Editorial: Who will ensure Quality of Compost from Garbage?

Ministry of Agriculture to set up laboratories to test quality of compost produced by local authorities or their authorized agencies

Sanjaya K. Mishra

Editorial Published on 18th December 2019

Composting as defined in Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 vide S.O. 1357(E) the 8th April 2016, means a controlled process involving the microbial decomposition of organic matter. With growing awareness and compliance with rule 4, many waste generators, Residential Welfare Associations (RWAs), Group Housing Societies, Malls, Hotels, Hospitals, Office Complexes; are now making compost in their premises. Some have adopted garbage converters, others generate compost by aerobic composting or vermicomposting. Some institutions, as required for those with more than 5,000 SQM area, also converting biodegradable waste into compost. At the same time, with growing activism and increasing interruption of Courts and Tribunals, the Municipal Bodies are also working proactively towards solid waste management. Thus, a huge quantity of compost is being generated.

According to the SWM Rules 2016, the Department of Fertilizers, Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers shall provide market development assistance on city compost, and ensure promotion of co-marketing of compost with chemical fertilizers in the ratio of 3 to 4 bags: 6 to 7 bags by the fertilizer companies to the extent compost is made available for marketing to the companies. Further, the SWM Rules specifies that the Ministry of Agriculture through appropriate mechanisms shall propagate utilization of compost on farmland. It has also given the responsibility to set up laboratories to test the quality of compost produced by local authorities or their authorized agencies. Download SWM Rule 2016 (English)

The above responsibilities by the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers and the Ministry of Agriculture are not as visible as the enthusiasm of RWAs to make compost out of bio-degradable waste. Compost quality is essential to be analyzed as specified in the Schedule-II of SWM Rules, 2016. And it has a significant meaning as according to the “Fact Sheet on Plastic Waste in India, 2018”, The Energy Research Institute (TERI), plastic contributes to 8% of the total solid waste. A significant amount of toxic heavy metals like copper, zinc, lead, and cadmium recovered from plastic wastes from seashores have an adverse effect on the coastal ecosystems. Lead and Cadmium pigments, commonly used in most of the plastics as additives are hazardous in nature and are known to leach out. And this is only one source of possible contamination in the compost. This clearly indicates there is a substantial possibility of contamination in compost. At the moment, the compost is being utilized in potted plants, terrace gardens, lawns, gardens, greenbelts. There is a risk of using unknown quality of compost in potted plants. Further, contaminations and pollutants in compost may also degrade the soil and groundwater quality in the long term. Therefore, it is high time to establish laboratories and disseminate the information. It is also important for the EIA Consultants and the Compliance Professionals to address the subject as per legal provisions. Heaps of compost are being generated and over the years the quantity will increase. However, it is also time to review the annual reports prepared by the Local Bodies to obtain facts and figures. Proper utilization through the appropriate market, as delineated in the SWM Rule could lead to a win-win-win situation for the waste generator to farmers to government. There should not be any chance left to pile up compost in place of raw garbage.

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