The Story of Composting in Karnataka


Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

The concept and process of composting have existed in India since the Vedic times. In the book A Journey from Madras Through the Countries of Mysore, Canara, and Malabar (1807), Dr Frances Buchanan had written that farmers around the city collected waste for their fields. When they visited markets to auction their produce, they returned with the garbage from waste bins in the market. This garbage was all organic at that time. They dumped the waste in pits to decompose. They used the resulting compost to enrich the soil in their fields before the next planting season.

 

Thippe at every home

Many homes in Karnataka had, and some still have, a backyard pit called ‘Thippe’. It is the pit where they throw cow dung and other organic waste. Over time, the garbage decomposes and makes for org

anic fertilisers. The manure, known as ‘Thippe Gobbara’ or ‘Thippe Gobra’, would be used in the fields and garden to improve soil fertility.

Thippe and Thippe Gobra were an important part of our culture. It was a symbol of bountiful yield, and hence, worshipped as Thippamma or Thippaiyya. The gobra (manure) was an important commodity then since agriculture was prominent in the state. I remember the times when gobra was so high on demand that they were stolen from our backyard pits. Yes, the waste was precious and worth money.

 

Boost for gobra

The reverence and demand for waste and compost continued well until independence in 1947. The British actively promoted the composting of urban waste during World War II with the agenda of growing more food. We developed several traditional aerobic and anaerobic composting methods in India during this time. Bangalore was at the forefront of this movement. In 1939, Dr L N Acharya from Indian Institute of Science developed an anaerobic composting method known as the Bangalore Method of Composting. Some other composting processes used in India were the Indore Method and Coimbatore Method.

 

Disappearance of thippe

The later part of the 20th century saw a spike in plastic mixed with organic waste. If the plastic wasn’t removed, they prevented seeds from germinating through them, plants from growing their roots to the ground, and rainwater from percolating through the soil. They also served as the breeding ground for mosquitoes and microorganisms. Separating the plastic from compost was a labour-intensive process. Thereby, making compost became a less popular option.

During the Green Revolution in India, the government gave massive subsidies to farmers for using chemical fertilisers. Acres of agricultural land were also converted for residential and commercial purposes.

All the above factors brought down the demand and supply for compost.

 

Mixed waste disposal in Bengaluru

The waste generated daily in markets and households were not utilised any more. The Bangalore City Corporation (BCC) initially used discontinued quarries in the city to dump this mixed waste. But the untreated waste started polluting the land, water, and air in those areas. Then they started looking at barren grounds outside the city limit for dumping waste. Trucks of untreated waste were taken to these lands. Some of them were even burnt in the open air. Apart from environmental pollution, they had economic and social consequences. Fly, mosquito, and rodent population escalated in those localities.

The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) Solid Waste Management (SWM) Rules 2016 brought in a few changes to the system. However, there is a mandate that only segregated waste goes to processing plants. So the mixed waste, which composts 2,800 tonnes daily, is dumped at acres of landfills in and around Bengaluru. Currently, there are over 50 to 60 lakh tonnes of unprocessed garbage in landfills across Karnataka, and the figure is growing every day. The BBMP is constantly struggling to find new landfills and quarries for dumping the city’s waste.

 

Increasing demand for compost

Why should we compost when the wet waste will break down in the landfill anyway?

When waste enters the landfill, air cannot get to the organic waste leading to anaerobic breakdown of the waste. This releases many harmful greenhouse gases that damage the earth’s atmosphere. However, when we compost the same waste, it decomposes aerobically and gives us free fertilizer.

Today, the price of organic manure is close to Rs 800 per tonne, which is one-fourth the price of inorganic manure. Hence, compost is in high demand, once again, among the farmers.

In 2017, the Karnataka State Compost Development Corporation (KSCDC) processed 4,306 tonnes of compost from 600 tonnes of wet waste collected in Bengaluru. This compost was sold out in just five months.

Bengaluru generates a per capita waste of about 440 gms per day. A family of 4 generates an average of 1.76 kg of waste daily. Out of this, 64% (1.13 kg per family) is wet waste. If all of us start segregating and composting wet waste at our homes, there are multiple advantages:

  1. Reduces the amount of waste that goes into landfills.
  2. Produces soil for our kitchen gardens.
  3. Meet the needs of farmers in our state.
  4. Minimizes the amount of chemicals in our food.

 

Now the question is: where and how to start?

The next blog would detail waste segregation at home.

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