Nature doesn't create waste. In its 3.4 billion years of evolution it has worked out a perfect system of creating new life forms without any adverse impacts and only using solar energy. It has created a perfect cyclic system of inputs and waste, becoming a symbiotic perfection. Most people only think of waste when they're affected by it, and so they promote recycling and separation. Their reaction is called the "not in my back yard (NIMBY)" syndrome. But the truth is, the field of waste is so much bigger and has been moving in many different directions. The cutting edge which has been happening for decades is the new frontier. The following is a glimpse into the future which is NOW...
The Industrial Revolution (IR) has produced the largest and most toxic waste the world has ever known. Architect Willian McDonough soundly states that we have designed a system of production (he was referring to the IR) that:
- Puts billions of pounds of toxic materials into the air, water and soil every year
- Produces some materials so dangerous they will require constent vigilance by future generations
- Results in gigantic amounts of waste
- Puts valuable materials in the holes all over the planet where they can never be retrieved
- Requires thousands of complex regulations - not to keep people and natural systems safe, but rather to keep them from being poisoned too quickly
- Measures productivitity by how few people are working
- Creates prosperity by digging up or cutting down natural resources and then burying or burning them
- Erodes the diversity of species and cultural practices
(Source: Cradle to Cradle, W McDonough & M Braungart, North Point Press, NYC, NY 2002. p 18.)
What are the corrective measures we can take that will start to eliminate the entire concept waste? This leads to the need for material efficiency (ME).
We start with system analysis: Cradle to Grave (CG). CG was a way of examining every process in the production cycle. From this examination teams could eliminate, substitute, make simpler processes and the waste starts to disappear.
An even better system approach is Cradle to Cradle: here you design out any waste from the beginning. For instance, you design out any toxins that are part of the manufacturing process of nylon carpets. Then you design a way of caputuring the old carpets into new carpets using little energy in the conversion and the energy comes for renewables. Interface is the largest carpet company in the world and it has done all these things and more. It has claimed to be the first sustainable carpet company in the world.
Material Efficiency (ME)
German scientist, Schmidt-Bleek, and his researchers have come up with a measurement for material efficiency. For instance, the gold ring around your finger weighs three tonnes, not to mention all the cyanide used in separating the gold from the rock. The three thousand million tonnes of coal that we burn yearly turns out to weight 15 thousand million tonnes of tailings and water from mining, not to mention the 10 thousand million tonnes of CO2 we release into the atmosphere. Take something as benign as orange juice: depending on what country it was made and consumed in, it can cause soil and water movement of more than 100 kg. This is the hidden side of the solid waste.
By improving on material efficiency, we reduce our carbon foot print and toxic and hazardous materials. Well, we could and enlightened companies do! Amory Lovins, the efficiency guru, has documents on how some enlightened (and profitable - for the two go hand in hand) companies are coming up with a factor four and a factor ten efficiency. In the first you double your wealth/production, while halving your resource use (so it takes half the materials to produce double the amount of goods and services ). In the later you only use 10% of the materials you now use to produce 100% of the goods and services. There are companies that are doing this while eliminating all their toxic and hazardous materials.
A sub category of ME could be Eco Industrial Parks: These work by matching the different companies within the park so the waste from one is the input for another. One of the first parks was at Kalunborg in Denmark. This Eco Industrial Park is made up over 20 companies. There is a coal fired power station, it produces heat for Kalunborg (4,500 pop); a pharmaceutical plant Novo Nordisk; an enzyme producer Novozymes which produces a yeast slurry from the steam from a oil refinery; the slurry is fed to 800,000 pigs. There is a fish farm which has high yields due to the warm water. There are a number of farms nearby that use the nutrient laden water (fish excreta) as well as the pharmaceutical process (Novozymes) for fertilizers. The oil refinery desulphurisation plant creates 20,000 t/year of a liquid fertilizer. The fly ash from the power plant is used by a cement company (30,000 t/year). The Power Station produces about 200,000t/year of gypsum (a by-product). A plasterboard company produces plasterboard for the construction industry. This symbiotic relationship exchanges 2.9 million tons of materials each year. Water consumption has fallen by 25% and the power station has reduced its water consumption by 60%. All the partners benefit financially. Companies no longer have to pay for the dump. Other benefits include sharing of personnel, equipment and information.
There is a region, Styria, Austria, (pop 1.2 million) which has a similar but much larger arrangement between 500 companies (with over 10,000 employees). These companies exchange millions of tons of materials each year.
Zero Waste Policy
If we create a Zero Waste policy within Auroville, then we become aware of all our production processes and effluents (while increasing material efficiency) that are happening upstream as well as within Auroville. By substitution, reprocessing and recapturing (the 3 Rs - reuse, recycle and reduce is old hat, it's now the 5 Rs adding: reprocessing and recapture) toxic and hazardous materials and then selling them to other companies which use these chemicals in their manufacturing processes you start to eliminate them entirely from the waste stream.
This is the emerging cutting edge science that seeks innovation inspired by nature. It acknowledges that nature creates, uses only renewable energy, creates no waste, produces at ambient temperature, self assembles, and its research tries to mimic nature. As one example, nylon rope is strong, durable, needs high heat, via fossil fuels, and produces lots of toxic and hazardous materials via chemical interaction. The strongest fiber in the world pound for pound is spider silk/web. Yet this material is produced at room temperature, creates no toxins, is produced by enzymes in the stomach of the spider. (Read Biomimicry by Janine Benyus).
- Biomimicry: Innovations Inspired by Nature. J.M Benyus. (1997) Happer Parennial, NYC, NY.
(This brilliant book was also made into a 2h TV series "The Nature of Things" with David Suzuki).
- Natural Capitalism: The Next Industrial Revolution. P Hawken, A Lovins, H. Lovins. (2000), Earthscan Pub, London UK.
- Factor Four: Doubling Wealth, Halving Resource Use. E. von Weizsacker, A. Lovins, H. Lovins. (1998) Earthscan Pub, London UK.
- Cradle to Cradle. W. McDonough and M. Braungart. (2002) North Point Press, NYC, NY.
- A discussion on Eco-Industrial Parks (Adobe PDF format)
Solid Waste in Auroville
In some ways, the solid waste situation in Auroville reflects the waste situation in India. In recent years, Auroville's waste problem has ballooned, much as India's has, due to increased population and increased consumption. Our landfill, like nearly all Indian landfills, doesn't protect the environment from leachate leaking to the ground and water tables. We also don't take proper care of hazardous and medical waste in Auroville. But Auroville does have a system that collects, segregates and recycles waste, organized by the group Eco-Service, unlike most Indian towns which just collect and dump everything (including organic waste) into small local dumpsites, or they burn it.
But this is not to say that Auroville doesn't have much room to improve. Currently only about 2/3 of the households, units, and restaurants in Auroville utilized Eco-Service, which means that the other 1/3 of the waste gets treated arbitrarily. Sometimes it's collected by outside waste dealers but then dumped in Auroville canyons, or burned. If everyone in Auroville utilizedEco-Service there would be a guarantee Auroville's waste would be handled properly.
Unfortunately, at the current time, Eco-Service is not recognized as an essential municipal service and is not adequately funded by the city. It covers its running costs by the money earned from recyclables and user fees. There are numerous, dedicated people working on these issues, but you, too, can contribute to the solution by educating yourself about waste and beginning at home.
In Your Home
The most important place to start to improve solid waste management within the township of Auroville is with yourself. What type of waste do you produce? Go to your waste bin right now and browse through it. What is there? Mostly plastics from food packaging? A lot of paper? Many bottles? Cloth? You have now begun the endless process of understanding what type of waste you produce, which prompts you to turn your attention to your consumption habits. You can begin to look for ways to reduce your waste, including buying in bulk, using cloth bags when you shop, or getting old clothes mended instead of throwing them away.
Inevitably, however, you will most likely produce some waste. One way to handle your waste more responsibly is by using Eco-Service if you don't already. If your waste is not handled by Eco-Service, there is no telling where it will end up - possibly in an Auroville canyon, or at the Pondicherry landfill where it will blow through Auroville in the form of toxic smoke.
When using Eco-Service it is imporant to know how to handle it properly so that it can be recycled. Learn how to sort your waste properly by reviewied these recommendations: Eco-Service Recommendations.
Eco-Service does NOT collect organic waste. Households and communities in Auroville usually have their own composting system. These range from digging a pit in the ground and dumping in the waste to creating a Bokashi composting system to create rich compost.
In Your Community
It is important to adapt your waste segregation system to the needs of your community members as well as the physical reality of your community. For that reason, each waste segregation system in Auroville is unique. If you would like to set up a waste segregation area in your community, you can start brainstorming by checking out various waste segregations systems within Auroville. See photos of some of these systems.
There is also help available! Just contact Soma Waste Management. They will arrange for someone to meet with you and discuss the possibilities for your community's waste area, including what categories to create as well as how to set up the bins. In addition, they will provide a training on waste segregation in English or Tamil for your community member and/or community workers. Soma Waste Management can be reached at: email@example.com
Solid Waste Labels
If you want to get started on your own, Eco-Service provides posters for various categories of waste. These are written in both English and Tamil with images attached. Print them out, stick them on your bins, and you are well on your way toward a waste segregation system! Waste labels can be downloaded by clicking on the links below:
- Bottles, Jars, Unbroken Glass
- Broken Glass
- Household Hazardous (This image is low resolution. A high resolution image is coming soon.)
- Leather, Metal, Rubber, Cloth
Depending on the specific needs of your community or unit, you may want to use some of the other labels as well:
Finally there are two posters which may be helpful. These include:
- Please Take To Pour Tous (This image is low resolution. A high resolution image is coming soon.)
- Please Remember... (This image is low resolution. A high resolution image is coming soon.)
In Your Unit
There are many ways your unit can work to reduce its waste and segregate it properly. For an in-person consultation to discuss your situation, please contact Soma Waste Management at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Studies and Reports
- Talkin' Trash. Starting in May 2010, some members of the Solid Waste Management Task Force began to publish weekly articles on waste in the News and Notes. Find these some of these archived in Talkin' Trash (May-August 2010). You can find the rest on Auronet.
- A Campaign for a Litter Free Auroville, Auroville Today, January 2010
- Litter Free Auroville's Trasion Show, Auroville website, January 2010
- Sort n' Segregate - Eco Service's Mantra, Auroville Today, August 2009
- Soma Waste Management Survey Results, March 2009
- Waste Management, Auroville website, December 2003
- Solid Waste Management, Auroville website, April 2002
- Auroville Solid Waste Management Strategy 2001-2005
- Village Solid Waste Management Strategy (Auroville Area) May 2001
- Solid Waste Management Research Document May 2001
- Table of Contents
- Chapter 1: Waste Management Within the Region
- Chapter 2: Waste Management Hierarchy
- Chapter 3: Towards Environmental Sustainability
- Chapter 4: Waste Management in Auroville
- Chapter 5: Waste Characterization
- Chapter 6: Business and Community Waste Planning
- Chapter 7: Increasing Reuse
- Chapter 8: Recyclable Resource Management
- Chapter 9: Eco-Service Development
- Chapter 10: Bio-Medical Waste Management
- Chapter 11: Hazardous Waste Management
- Chapter 12: Residual Waste Management
- Chapter 13: Financials
- Chapter 14: Community Consultation
Solid Waste in the Bioregion
- Pondicherry Garbage Dump Threatens the Area, Auroville Today, October 2009
- Oulgaret Inks Pact for Compost Extraction, The Hindu, April 24, 2010
- Exnora (Chennai)
- Shuddham (Pondicherry)