New technology for solid waste management

The government decision to try out pyrolysis as a new technology option for decentralised solid waste management has led to scepticism in the city Corporation and raised doubts about the feasibility of the alternative method.

Civic officials feel that embarking on a substitute at this juncture will be a risky affair, given the untested nature of pyrolysis in the State.

The government, however, feels that a new technology has become imperative to overcome the severe limitations of composting, dominant technology used for garbage treatment, which has resulted in an environmental nightmare in many cities.

Technology

Pyrolysis is a form of incineration that chemically decomposes organic materials by heat in the absence of oxygen.

The proposal to implement a pilot project based on pyrolysis technology was first mooted at a meeting convened by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy earlier this month to find a negotiated settlement to the raging conflict between the City Corporation and residents of the Vilappil village over the operation of a garbage treatment plant there.

On Tuesday, addressing a second conciliatory meeting convened by the government, Minister for Urban Affairs P.K. Kunhalikutty said the government had identified pyrolysis as a substitute technology. He said the government would take steps to establish pyrolysis plants at different locations in the State.

Pilot project

The project would be given priority. Kinfra had been authorised to identify land for the pilot project in Thiruvananthapuram, he added.

Government sources said that pyrolysis was the obvious choice in view of its low environmental footprint, low requirement of land, and the absence of residue.

Civic officials and functionaries said investing in such a project without proper studies would result in a fiasco. “For one, pyrolysis will be an unsuitable choice of technology to handle municipal waste with high moisture content. The high capital investment and recurring expenditure also make it questionable. It is significant that pyrolysis plants do not figure in any of the Central funding schemes for solid waste management projects across the country,” points out a civic official.

A senior Corporation functionary said the decision to deploy the technology on a pilot scale without adequate studies gave room for suspicion about the intention. “The government seems to be going overboard in its enthusiasm to adopt the technology”.

Expert's view

Social activist and rural technology exponent R.V.G. Menon, who was a member on the evaluation committee for selection of proposals received by the Suchitwa Mission, said pyrolysis was not proven as a technology capable of handling high-moisture waste.

The evaluation committee had proposed a conditional adoption of pyrolysis technology in Kerala. The promoting company should be ready to accept a penalty clause for the failure to operate the plant, there should be no buyback agreement for the energy generated by the plant, and the company should assume responsibility to secure all the necessary clearances, including pollution control.

Pyrolysis, Prof. Menon said, was a good technology, but it may not be the appropriate one for a State like Kerala. “On the other hand, composting is a proven method to handle the kind of high-moisture garbage generated in the State. However, pyrolysis can be used to manage the rejects from composting plants. The capability to handle plastic and rubber products like tyres gives it added value.”

Mr.Menon said a centralised solid waste treatment plant such as the one at Vilappil was imperative even if a decentralised mechanism was put in place.


  • Concern over feasibility of alternative method
  • Doubts raised about capability to handle high-moisture waste

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