IIT Madras and German team find ways to safely dispose of pharma waste

Composting facilities have been set up in several villages in India

Published - August 24, 2020 03:00 pm IST - CHENNAI

Researchers of the Indian Institute of Technology Madras along with their German counterparts have developed ‘co-composting’ methods to safely dispose of toxic pharmaceutical waste water sludge.

They have established composting facilities in several villages across the country based on their studies. The compost thus obtained complies with the required international standards, according to the researchers.

The research team led by Ligy Philip, Department of Civil Engineering, comprised research scholar Anu Rachel Thomas from the Institute and Martin Kranert from the Germany-based Institute for Sanitary Engineering, Water Quality and Solid Waste Management, Stuttgart University.

Ms. Thomas, Mr. Philip and Mr. Kranert published the results of their study in the peer-reviewed journal Waste Management .

Studies have shown that 10-90% of the pharmaceutical and personal care discarded waste are expelled in the parent form and the rest in conjugated form. There is concern that the pharmaceutical waste could lead to antibiotic resistance.

“With the increasing population, the usage of onsite sanitation systems like septic tanks have been increasing, leading to the disposal of an enormous quantity of septage into the environment without proper treatment. Untreated septage disposal creates environmental degradation which includes contamination of precious surface and groundwater sources, serious health threats and potential greenhouse gas emissions,” explained Mr. Philip, whose laboratory has developed a treatment strategy based on ‘in-vessel co-composting’ for septage management in septic tanks.

The team studied the degradation pattern of triclosan and carbamazepine. Triclosan is a commonly used antimicrobial compound in toothpaste, detergents and soap, among other products. Carbamazepine is a widely used anti-epileptic drug.

Mr. Philip said adding organic waste and coir pith to pharmaceutical and personal care product provided a conducive environment to remove carbamazepine. “Therefore, in-vessel ‘co-composting’ of septage can be considered as a resource recovery option for septage treatment.”

The researchers conducted experiments in an in-vessel composter where the dewatered septage collected from a sewer plant and mixed organic waste was used apart from the pollutants, triclosan and carbamazepine. They then tested various parameters of compost daily to understand the change in compost dynamics due to these pollutants.

The team found that at a lower concentration of 5mg per kg of dry weight, carbamazepine degraded up to 83% and triclosan up to 86%. However, when both the pollutants were used carbamazepine degraded up to 66% and triclosan up to 83%. Carbamazepine was found to have a more negative impact on compost dynamics as compared to triclosan and it was also observed that the higher concentration of these pollutants results in lower temperature which further leads to lower pollutant removal in the compost.

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