Government Scheme to Turn Urban Waste to Compost Failed to Make an Impact, Says Parliamentary Panel

Only about 1.6% of the total waste generated by cities is being composted and fertiliser companies are reluctant to market it, saying it affects their fertiliser sales.

Turning urban waste into compost as per the government’s project seems to have run into hurdles. Credit: Reuters/Files

New Delhi: The Ministry of Urban Development had set an ambitious target of October 2019 for converting all organic waste generated in cities into compost or biogas, and marketing the compost with the help of fertiliser companies. The project has, however, run into hurdles with only about 1.6% of the total waste being composted. The fertiliser companies are also reluctant to market it, saying it affects their fertiliser sales.

While a parliamentary panel recently recognised that while the move is in the right direction as “composting will not only reduce the volume of waste to landfill/ dumpsite by converting the waste into useful by-products but also prevent production of harmful greenhouse gases [especially methane] and toxic material that pollutes groundwater apart from polluting the environment,” it noted that the move had failed to make much impact.

Fertiliser marketing companies fail in promoting compost sales

The standing committee on chemicals and fertilisers in its report titled ‘Implementation of Policy on Promotion of City Compost’, said a key aspect of the project was marketing and promoting city compost. Therefore, the Department of Fertilisers involved existing fertiliser companies to market compost through their dealer networks. Compost was also co-marketed by tagging of cities with fertiliser marketing companies. But the panel observed that “most of the fertiliser marketing companies have failed to achieve their marketing target during the period April to August in year 2016-17.”

“Some of the companies i.e. Shriram Fertilizers, Indogulf, MCFL, Greenstar / SPIC, IPL, PPL, KFCL, MFL, NFL,RCF, etc., have done nil marketing of city compost in last few months,” the report added.

The panel said it was of the view that proper marketing of city compost was vital for the scheme to be effectively implemented.

Only 14 states had been tagged with fertiliser companies for the implementation of the scheme, but even so, most fertiliser companies had no marketing presence in these states. The panel recommended that the Department of Fertilisers take proactive measures to ensure that “tagging of fertiliser companies with states should be meaningful and companies which do not have marketing network in the states are advised to market the city compost produced in the state by developing the marketing network.”

Little progress 

The committee said treatment of municipal solid waste (MSW) remained a “big challenge” as it degrades the environment. The panel observed that in May 2014, the Report of Task Force on Wastes to Energy had noted that urban areas generated around 169,650 metric tonnes of waste per day – or about 62 million tonnes per year – a mere 19% of which is being treated.

The situation has not changed much three years later. “The remaining unprocessed waste finds its way to landfills, dumpsites, drains etc, causing environmental problems like production of greenhouse gases and toxic waste,” the committee said, reiterating that the government sees the project as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

Furthermore, the committee said that the policy aims to incentivise the processing of waste into compost and targets processing 100% of MSW by the end of mission period, i.e. October 2019. “Compost,” it said, “would also be useful in improving the carbon content in the soil and the policy envisages selling of compost to farmers through the PSU’s fertiliser companies.”

Limited utilisation

With compost production being just around 16,000 million tonnes per annum as against the installed capacity of ten lakh million tonnes, the panel said “if the policy is implemented in an effective manner, it can achieve twin benefits, namely management of waste as well as improving the carbon content in the soil.”

The committee therefore, recommended that the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers review progress at regular intervals to remove hurdles being faced in its implementation.

The Department of Fertilisers had told the committee that the benefits of the scheme were many. It had stated that “city compost can reduce around 40% to 50% of the volume of the waste in landfill or dumpsite by converting it into useful by-products.” The impact, it said, would be directly felt in all 4,000 towns in the country and particularly in those 500 towns which have a population above one lakh.

The department had told the panel that the top 20 cities in India were generating around 2.17 lakh million tonnes of waste per day, and thereby listed the benefits of compost over fertilisers. Compost is a rich source of organic carbon which is food for microbes and thereby, supplements nutrient needs of crops. It also improves the water-holding capacity of the soil and allows fertilisers to work more efficiently to increase crop yields. In addition, it also addresses solid waste management problems.

Price differential a dampener

However, observing that “farmers are not very keen to purchase compost, as by paying Rs 50 to Rs 60 extra farmers can purchase a bag of urea which has an immediate impact on the soil”, the committee said there was a need to use compost since it is “considered as a soil conditioner and its impact on the soil would only be visible after continuous use for two to three years.”

In view of the issues involved in popularising its use, the parliamentary committee suggested several measures to achieve the twin objectives of MSW disposal and compost promotion. It stressed the need to take measures to popularise city compost by providing direct incentive or subsidy on use of compost to farmers.

Acknowledging the existence of a problem in storing compost because it begins to emit a foul smell, the panel said that the department had issued guidelines on January 9 this year for release of Marketing Development Assistance for the direct sale of city compost by compost manufacturers to farmers. It said this move will bring down the cost of city compost and make it more economical.

The panel also recommended that at least one compost plant be opened in each city by October 2019 and urged the department to pilot the development of one state as a model state for promoting the idea.

Segregation of waste

The committee has also suggested that waste be segregated at the household level, noting that it was “very crucial for effective implementation of the policy on city compost as the quality of compost depends on the quality of segregation by individual household”. Further, it has stressed the need for “training and awareness generation of the households”, encouraging the segregation of wet and dry waste, segregating the vehicles carrying such garbage; involving the informal sector waste collectors, rag-pickers and scrap dealers in waste collection and segregation activities.

The committee said it was informed by the ministry that at present, 93 compost plants are functional and 283 plants are under construction or in the revival stage. It said projects worth Rs 7,000 crore have been approved since the notification of the policy and by October 2019 one compost plant is expected to be established in each city.

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