE),
- Lampkin, N.(1990) Organic Farming, Farming Press Books, Ipswich,
T.C.R.(1993) The Inadequate Environment(Nitrogen and the Abundance
of Animals), Springer-Verlag, Berlin
R. L.(1995) Soil Microbiology, John Wiley & Sons, New York" Quote ends