Moving towards a zero-waste campus

NO WASTE IS WASTED: A worker adding waste to the heap at the Waste Management Centre of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham in Ettimadai, a process in making organic manure out of bio-degradable waste. — PHOTO: S.SIVA SARAVANAN

NO WASTE IS WASTED: A worker adding waste to the heap at the Waste Management Centre of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham in Ettimadai, a process in making organic manure out of bio-degradable waste. — PHOTO: S.SIVA SARAVANAN  

On a 450-acre campus where nearly 8,000 people live, at least one tonne of food getting wasted is not unusual. But what Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham does with that waste is certainly unusual.

And, the different way in which the food waste is converted to wealth is also extended to wastes of other kinds, so that the campus is made garbage-free, thanks to the waste management system through bioremediation using effective microbes (EM).

The Waste Management Centre of the Centre for Environmental Studies of the university is involved in a major management exercise by which every bit of waste is turned into wealth.

The whole effort begins from the fundamental level which involves segregation at source. The messes and residences of faculty and staff are provided with three sets of bins. One for the bio-degradable waste, the second one for recyclable waste, and the third for the dump (non-recyclable waste), are provided at vantage points.

According to Co-ordinator of the centre M. Aravindakshan, 60 per cent of the waste is bio-degradable, while 20 per cent to 30 per cent is recyclable and the rest is dump. Each waste is treated using different processes.

The food waste combined with litter, shredded dry leaves, crop residues and mowed grass from the campus are piled in layers to make compost beds to attain a height of three metres. On every 25 cm of refuse layer, cow dung slurry is sprinkled. This is done on the topmost layer also. The bed is then left for 45 days to 60 days for biodegradation.

And, when in most cases a waste treatment centre can be identified even from a distance with a characteristic decaying smell, here it is not the case. This is because of the balance of the moisture level in the heap and the cow dung slurry.

Brahmacharya Gurudas Chaitanya, in-charge of the waste management centre, says the temperature of the heap is regularly checked using a compost thermometer to maintain it below 130 degree Fahrenheit.

“Students have developed an aerator (compost turner) that is used to turn the pile to ensure it is aired when the temperature is just about to exceed the accepted reading. After the stipulated time custom-made organic manure to the tune of two tonnes a day is available for use on the campus that has a count of one lakh trees,” he says.

Another technique used for recycling backyard wastes, litter fall, crop residues and other vegetable wastes is using the vermicomposting technique and the resultant product is also utilised as organic manure for crop cultivation.

While these are the processes for reusing bio-degradable waste, the recyclable items such as paper, bottles, and plastics are segregated based on the gradation at the Recycling Centre and sold. Each grading of paper and plastic has a different rate.

The Recycling Centre is stacked with rows and rows of cans, bottles, wrappers, foils, notebooks, books, papers, and every other kind of recyclable waste till the roof. Outside the centre, women wearing masks and gloves, segregate the waste based on the grading in different boxes. Once a week, trucks carry the wastes to sell them.

The dump is also being sold for now. The centre has plans to find viable solutions such as converting the non-recyclable waste into oil with the help of external experts.

Mr. Aravindakshan says that there will be a saving of Rs. 5 lakh to Rs. 6 lakh every year in the fertilizer cost alone that is needed to maintain the green cover of the university.

“Water conservation and water harvesting measures are used to recharge the underground water resources and also conserve soil moisture. But the one to crown all the others is the waste management through bioremediation. Environmental activities which began in 1992 have borne fruit and campus has achieved a tree stand of more than one lakh trees, conserved, protected and newly planted. And, this is in Ettimadai which is parched, without any permanent water resources,” Mr. Aravindakshan says.

The waste management system does not only ensure that the green cover of the university is retained, but also one the way to making it zero-waste one.

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