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On food waste trail in green tipper

Updated: Jan 13

Photo credit: Mipham Jigmet

Since the last one month, the MCL has introduced green tippers for collecting organic waste separately in Leh city. The organic waste which is collected is composted to form manure. To find out how far residents are separating wet waste from dry, we spent a week doing rounds every morning in one of the green tippers.

In the green tipper, newly introduced by MCL for separate collection of wet waste, Old Bus Stand.

Wet waste is collected by 4 tippers, each of which is supposed to move in pairs with a dry waste tipper so that residents are able to hand over both wet and dry wastes to the different vehicles at the same time. But usually, one sees the dry and wet waste tippers moving alone. The tippers follow a different route each day of the week. The timing also fluctuates. They start from Balkhang Chowk anywhere between 8:00-9:00 am, depending on the time it takes for the engines to turn on. During the course of collection also, they are not able to keep to a timetable because they stop for different lengths of time at different places. Residents recognise the arrival of the tippers mainly from the distinctive music playing on loudspeaker in the tippers. We feel that in spite of the loud music, many residents are missing the tippers because of the varying routes and irregular timings.

The 8 tippers i.e. the drivers and the workers in the carriers, have taken the responsibility of collecting trash daily from the doorstep of homes, shops and hotels in the main market and neighbouring areas. The drivers manoeuvre the big vehicles through the streets and narrow by-lanes, stopping at designated spots and where they see residents waiting with their waste. If residents show up with dry waste at the wet waste tipper and vice versa or with mixed waste, the drivers tell them individually, in those few moments, which waste goes where. The workers in the carrier, numbering between 1 and 3, empty the bins passed by the residents into the carrier. Sometimes they climb down to separate, there and then, the waste for the residents. They also pick trash from the streets gathered in heaps by sweepers. Speed and efficiency is important in their work. If one walks through the main streets of the city after the tippers have done their round, the cityscape looks clean, but if one saw the streets before, trash could be found in so many spots. The hard work of the handful municipal workers, charged with the cleanliness of the city, is visible. Some spots are littered with so much trash that a JCB is brought to rake the trash from the ground and load in the tipper. JCB is needed almost on a daily basis at some spots where residents are in the habit of throwing trash.

Before and after municipal workers have cleaned a street corner with the help of JCB, near Zorawar Fort.
At the same spot, MCL has recently put a CCTV camera and poster which says Rs 5000 fine for throwing trash.

We observed that residents very often brought dry or mixed waste to the green tipper. Only few seemed to be sure the green tipper would accept organic waste only. Perhaps, an official announcement through media informing residents about the new system of separate collection of wet and dry waste would help. Nevertheless, residents should be able to understand the purpose of the green tipper since they were already issued green and blue bins by the MCL for storing wet and dry waste separately. We noted that only some residents are actually using the MCL bins. Many brought their waste in whatever they could find - polythene bags, cardboard cartons, sacks. Some are using the bins, but incorrectly - keeping dry waste in both blue and green bins. They must be producing a lot more dry waste than wet. However, not using the colour-coded bins according to instructions or not using them at all, tells that residents are not separating their waste with great responsibility.

Resident brings dry waste in MCL green bin, which is meant for wet waste, Upper Tukcha.

The announcement played on loudspeaker in the green tipper says it collects 'wet waste coming from the kitchen, such as leftover food, onion peels etc.' (rasoi se nikalne wala geela kachra, yani bacha hua khana, pyaz ke chilke adi). This is also a reason why residents show up with unsegregated waste at the green tipper. The announcement does not say pointedly to not mix dry waste with wet.

Mixed waste from a hotel, brought as 'wet waste' for throwing in the green tipper, Sheynam Road.

The largest quantity of waste collected by the green tipper is dry leaves. Abundant in the autumn season, dry leaves are burnt mostly. Now with the wet waste tipper, some residents are giving it over to the MCL. This is good in so far that they are not burning, however, most of the dry leaves thrown in the tipper contained plastic, paper and other items, again showing residents do not separate responsibly.

Dry leaves smouldering for hours is a common sight in the months of October and November, Skara.

The second major waste coming to the green tipper is vegetables and fruits from the vendors. In the long course of transportation from Kashmir, a lot of vegetables and fruits arrive spoilt or get spoilt in the next couple of days, and are discarded. Some that are not spoilt, only bruised or darkened, are also rejected. We noticed spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, potato, tomato, capsicum, radish, cucumber, mushroom, aubergine, ladyfinger, apple, orange, pear, banana, lemon and ginger, all making their way to the tipper. Since these perishable items arriving from outside cost much, therefore customers will not buy which is even slightly damaged. It is a pity that a large amount of vegetables and fruits, which are still in good condition, is wasted.

Not fit for selling, partially damaged ladyfingers and pears thrown away by a vendor in the green tipper.

After completing one round of collection or in case the tipper gets full before that, it heads to the SWM Plant in Skampari valley. The fully loaded tipper crawls uphill in first gear through an uneven, serpentine route for nearly 2 kms to reach the plant. The entire process of waste collection involves massive consumption of fuel and consequent air pollution - also a form of waste. These side effects of municipal waste management go unnoticed and unaccounted.

Tipper making its way to SWM Plant, Skampari, nearly 2 kms uphill of the main city.

After unloading the waste, some tippers make a further journey to the Bomb Guard dumpsite to throw the completely unrecoverable waste. Mr. Dorjey told us that 4-5 truckloads of waste are sent to Bomb Guard daily. He believes that the waste is incinerated, but in our last visit to Bomb Guard, we found that the incinerator was not operational yet.

Tipper being reloaded with waste for sending to Bomb Guard dumpsite.

The plant Manager, Mr. Tsewang Dorjey, told us that the wet waste arriving at the plant has a whole lot of dry waste mixed in it. This is undesirable because the wet waste is meant for composting. The workers in the plant remove the larger objects, like tetra packs and plastic wrappers, from the wet waste by hand. Metallic objects, like nails, blades, tobacco cases, chains, locks and keys, get caught in the giant magnet of the segregation machine. The problem remains of glass pieces. Mr. Dorjey says an unbelievably high amount of glass pieces is found in the wet as well as dry waste. Out of 16 workers, as many as 5 were on leave at the time of our visit, having cut their hand or feet from broken glass. Workers take the injuries light-heartedly, said Mr. Dorjey, but it actually is a matter of concern. He has spoken about this problem in the local media, appealing to residents to not mix glass in their waste. Yet, glass continues to appear in excessive amounts, putting workers at risk all the time. Mr. Dorjey blames the tipper drivers partly who, according to him, should collect broken glass separately and refuse waste mixed with glass pieces. After spending a week in the green tipper, however, we think that it is not possible for the drivers to know if someone is passing off glass in their waste. We witnessed only two instances where the residents themselves declared broken glass and handed it over separately.

Wet waste collected by green tippers contains a lot of dry waste.
Magnet removes metallic objects from the waste in the segregation machine.
Pieces of broken glass that arrived mixed with the waste.
Worker's fingers cut by broken glass. Photo courtesy: Mr. Tsewang Dorjey, Manager, SWM Plant, Skampari.
Big stones that arrived mixed with the waste, removed manually to prevent damage to the segregation machine.

The wet waste is composted in a room where temperature upto 45 degrees can be attained. To facilitate decomposition, a small amount of jaggery and gram flour mixed in water is added to the wet waste. We took a look at the compost that was ready. Its smell and texture felt right but it contained innumerable specs of glass. The compost will be handed over to the MCL, who will decide thereafter, what is to be done with it.

7 day long composting in progress. Different heaps are in different stages of the process.
Compost ready to use. In the background, HDPE lining for sanitary landfill to be constructed at the plant next year.

We think that the large-scale composting at the SWM Plant in Skampari should not be taken as the ideal way out for the city's wet waste. Composting takes a fair amount of time, and consumes energy and resources. The quality of the end product is not the best either. Instead of relying on composting, we can try to reduce the quantity of wet waste by recovering food waste as much as possible. After finding out that so much vegetables and fruits is thrown away, which could be consumed, we collected some of the damaged vegetables and fruits from the vendors directly to feed stray animals in our neighbourhood. Happy with our action, we visit the vendors regularly to take food waste and feed hungry animals.

Feeding vegetables recovered from Kashmiri vendors to stray donkeys and bulls, Skara.

Concluding thoughts

  • The wet waste collected by the green tippers of the Municipal Committee Leh (MCL) has a lot of dry waste mixed in it, indicating residents do not separate wet and dry waste meticulously before handing it over.

  • A lot of vegetables, fruits and cooked food, which is still in good condition to be consumed, is thrown away in the green tippers. Residents could feed it to stray animals, who are especially starving in the winter months.

  • In both dry and wet waste collected by MCL tippers, a high amount of glass pieces is found. This puts waste workers at constant risk of injury. Accidents happen frequently. Residents should hand over glass separately.

  • The wet waste collected by MCL is composted in the Solid Waste Management (SWM) Plant at Skampari. The compost also contains a large amount of minute pieces of glass.

  • Composting is not the most advantageous way to manage the city's food waste. The best would be to reduce the quantity of waste by recovering as much of the edible food as possible before it hits the waste stream.

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