Community composting: If it’s costlier & fancier, does it get better?


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One of my Solid Waste Round Table Management (SWMRT) colleagues told me about an apartment which is getting ready to spend up to Rs 45 lakhs on a certain method for its in situ wet waste composting. In other cases, some companies which have succeeded in installing their 24-hour composting machines in some apartments at the cost of up to Rs 20 lakhs or more are laughing all the way to the bank.

Should a residential community invest so much in composting alone? Are these machines really worth lakhs of rupees as quoted by the vendors? To cut to the chase, does a costlier and fancier solution mean the better for the community?

It is imperative that we ask these questions for one important reason: For some communities, wet waste management is a big headache. They are ready to overpay their contractors to dump it on the roadsides or landfills instead of thinking the available sustainable options through. If you try to convince them, they retaliate saying they can’t spend such a ridiculous sum on composting alone. Fair enough!

Here’s an example: In an email, a budding green champion from HBR Layout wrote to me that her apartment’s management committee is worried about the cost involved as it’s a small community of 55 homes. All her and her husband’s efforts to corral support to kick off waste management (WM) have been in vain.

By going for costlier ‘solutions’, large and high-end communities might end up setting a wrong trend for the entire city.

Is composting a money sink?

It can very well turn out to be one if you refuse to exercise your freedom of choice. The first cardinal mistake most resident management committees make is to go by the builder’s recommendation and adopt the method blindly. In other cases, the residents move in only after the builder’s choice is in place and are in no position to bargain later on. The rest are stuck with living spaces where the builder hasn’t even bothered to carve out a corner for WM, let alone buy a system.

A point to ponder: Real estate builders, in general, don’t give two hoots to waste management. Composting is the last of their concerns. If they put a system in place, that’s only to get a green signal (pun unintended) from the civic authorities to get going with their business.

But those of you who are still doing research to zero in on a system, make sure that you go for one which does not eat into your community’s corpus funds. In general, the composting systems that cost a sum are quite process-intensive and are power-driven. Not only your capex, even opex goes up significantly. Spending a few hours researching the available methods might save you lakhs of rupees.

9 thoughts on “Community composting: If it’s costlier & fancier, does it get better?

  1. Hi just a thought about the question of communities spending lakhs of rupees on composting, one end we are facing a huge waste management crises which need not be explained and the other side we are questioning ourselves whether we need to spend huge amount on composting systems alone. As a manufacturer of wet waste composting machines myself, i proudly say that we manufacture fully automatic time based machines, yes you heard it right fully automatic but not the ones which give out compost in 24Hrs but in around 10days time with proven results.

    Yes I do agree that there are companies fleecing people but then there are people who are working on research and development in building technologies which are committed to provide a cleaner environment as well. We are proud that our machines have been treating up to 3Tons of wet waste every day and avoiding sending up to 5Tons of mixed waste to landfill.

    It is high time that we also look into utilizing available technologies which are productive rather than just looking at cheaper and cost effective solutions. I want to reiterate a point you have mentioned on builders that they only look at installing machines to get clearances, but I have clients (read as builders) who have studied various options and processes before freezing on a technology and not just putting a system in place to get clearances hence it’s not that all builders are doing this in general.

    One more point here is about your mentioning of choosing a system in terms of “composting systems that cost a sum are quite process-intensive and are power-driven”. What is that “sum” which you are mentioning should it not be a number in terms of for ex. 200 unit apartment spending “x” amount for their composting method is higher? When you talk about power driven are you talking about zero power being used? If so I would like to ask you a question. I believe that you have a shredder installed in the apartment you reside which is power driven? Then is it true that you are not using a composting system which uses less or no power?

    We have been into the environmental field from the past 28Years and have been designing waste water treatment plants, with the vast experience into the environment field we have come up with Organic Wet Waste Composters which are technologically advanced where the natural process of composting has been turned into an automated way, yes they do cost a bit higher than the conventional methods but does not mean that we fleece customers our highest range of composter does not cost more than 18Lakhs which can treat waste of 1300 units.

    My question is simple when we have a huge crises looming why should we not look at technology as an alternative as well?

    You can reach me on naveenbhargav@ellennvee.com

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    • Dear Naveen Bhargav, Thanks for your response. Here are a few responses to your viewpoints.

      1. In almost all communities that we (SWMRT members) have interacted with on this topic, cost is a MAJOR factor without a doubt. Many of my documented methods incur an order of magnitude lower cost than any machine-based solutions. Even then, capex and opex considerations are very carefully examined by the decision-makers with the intent of keeping the overall costs reasonable/low. This is the reason very few already established residential communities/associations are willing to go for machine-based solutions.
      2. “Yes I do agree that there are companies fleecing people…” – Unfortunately, this creates a huge trust barrier for the machine-based solutions, isn’t it? How does a prospective buyer **who doesn’t have the expertise** know that a particular machine-based solution will be good and effective? Will it produce good quality compost or merely burnt carbon? It becomes a high stakes game since the cost factor is very high for these types of solutions.
      3. In our collective experience, we haven’t really come across great working examples that are based on turn-key machines. On the contrary, several cases of folks getting their hands and waste burned with ineffective “solutions”. I cannot comment on your particular product as I haven’t seen it. Of course, I am not denying that there maybe good turn-key products out there. Our focus of documentation is more on low-cost and sustainable methods. Waste management doesn’t begin and end with wet waste, of course. It is more of a mindset change to create a more holistic awareness to the larger waste and eco awareness (wet, dry, bio, water, air, soil, etc).
      4. On your comment on shredder – Sure, shredder needs power. But the shredder runs for 10 to 15 minutes in our community. The power consumed and the maintenance overheads are negligible when compared to other machine-based solutions that need to run for hours on end. Moreover, many of the methods need a shredder to accelerate the composting process and is *an optional step* if there is sufficient space to let the composting go on for longer periods. Most communities don’t have sufficient space for more natural methods (without shredder use) and hence the turnaround time needs to be shorter. Shredder and bio-accelerators are well considered, cost-effective tweaks to this end.
      5. On your comment on builders – Again, sure there may very well be conscientious builders who do the appropriate amount of research and may go in for turn-key machine-based solutions. But, by and large, most builders’ consideration is that of regulatory clearances and this aspect is more of a nuisance and after-thought. Again, this observation is based on our collective experience of talking to many communities and not just casually formed pessimistic opinions.
      6. Finally, we do agree on the fact that we are facing a huge waste management crisis. Really, all *effective* and *well-intentioned* solutions and efforts to tackle this are most welcome and will find a solid footing in the market. This particular article is a persuasion to folks who worry about the cost factor to suggest that very cost-effective solutions are most readily available.

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  2. Savita, thank you so much for all your well-researched articles, put forward in a very objective manner. Your experience at home and community composting, especially from a user, ie resident’s perspective makes your articles even more valuable and appealing to the reader. What I particularly like is the fact that you personally visit all these sites, and then blog. Most importantly, you are honest about the shortcomings {flaws} also of any composting method. That speaks a lot !! I myself had been running around for several months, looking at several methods, that involved huge one-off and running costs, ongoing labour and other costs. The end results that I saw during personal inspection of these sites was dismal . All this had put me off the matter. But more recently your articles have helped clear the fog and show the way brilliantly. A lot of us in Mumbai feel similarly, and we look forward to your write-ups.

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  3. In Sovereign Park, Basavanagudi [40 Apt.s], we have been composting since a year, with some pioneering by M/S Shudh-Labh, with an initial cost for a natural digestor of Rs 80000 and monthly recurrinng labour cost o Rs 5000/-. No regrets. About 400 Kgs of compost was produced and half used in our own lush small garden. Anyone being hood-winked for a machine is welcome to visit and see the natural digestor. The digestor we have is actually big enough to handle waste of 80 apt..s.

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  4. Thanks for sharing.
    Interesting subject and I wish the government puts a rule making it mandatory on the part of the builders of apartment buildings to make provisions
    to compost the waste coming out of the building.

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  5. thanks to you savita , i have been able to study so many methods and narrow down to Rainbow method no 11 and to convince my RWA , have setup one unit which is doing well and we are learning ( in the meantime we are starting work on segregation ) on another note , do you have an article or articles where any RWAS has done a detailed report on waste segregation ( like the one put up by you about sobha althea and azalea. Ps I also send you directly a couple of emails wondering why no reply , essentially how do i get compost culture from gkvk , to gurgaon ???

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      • Hello savita , just an update , we installed 12 bins ( rainbow system ) in late feb and have been converting 225kgs of kitchen waste every day , Lots of learning and challenges ( extreme dry heat ) but getting good results , have sold / used nearly 2500 kgs of unsieved compost till date . A big thank you to KP SIngh and you for all the advice and articles which made it extremely easy to take decisions. Can u do an article on shredders ??? Please keep up the good work , regards
        keshav chander jaini

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        • Very nice to hear this, Keshav. I admire the way you pursued it with such interest and passion. May your tribe grow.
          I have been off work for many months due to certain personal issues and commitments. It was nice to read this comment soon after I re-logged into WordPress! 🙂

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