Solid Waste Management in South Asia: Key Lessons

swm-south-asiaSolid waste management is already a significant concern for municipal governments across South Asia. It constitutes one of their largest costs and the problem is growing year on year as urban populations swell. As with all waste management experiences, we have learned lessons and can see scope for improvement.

Collection and Transportation

There are two factors which have a significant impact on the costs and viability of a waste management system as it relates to collection and transportation: first, the distance travelled between collection and disposal point; and second, the extent to which ‘wet’ kitchen waste can be kept separate from dry waste much of which can be recycled. Separating waste in this way reduces the costs of manual sorting later on, and increases the prices for recyclable materials.

In many larger towns distances become too great for door-to-door collectors to dispose waste directly at the dump site. Arrangements are made to dispose of waste at secondary storage points (large skips) provided by the municipality. However, where these are not regularly emptied, the waste is likely to be spread beyond the bins, creating a further environmental hazard.

Ideally, and if suitable land can be found, a number of smaller waste disposal sites located around a town would eliminate this problem. With significant public awareness efforts on our part, and continual daily reminders to home-owners, we were able to raise the rate of household separation to about 60%, but once these reminders became less frequent, the rate dropped rapidly back to around 25%. The problem is compounded in larger cities by the unavailability of separated secondary storage bins, so everything is mixed up again at this point anyway, despite the best efforts of householders.

If rates are to be sustained, it requires continual and on-going promotion in the long term. The cost of this has to be weighed against the financial benefit of cleaner separated waste and reduced sorting costs. Our experience in Sri Lanka shows how important a role the Local Authority can play in continuing to promote good solid waste management practices at the household level.

Home Composting

Our experience with home composting shows that complete coverage, with every household using the system, is very unlikely to be achieved. Where we have promoted it heavily and in co-operation with the Local Authority we have found the sustained use of about 65% of the bins. Even this level of coverage, however, can have an important impact on waste volumes needing to be collected and disposed of. At the same time it can provide important, organic inputs to home gardening, providing a more varied and nutritious diet for poor householders.

Waste to Compost and Energy

The variety of technologies we have demonstrated have different advantages and disadvantages. For some, maintenance is more complicated and there can be issues of clogging. For the dry-fermentation chambers, there is a need for a regular supply of fresh waste that has not already decomposed. For other systems requiring water, quite large amounts may be needed. All of these technical challenges can be overcome with good operation and maintenance practices, but need to be factored in when choosing the appropriate technology for a given location.

The major challenge for compost production has been to secure regular sales. The market for compost is seasonal, and this creates an irregular cash flow that needs to be factored in to the business model. In Bangladesh, a significant barrier has been the need for the product to be officially licensed. The requirements for product quality are exacting in order to ensure farmers are buying a product they can trust. However, the need for on-site testing facilities may be too prescriptive, creating a barrier for smaller-scale operations of this sort. Possibly a second tier of license could be created for compost from waste which would allow sales more easily but with lower levels of guarantees for farmers.

Safe Food Production and Consumption

Community people highly welcomed the concept of safe food using organic waste generated compost. In Sri Lanka, women been practicing vertical gardening which meeting the daily consumption needs became source of extra income for the family. Female organic fertilizer entrepreneurs in Bangladesh are growing seasonal vegetables and fruits with compost and harvesting more quality products. They sell these products with higher price in local and regional markets as this is still a niche market in the country. The safe food producers require financial and regulatory support from the government and relevant agencies on certification and quality control to raise and sustain market demand.

The concept of safe food using organic waste generated compost is picking up in South Asia

The concept of safe food using organic waste generated compost is picking up in South Asia

Conclusion

Solid waste management is an area that has not received the attention it deserves from policy-makers in South Asia nations. There are signs this may change, with its inclusion in the SDGs and in many INDCs which are the basis of the Paris Climate Agreement. If we are to meet the challenge, we will need new approaches to partnerships, and the adoption of different kinds of systems and technologies. This will require greater awareness and capacity building at the Local Authority level. If national climate or SDG targets are to be met, they will need to be localised through municipalities. Greater knowledge sharing at national and regional levels through municipal associations, regional bodies such as SAARC and regional local authority associations such as Citynet, will be an important part of this.

Practical Action’s key messages for regional and national policy makers, based on our experience in the region in the last 5 years, are about the need for:

  • creating new partnerships for waste collection with NGOs and the informal sector,
  • considering more decentralised approaches to processing and treatment, and
  • recognising the exciting potential for viable technologies for generating more value from waste

Waste Management in Food Processing Industry

Food processing industry around the world is making serious efforts to minimize by-products, compost organic waste, recycle processing and packaging materials, and save energy and water. The three R’s of waste management – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – can help food manufacturers in reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill and reusing waste.

EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy

EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy is an excellent resource to follow for food processors and beverage producers as it provides the guidance to start a program that will provide the most benefits for the environment, society and the food manufacturer.

Notably, landfill is the least favored disposal option for waste generated in food and beverage producers worldwide. There are sustainable, effective and profitable waste management options including:

  • making animal feed,
  • composting to create nutrient-rich fertilizer,
  • anaerobic digestion to produce energy-rich biogas,
  • recycling/reusing waste for utilization by other industries,
  • feeding surplus food to needy people

Waste Management Options

Food manufacturers has a unique problem – excess product usually has a relatively short shelf life while most of the waste is organic in nature. Food waste created during the production process can be turned into animal feed and sold to goat farms, chicken farms etc. As far as WWTP sludge is concerned, top food manufacturers are recycling/reusing it through land application, anaerobic digestion and composting alternatives.

Organic waste at any food processing plant can be composted in a modern in-vessel composting and the resultant fertilizer can be used for in-house landscaping or sold as organic fertilizer as attractive prices.

Another plausible way of managing organic waste at the food manufacturing plant is to biologically degrade it in an anaerobic digester leading to the formation of energy-rich biogas and digestate. Biogas can be used as a heating fuel in the plant itself or converted into electricity by using a CHP unit while digestate can be used as a soil conditioner. Biogas can also be converted into biomethane or bio-CNG for its use as vehicle fuel.

Items such as cardboard, clean plastic, metal and paper are all commodities that can be sold to recyclers Lots of cardboard boxes are used by food manufacturers for supplies which can be broken down into flat pieces and sold to recyclers.

Cardboard boxes can also be reused to temporarily store chip packages before putting them into retail distribution boxes. Packaging can be separated in-house and recovered using “jet shredder” waste technologies which separate film, carton and foodstuffs, all of which can then be recycled separately.

Organizing a Zero-Landfill Program

How do you develop a plan to create a zero-landfill or zero waste program in food and beverage producing company? The best way to begin is to start at a small-level and doing what you can. Perfect those programs and set goals each year to improve. Creation of a core team is an essential step in order to explore different ways to reduce waste, energy and utilities.

Measuring different waste streams and setting a benchmark is the initial step in the zero-landfill program. Once the data has been collected, we should break these numbers down into categories, according to the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge and identify the potential opportunities.

For example, inorganic materials can be categorized based on their end lives (reuse, recycle or landfill).  The food and beverage industry should perform a waste sort exercise (or dumpster dive) to identify its key streams.

Nestlé USA – A Case Study

In April 2015, Nestlé USA announced all 23 of its facilities were landfill free. As part of its sustainability effort, Nestlé USA is continually looking for new ways to reuse, recycle and recover energy, such as composting, recycling, energy production and the provision of safe products for animal feed, when disposing of manufacturing by-products.

Employees also work to minimize by-products and engage in recycling programs and partnerships with credible waste vendors that dispose of manufacturing by-products in line with Nestlé’s environmental sustainability guidelines and standards. All Nestlé facilities employ ISO 14001-certified environmental management systems to minimize their environmental impact.

Utilization of Date Palm Biomass

Date palm trees produce huge amount of agricultural wastes in the form of dry leaves, stems, pits, seeds etc. A typical date tree can generate as much as 20 kilograms of dry leaves per annum while date pits account for almost 10 percent of date fruits.

date-wastes

Date palm biomass is found in large quantities across the Middle East

Date palm is considered a renewable natural resource because it can be replaced in a relatively short period of time. It takes 4 to 8 years for date palms to bear fruit after planting, and 7 to 10 years to produce viable yields for commercial harvest. Usually date palm wastes are burned in farms or disposed in landfills which cause environmental pollution in dates-producing nations.

The major constituents of date palm biomass are cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin. In addition, date palm has high volatile solids content and low moisture content. These factors make date palm residues an excellent biomass resource in date-palm producing nations.

Date palm biomass is an excellent resource for charcoal production in Middle East

A wide range of physico-chemical, thermal and biochemical technologies exists for sustainable utilization of date palm biomass. Apart from charcoal production and energy conversion (using technologies like combustion and gasification), below are few ways for utilization of date palm wastes:

Conversion into fuel pellets or briquettes

Biomass pellets are a popular type of alternative fuel (analogous to coal), generally made from wood wastes and agricultural biomass. The biomass pelletization process consists of multiple steps including pre-treatment, pelletization and post-treatment of biomass wastes. Biomass pellets can be used as a coal replacement in power plant, industries and other application.

Conversion into energy-rich products

Biomass pyrolysis is the thermal decomposition of date palm biomass occurring in the absence of oxygen. The products of biomass pyrolysis include biochar, bio-oil and gases including methane, hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide.

Depending on the thermal environment and the final temperature, pyrolysis will yield mainly biochar at low temperatures, less than 450 0C, when the heating rate is quite slow, and mainly gases at high temperatures, greater than 800 0C, with rapid heating rates. At an intermediate temperature and under relatively high heating rates, the main product is bio-oil.

Bio-oil can be upgraded to either a special engine fuel or through gasification processes to a syngas which can then be processed into biofuels. Bio-oil is particularly attractive for co-firing because it can be more readily handled and burned than solid fuel and is cheaper to transport and store.

Conversion into biofertilizer

Composting is the most popular method for biological decomposition of organic wastes. Date palm waste has around 80% organic content which makes it very well-suited for the composting process. Commercial-scale composting of date palm wastes can be carried out by using the traditional windrow method or a more advanced method like vermicomposting.

Different Strategies in Composting

Composting can be categorized into different categories depending on the nature of decomposition process. The three major segments of composting are anaerobic composting, aerobic composting, and vermicomposting. In anaerobic composting, the organic matter is decomposed in the absence of air. Organic matter may be collected in pits and covered with a thick layer of soil and left undisturbed six to eight months. Anaerobic microorganisms dominate and develop intermediate compounds including methane, organic acids, hydrogen sulphide and other substances. The process is low-temperature, slow and the compost formed may not be completely converted and may include aggregated masses and phytotoxic compounds.

Aerobic Composting

Aerobic composting is the process by which organic wastes are converted into compost or manure in presence of air. In this process, aerobic microorganisms break down organic matter and produce carbon dioxide, ammonia, water, heat and humus, the relatively stable organic end-product. Although aerobic composting may produce intermediate compounds such as organic acids, aerobic microorganisms decompose them further. The resultant compost, with its relatively unstable form of organic matter, has little risk of phytotoxicity. The heat generated accelerates the breakdown of proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates such as cellulose and hemicellulose. Hence, the processing time is shorter. Moreover, this process destroys many micro-organisms that are human or plant pathogens, as well as weed seeds, provided it undergoes sufficiently high temperature. Although more nutrients are lost from the materials by aerobic composting, it is considered more efficient and useful than anaerobic composting for agricultural production.

There are a variety of methods for aerobic composting, the most common being the Heap Method, where organic matter needs to be divided into three different types and to be placed in a heap one over the other, covered by a thin layer of soil or dry leaves. This heap needs to be mixed every week, and it takes about three weeks for conversion to take place. The process is same in the Pit Method, but carried out in specially constructed pits. Mixing has to be done every 15 days, and there is no fixed time in which the compost may be ready. Berkley Method uses a labor-intensive technique and has precise requirements of the material to be composted. Easily biodegradable materials, such as grass, vegetable matter, etc., are mixed with animal matter in the ratio of 2:1. Compost is usually ready in 15 days.

Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting is a type of composting in which certain species of earthworms are used to enhance the process of organic waste conversion and produce a better end-product. It is a mesophilic process utilizing microorganisms and earthworms. Earthworms feeds the organic waste materials and passes it through their digestive system and gives out in a granular form (cocoons) which is known as vermicompost. Earthworms consume organic wastes and reduce the volume by 40–60 percent. Each earthworm weighs about 0.5 to 0.6 gram, eats waste equivalent to its body weight and produces cast equivalent to about 50 percent of the waste it consumes in a day. The moisture content of castings ranges between 32 and 66 percent and the pH is around 7.

The level of nutrients in compost depends upon the source of the raw material and the species of earthworm. Apart from other nutrients, a fine worm cast is rich in NPK which are in readily available form and are released within a month of application. Vermicompost enhances plant growth, suppresses disease in plants, increases porosity and microbial activity in soil, and improves water retention and aeration.

Composting in Qatar

compost-qatarQatar has one of the highest per capita waste generation rates worldwide. In 2012, Qatar generated 8,000 tons of solid waste daily (excluding construction and demolition waste which amounts to 20,000 tons additional waste per day).  This number is predicted to reach 19,000 tons/day in 2032, with an annual growth rate of roughly 4.2%.

Most of these wastes end up in landfills – in 2012, more than 90% of Qatar’s solid waste were sent to landfills although the government is intensifying its efforts to reduce this amount. This percentage is extremely high compared to many industrialized countries in Europe and Asia (e.g. Austria, Denmark, Netherlands and Japan) where less than 10% of solid waste are disposed of in landfills.  These countries have high recycling rates, have invested in technologies that convert waste into energy, and apply composting process to their organic waste, especially food wastes. In some of these nations, as much as 40% of their wastes are composted.

Composting in Qatar

Currently, composting in Qatar is mainly done at the Domestic Solid Waste Management Centre (DSWMC) in Mesaieed, which houses the largest composting facility in the country and one of the largest in the world.  The waste that enters the plant initially goes through anaerobic digestion, which produces biogas that can power the facility’s gas engine and generators, followed by aerobic treatment which yields the final product.

Two types of compost are generated: Grade A (compost that comes from green waste, such as yard/park trimmings, leftovers from kitchen or catering services, and wastes from markets) and Grade B (compost produced from MSW).  The plant started its operation in 2011 and when run at full capacity is able to process 750 tons of waste and produce 52 tons of Grade A compost, 377 tons of Grade B compost, liquid fertilizer which is composed of 51 tons of Grade A compost and 204 tons of Grade B compost, and 129 tons of biogas.

This is a significant and commendable development in Qatar’s implementation of its solid waste management plan, which is to reduce, reuse, recycle and recover from waste, and to avoid disposing in landfills as much as possible.  However, the large influx of workers to Qatar in the coming years as the country prepares to host the World Cup in 2022 is expected to substantially increase solid waste generation and apart from its investments in facilities like the composting plant and in DSWMC in general, the government may have to tap into the efforts of organizations and communities to implement its waste management strategy.

Future Outlook

Thankfully, several organizations recognize the importance of composting in waste management and are raising awareness on its benefits.  Qatar Green Building Council (QGBC) has been actively promoting composting through its Solid Waste Interest Group.  Last year, they were one of the implementers of the Baytna project, the first Passivhaus experiment in the country.

This project entails the construction of an energy-efficient villa and a comparative study will be performed as to how the carbon footprint of this structure would compare to a conventional villa.  The occupants of the Passivhaus villa will also be made to implement a sustainable waste management system which includes composting of food waste and garden waste, which is meant to lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to landfilling.

Qatar Foundation is also currently developing an integrated waste management system for the entire Education City and the Food Services group is pushing for composting to be included as a method to treat food and other organic waste.  And many may not know this but composting can be and has been done by individuals in their own backyard and can even be done indoors with the right equipment.

Katrin Scholz-Barth, previous president of SustainableQatar, a volunteer-based organization that fosters sustainable culture through awareness, skills and knowledge, is an advocate of composting and has some great resources on how to start and maintain your own composting bin as she has been doing it herself.  A simple internet search will also reveal that producing compost at home is a relatively simple process that can be achieved with minimal tools.  At present, very few families in Qatar are producing their own compost and Scholz-Barth believes there is much room for improvement.

As part of its solid waste management plan as stated in the National Development Strategy for 2011-2016, Qatar aims to maintain domestic waste generation at 1.6 kg per capita per day.  This will probably involve encouraging greater recycling and reuse efforts and the reduction of waste from its source.  It would also be worthwhile to include programs that will promote and boost composting efforts among institutions, organizations and individuals, encouraging them with the fact that apart from its capability of significant waste diversion from landfills, composting can also be an attractive source of income.

Note: The article is being republished with the permission of our collaborative partner EcoMENA. The original article can be viewed at this link.

Food Waste Management in UK

Food-Waste-UKFood waste in the United Kingdom is a matter of serious environmental, economic and social concern that has been attracting widespread attention in recent years. According to ‘Feeding the 5K’ organisation, 13,000 slices of crusts are thrown away every day by a single sandwich factory which is featured in the figure above. More recently, Tesco, one of the largest UK food retailers, has published its sustainability report admitting that the company generated 28,500 tonnes of food waste in the first six months of 2013. TESCO’s report also state that 47% of the bakery produced is wasted. In terms of GHG emissions, DEFRA estimated that food waste is associated with 20 Mt of CO2 equivalent/year, which is equivalent to 3% of the total annual GHG emissions.

Globally, 1.2 to 2 billion tonnes (30%-50%) of food produced is thrown away before it reaches a human stomach. Food waste, if conceived as a state, is responsible for 3.3 Bt-CO2 equivalent/year, which would make it the third biggest carbon emitter after China and USA. What makes food waste an even more significant issue is the substantially high demand for food which is estimated to grow 70% by 2050 due to the dramatic increase of population which is expected to reach 9.5 billion by 2075. Therefore, there is an urgent need to address food waste as a globally challenging issue which should be considered and tackled by sustainable initiatives.

A War on Food Waste

The overarching consensus to tackle the food waste issue has led to the implementation of various policies. For instance, the European Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC) set targets to reduce organic waste disposed to landfill in 2020 to 35% of that disposed in 1995 (EC 1999). More recently, the European Parliament discussed a proposal to “apply radical measures” to halve food waste by 2025 and to designate the 2014 year as “the European Year Against Food Waste”. In the light of IMechE’s report (2013), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in cooperation with FAO has launched the Save Food Initiative in an attempt to reduce food waste generated in the global scale.

In the UK, WRAP declared a war on food waste by expanding its organic waste programme in 2008 which was primarily designed to “establish the most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable ways of diverting household food waste from landfill that leads to the production of a saleable product”. DEFRA has also identified food waste as a “priority waste stream” in order to achieve better waste management performance. In addition to governmental policies, various voluntary schemes have been introduced by local authorities such as Nottingham Declaration which aims to cut local CO2 emissions 60% by 2050.

Sustainable Food Waste Management

Engineering has introduced numerous technologies to deal with food waste. Many studies have been carried out to examine the environmental and socio-economic impacts of food waste management options. This article covers the two most preferable options; anaerobic digestion and composting.

In-vessel composting (IVC) is a well-established technology which is widely used to treat food waste aerobically and convert it into a valuable fertilizer. IVC is considered a sustainable option because it helps by reducing the amount of food waste landfilled. Hence, complying with the EU regulations, and producing a saleable product avoiding the use of natural resources. IVC is considered an environmentally favourable technology compared with other conventional options (i.e. landfill and incineration). It contributes less than 0.06% to the national greenhouse gas inventories. However, considering its high energy-intensive collection activities, the overall environmental performance is “relatively poor”.

Anaerobic Digestion (AD) is a leading technology which has had a rapidly growing market over the last few years. AD is a biologically natural process in which micro-organisms anaerobically break down food waste and producing biogas which can be used for both Combined Heat & Power (CHP) and digestate that can be used as soil fertilizers or conditioners. AD has been considered as the “best option” for food waste treatment. Therefore, governmental and financial support has been given to expand AD in the UK.

AD is not only a food waste treatment technology, but also a renewable source of energy. For instance, It is expected that AD would help the UK to meet the target of supplying 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Furthermore, AD technology has the potential to boost the UK economy by providing 35,000 new jobs if the technology is adopted nationally to process food waste. This economic growth will significantly improve the quality of life among potential beneficiaries and thus all sustainability elements are considered.

Sustainable Agriculture with Liquid Organic Fertilizers

Agricultural practices are increasingly leaning towards committing to a sustainable environment. In light of this, organic farming has become acceptable to many farmers. Many are practicing environmental- friendly practices such as using organic liquid fertilizer instead of the synthetic alternative.

The misuse and abuse of synthetic fertilizers is responsible for many of the health problems that humans experience today. It has also contributed to a large extent to the deterioration of the environment.

Organic agriculture has experienced fast growth globally. Organic systems involve the natural management of soil through the following practices:

  • Composts
  • Animal manure
  • Mowed or tilled over crops
  • Application of soil-organic matter

These nourish the soil by steadily releasing nutrients to the crops as the organic matter that has been added to the soil breaks down. The chemical and physical properties of the soil are improved by the exogenous organic matter applied to the soil. This also improves the biological functions of the soil which results in a healthy and wholesome crop free of dangerous disease causing chemicals.

Why Organic Liquid Fertilizer is Sustainable

Organic fertilizer is derived from naturally existing products such as plants and animal manure. This makes it a sustainable product. Waste from animals such as cows, rabbits, fish and chicken is used to make organic fertilizer that provides much-needed nutrition to plants and soil as well.

Naturally occurring vegetation and waste will always be available as it renews itself. Besides, plants can be reused to make fertilizer for the next batch once harvesting is done. Since organic farming takes care of the environment, it is safe to say that vegetation is safe for the long run. Organic fertilizer is also made from human waste such as urine and that is definitely sustainable.

Organic gardeners love to have a bottle of organic fish fertilizer on hand for feed young seedlings. This fertilizer also works well on plants in containers and any crop that may be suffering from ‘malnutrition’.

Why and When to Use Liquid Fertilizers

Seeing as liquid manures act faster than solid organic ones, they are the best option in the following circumstance:

  • For seedlings that have exhausted the nutrients provided by newly sprouted seed. It is especially crucial if the fertilizer you are using is a soil-free seed starting mix. While it helps in damping off, it fails to provide adequate nutrients.
  • When seedlings show signs of not having had enough nutrients. If the color fails to darken after a fertilizer has been added, it is an indication that they have not had a fair share of nutrients.
  • If you have container-grown plants, liquid fertilizers are what your plants yearn for. Container-grown plants depend entirely on the grower for nutrients and moisture. They need to be fed frequently with an organic liquid fertilizer in order to thrive.
  • When you are growing cold-tolerant crops which begin their journey of growth in low soil temperatures. Liquid fertilizers are great for boosting nutrients for such plants since it is difficult to absorb nutrients such as nitrogen in wintry temperatures.

Organic liquid fertilizers are short-acting. Consequently, they are easier to regulate that dry organic ones which are longer-acting. The ease with which liquid fertilizers can be used makes them quite popular and therefore sustainable.

Important Tip

Do not mix too much nitrogen-rich fertilizer into the soil. This is not reversible. The release of nitrogen into the soil increases as the temperature rises. You may consequently end up with huge plants but no production. The best time to apply a short-acting fertilizer is just when it is needed by the crop. Then you have less chances of overdoing the application.

When your plants are well into the season, you can feed them an organic liquid fertilizer to rejuvenate crops such as tomatoes which live long in the ground. Tomatoes are known to awaken with gusto once you give them two feeds of a good organic liquid fertilizer.

Composting with Worms

Vermicomposting is a type of composting in which certain species of earthworms are used to enhance the process of organic waste conversion and produce a better end-product. It is a mesophilic process utilizing microorganisms and worms. Earthworms feeds the organic waste materials and passes it through their digestive system and gives out in a granular form (cocoons) which is known as vermicompost.

Simply speaking, vermicompost is earthworm excrement, called castings, which can improve biological, chemical, and physical properties of the soil. The chemical secretions in the earthworm’s digestive tract help break down soil and organic matter, so the castings contain more nutrients that are immediately available to plants.

Production of Vermicompost

A wide range of agricultural residues, such as straw, husk, leaves, stalks, weeds etc can be converted into vermicompost. Other potential feedstock for vermicompost production are livestock wastes, poultry litter, dairy wastes, food processing wastes, organic fraction of MSW, bagasse, digestate from biogas plants etc.

Earthworms consume organic wastes and reduce the volume by 40–60 percent. Each earthworm weighs about 0.5 to 0.6 gram, eats waste equivalent to its body weight and produces cast equivalent to about 50 percent of the waste it consumes in a day. The moisture content of castings ranges between 32 and 66 percent and the pH is around 7. The level of nutrients in compost depends upon the source of the raw material and the species of earthworm.

Types of Earthworms

There are nearly 3600 types of earthworms which are divided into burrowing and non-burrowing types. Red earthworm species, like Eisenia foetida, and are most efficient in compost making. The non-burrowing earthworms eat 10 percent soil and 90 percent organic waste materials; these convert the organic waste into vermicompost faster than the burrowing earthworms.

They can tolerate temperatures ranging from 0 to 40°C but the regeneration capacity is more at 25 to 30°C and 40–45 percent moisture level in the pile. The burrowing types of earthworms come onto the soil surface only at night. These make holes in the soil up to a depth of 3.5 m and produce 5.6 kg casts by ingesting 90 percent soil and 10 percent organic waste.

Types of Vermicomposting

The types of vermicomposting depend upon the amount of production and composting structures. Small-scale vermicomposting is done to meet personal requirements and farmers/gardeners can harvest 5-10 tons of vermicompost annually.

On the other hand, large-scale vermicomposting is done at commercial scale by recycling large quantities of organic waste in modern facilities with the production of more than hundreds of tons annually.

Benefits of Vermicompost

The worm castings contain higher percentage of both macro and micronutrients than the garden compost. Apart from other nutrients, a fine worm cast is rich in NPK which are in readily available form and are released within a month of application. Vermicompost enhances plant growth, suppresses disease in plants, increases porosity and microbial activity in soil, and improves water retention and aeration.

Vermicompost also benefits the environment by reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and decreasing the amount of waste going to landfills. Vermicompost production is trending up worldwide and it is finding increasing use especially in Western countries, Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asia.

Vermicompost Tea

A relatively new product from vermicomposting is vermicompost tea which is a liquid produced by extracting organic matter, microorganisms, and nutrients from vermicompost. Unlike vermicompost and compost, this tea may be applied directly to plant foliage, reportedly to enhance disease suppression. Vermicompost tea also may be applied to the soil as a supplement between compost applications to increase biological activity.

Potential Market

Vermicompost may be sold in bulk or bagged with a variety of compost and soil blends. Markets include home improvement centers, nurseries, landscape contractors, greenhouses, garden supply stores, grocery chains, flower shops, discount houses, indoor gardens, and the general public.

An Introduction to Composting

The composting process is a complex interaction between organic waste and microorganisms. The microorganisms that carry out this process fall into three groups: bacteria, fungi, and actinomycetesActinomycetes are a form of fungi-like bacteria that break down organic matter. The first stage of the biological activity is the consumption of easily available sugars by bacteria, which causes a fast rise in temperature. The second stage involves bacteria and actinomycetes that cause cellulose breakdown. The last stage is concerned with the breakdown of the tougher lignins by fungi.

Central solutions are exemplified by low-cost composting without forced aeration, and technologically more advanced systems with forced aeration and temperature feedback. Central composting plants are capable of handling more than 100,000 tons of biodegradable waste per year, but typically the plant size is about 10,000 to 30,000 tons per year. Biodegradable wastes must be separated prior to composting: Only pure foodwaste, garden waste, wood chips, and to some extent paper are suitable for producing good-quality compost.

Composting Equipment

The composting plants consist of some or all of the following technical units: bag openers, magnetic and/or ballistic separators, screeners (sieves), shredders, mixing and homogenization equipment, turning equipment, irrigation systems, aeration systems, draining systems, bio-filters, scrubbers, control systems, and steering systems. The composting process occurs when biodegradable waste is piled together with a structure allowing for oxygen diffusion and with a dry matter content suiting microbial growth.

Biodegradable wastes must be separated prior to composting: Only pure food waste, garden waste, wood chips, and to some extent paper are suitable for producing good-quality compost.The temperature of the biomass increases due to the microbial activity and the insulation properties of the piled material. The temperature often reaches 65 to 75 degrees C within few days and then declines slowly. This high temperature hastens the elimination of pathogens and weed seeds.

Composting Methodologies

The methodology of composting can be categorized into three major segments—anaerobic composting, aerobic composting, and vermicomposting. In anaerobic composting, the organic matter is decomposed in the absence of air. Organic matter may be collected in pits and covered with a thick layer of soil and left undisturbed six to eight months. The compost so formed may not be completely converted and may include aggregated masses.

Aerobic composting is the process by which organic wastes are converted into compost or manure in presence of air and can be of different types. The most common is the Heap Method, where organic matter needs to be divided into three different types and to be placed in a heap one over the other, covered by a thin layer of soil or dry leaves. This heap needs to be mixed every week, and it takes about three weeks for conversion to take place. The process is same in the Pit Method, but carried out specially constructed pits. Mixing has to be done every 15 days, and there is no fixed time in which the compost may be ready.

Berkley Method uses a labor-intensive technique and has precise requirements of the material to be composted. Easily biodegradable materials, such as grass, vegetable matter, etc., are mixed with animal matter in the ratio of 2:1. Compost is usually ready in 15 days.

Vermicomposting involves use of earthworms as natural and versatile bioreactors for the process of conversion. It is carried out in specially designed pits where earthworm culture also needs to be done. Vermicomposting is a precision-based option and requires overseeing of work by an expert. It is also a more expensive option (O&M costs especially are high).