When I visited an apartment complex in Electronic City yesterday, this is how the story went…
The community wanted to have its own composting system and carved out some space for it in a corner. What ended up in that corner was this 24-hour fully automatic composter. To the residents who knew little about composting, this sounded like a fantastic idea. Why not when someone promises that the manure comes out in less than 24 hours and that this box can take in up to 150 kgs a day?
Add to that some more awesome ‘features’: No muck is visible outside. All goes in. It all looks neat and clean. No need for shredding. No need to monitor anything other than dumping all the waste (including plastic and other harmful rejects) and turning the switch on. And out comes this magical stuff called ‘compost’.
So, in all, about Rs 8.5 lakh was invested to buy this machine. Just a month or two later, it failed to perform as promised. I am not talking about the compost or its quality, but the very burning business. The temperature had to be maintained at 200 deg. C when the load was fresh and then at around 140-150 deg C. The company told the customer that once the job was over, it would go into power-saving mode. Well, that meant maintaining the heat inside the box beyond 100 deg.C all the time!
The community was told that the power bill would run into a couple of thousand bucks but they started receiving shockers after shockers with bills running into Rs 25,000-30,000 per month. The smoke that came out was so horribly stinky that the apartment folks found a way to push the emission outlet out of their vicinity. Luckily, the adjacent area was vacant. For a moment, let’s leave the air pollution concerns alone no matter whether people and other living beings live in the immediate surroundings or a little away from one such polluting source.
When the first bill came, the facility manager was told that power consumption would go down gradually as the machine had to “set itself properly”. Whatever that meant…
Very soon, the machine failed to burn around 120-140 kgs a day. And what came out was something we all know. The community was promised a compost buyback offer of Rs 1 per kilo and that happened only once when they sold two tonnes of this burnt carbon to the vendor.
But the misery of huge power bills continued. When the facility manager called, the vendors fobbed him off successfully. When he persisted, they blocked his calls. When he tried calling through other numbers, those numbers also went into the vendor’s ‘blacklist’ in no time.
Since segregation wasn’t proper and mixed waste was dumped into the machine, burning of plastic and other similar hazardous material went on. The burnt plastic got stuck to the inside parts of the machine and the staff worked for hours to scrape it off.
This bulky piece of junk has been lying in this corner for months now and the community doesn’t know what to do with it. The vendor had promised a buyback but that’s only if these people buy another machine from the same company. How ridiculous can it get?
If you think this is all about it, hang on. When the vendor sent his staff for initial negotiations, they brought along a Karnataka State Pollution Control Board official who gave a green signal to this menace. Says one of the residents, “When a KSPCB official said it was a good machine, how can we have any doubts?”
What’s unfortunate is this is not a one-off incident. Many communities have fallen prey to such fly-by-night operators including the corporate sector, especially the hotel industry. Everyone wants the job done in a jiffy just like an instant coffee maker. If the ecosystem is being harmed by such unscrupulous firms who don’t give a damn about anything other than filling their pockets, we have to blame ourselves for turning ourselves into a push-button civilisation with chilling disregard to anything sensible and sustainable.