Dysfunctional machinery and long approval procedures are among the many reasons why the Karnataka Compost Development Corporation (KCDC) facility has been emitting a foul odour for months now, much to the discomfort of residents in the neighbourhood.
Residents living in the areas surrounding KCDC cried foul against the unbearable odour emanating from the plant that has huge mounds of old waste. For several years, KCDC received close to 1000 tons of waste daily which was beyond its processing capacity of 300 tons per day. However, in 2008, because of public pressure and an order from the High Court KCDC had stopped accepting waste until July 2013.
KCDC already had accumulated 1.65 lakh tons of waste by December 2013. In addition to this, they later received 30,000 metric tons. While huge quantities have already been processed, 1.20 lakh tons of waste still need attention. Since January 2014 they have been receiving segregated waste of approximately 140 tons per day.
What’s causing the odour?
Once the raw waste is brought to KCDC, it first goes through aerobic composting. Aerobic composting requires the waste to be piled up like a mountain into what is known a ‘windrows’. The minimum height to be maintained is six feet but due to the large amount of waste that continues to lie within the KCDC compound, the height now reaches up to 15- 20 feet.
This piled up waste has resulted in bigger windrows. Venkoji Rao, Advisor to KCDC, believes that these, along with hotter climate and a defunct cowdung slurry spraying machine, are responsible for the rising stench.
Two components absolutely essential for decomposing waste is supply of oxygen and a certain moisture level. Rao said, “Such a huge height makes it difficult for air infestation, which delays the process of decomposition of organic material.” To maintain oxygen and moisture, windrows are turned after every 10 days. When the windrows are turned they emit a strong odour, which can be curbed only by cowdung slurry.
Rao admitted to not having sprayed the slurry for a long time as the only spraying machine that they had was defunct for some time. “Due to elections, we couldn’t purchase new sprayers as officials were busy,” he said, adding “BBMP has sent a sprayer for the time being and we shall be using that for now.”
Rao also mentioned that they had a shortage of vehicles that turn the windrows.
However, Almitra Patel, a member of the Solid Waste Management (SWM) Expert Committee of BBMP doesn’t think that the size of the windrows matters.
Delay in replacing machinery
According to Venkoji Rao, the work to procure the machinery took long since KCDC, being a government organisation, needs to follow certain procedures. The requirement is scrutinised by the scrutinising committee, sub-committee, and then the board takes a decision to pass the work order. Over the past few months, most officials have been busy with election duty.
Only work costing less than Rs.20,000 can be passed singlehandedly by the Managing Director. Any work that entails a cost of over Rs.20,000 has to go through various committees.
Rao stated that the new machines, being under warranty still, can be repaired whenever the need arises. Older machines have been operational since 1975. “It is not easy to maintain them and repairs cost a lot. So, for that, approval from the board and committee is required.”
Recently, the Solid Waste Management Expert Committee and the BBMP additional Commissioner of SWM and Health, Dr. Yatish Kumar inspected KCDC along with residents of the neighbourhood who are affected by the stench. The SWM Expert Committee will document their findings and suggested measures, and submit the same to Dr.Kumar.
KCDC pull up their socks
KCDC is now trying to treat all the waste within its premises. Rao promises to clear the waste but says that they would need around six months to complete the process. “We have installed two new machines that will process an additional 250 tons of waste. Along with this, 50 new vermi composting pits with sheds are ready to use,” he points out.
Soon KCDC is also planning to start a bio-methanisation plant that will produce gas from waste. 15 per cent of the work on that facility is near completion. Once ready, 5 tons of waste will be handled daily by this process.
Rao details some of the measures recently taken to control the spread of the smell. “We have brought two Hitachi vehicles that will help in turning the garbage. Along with that, we are planning to use big tankers to spray cowdung slurry as small sprayers are not efficient. These sprayers will enable spraying on large amounts of waste at once”
In another three months, a work order is expected to be passed for the much awaited processing of plastic into fuel. KCDC has almost 50,000 tons of B grade plastic waiting to be disposed of. The technical bid for the same is presently open, while the financial bid will be opened soon. One machine of 10 tons will process fuel from pure plastic while another machine of 250 tons will be set up to process the mixed waste.
Following the expert committee’s advice given during the spot inspection, KCDC will now turn garbage at a faster rate at odd hours. Rao said, “We will now turn windrows more regularly, in 3 days and we will turn them during non peak hours: afternoon and late night, so that people don’t have to suffer from the stench that is released during the day.” Earlier, the garbage was turned every 7 days.
KCDC will also place barricades and plant tall trees around its compound to reduce the spread of the stink. It has already restricted itself only to accepting vegetable waste. Rao said, “For six months now, we have been receiving pure wet waste from all the Kasa muktha wards. We receive some mixed waste from the markets, but that is very little.”
The scientific angle
The fact that residents of the area complain of the stench being strongest during late evenings and early mornings seems to suggest that turning the windrows may not be the only reason behind the phenomenon.
One of the Expert Committee members, Almitra Patel spent a night at five different houses near KCDC and an entire night in one of the houses, in response to complaints of unbearable smell over the past 2-3 months, especially during dinnertime and nights. She also asked the milkman, who complained about the smell only during early mornings in faraway apartments.
Almitra says, “There was absolutely no smell at the places where I stayed. Except for the 6th floor of Sobha Daffodil Apartments, I didn’t smell anything anywhere.” However, she felt the complaints were certainly genuine, as the dates and times of peak smell reported by different people matched.
The day after her stay at the apartments along with the residents, she and other members of the expert committee visited the KCDC site, where a public meeting on the issue was scheduled. During the same, she noticed that none of the attendees at the site were holding a handkerchief near their nose. So she said, “It is puzzling that smells are noticed at distances of 1 to 3 km away, that too long after KCDC has closed activities for the day by 6 pm.”
Almitra has applied some science lessons to the whole smell phenomenon and believes that wind direction and air temperatures can explain the problem faced by people in the area.
She explained that In the afternoon, when the sun is right above Bangalore, it heats the ground air, so the warm air rises up quickly and is dispersed. However, once the sun sets, the higher layers of air cool down immediately. These trap the warm ground-level air which cannot rise through heavier cold air and spreads sideways instead, carrying strong odours with it.
Once the warm air is trapped near the ground level, the pollutants and odours in it also get trapped. “I believe residents must be getting the stench when such a situation occurs and the wind blows in their direction,” she says.
She continued, “They don’t complain about the stench during regular hours. It comes at different intervals after dark or at night or dawn. So to determine the real reason for the smell, citizen participation is a must and some data on date, time, duration and wind direction has to be accumulated.”
Almitra has suggested that a helium balloon on a long strong string be fixed on the terrace of Sobha Daffodil, the tallest building in the vicinity complaining of the smell. “Every time they get the smell, they should record the direction of the wind: whether it is blowing from the North, South, East or West. Along with the directions, residents need to record timings and the duration of the smell.”
Based on this data, KCDC can modify their operations and timings to minimise smell. Almitra has already given them some suggestions and urged periodic feedback meetings between the KCDC and affected residents.
Meanwhile, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board will be requested to station its air-quality-monitoring vehicles for round-the-clock monitoring for a week at 2-3 locations complaining of stench. Though odour intensity cannot be scientifically measured, one can measure the quantity of ammonia, hydrogen sulphide etc in the air which is likely to be beyond tolerable levels.
Basavaiah C, ex Managing Director of KCDC and member of the Solid Waste Management Expert Committee said, “To stop the odour we have suggested some immediate and some permanent measures to KCDC. Some measures may need investment, but cannot be ignored. BBMP should support KCDC in building their infrastructure and KCDC on their part must extend full cooperation.”