How to get rid of plastic and bio-waste efficiently in a rural setting in India for starters!


Currently, India is on the road to understanding how waste disposal systems could be developed and perfected especially in rural areas. There is an urgency in people to live a better life in a cleaner environment and thus a willingness to achieve this goal. However, not everyone knows how we can proceed in the right direction- how to implement various solutions in a rural surrounding with little or no external funding and especially how these waste management systems can be made independent and self-sufficient. While this is the question on everyone’s mind, people lack a visual map on how this could be done. Therefore, I decided to draw a road-map of how Indian rural areas could achieve waste disposal efficiently including plastic as well as bio-waste. I will try to break down the current ideas to the most feasible rapid methods. Another blog with the long-term projects and the future steps that a village (a whole community per se) can adapt to have a cleaner surrounding will follow soon.

plasticgraphic-bccl

The above image shows a grim reality often missed by us. The world oceans are already loaded by an enormous 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic which in terms of numbers equals 55 million jumbo-jets, 822,000 Eiffel towers and 18400 Burj Khalifas.  If you have visited Eiffel tower or Burj Khalifa, you can imagine the enormity and gravity of the situation. The image was taken from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/indl-goods/svs/paper-/-wood-/-glass/-plastic/-marbles/our-plastic-pollution-problem/articleshow/64420276.cms5

What are we dealing with?

First of all, we must understand how to segregate our wastes properly. and for that, we need to understand which types of wastes does a village usually encounters and is it possible to separate them at the ground level. If we are able to distinguish which wastes go together and what should not be discarded together, we are able to generate an efficient waste disposal system rapidly.

Types of wastes

Normally, the waste can be divided into 4 main types:

  1. The bio-waste
  2. Plastic waste
  3. E-waste
  4. Chemical waste including agricultural and household chemicals

Due to prevalent farming practices and animal husbandry, a major part of rural waste consists of bio or organic waste. This is, in part, advantageous, as bio-waste is bio-degradable and age-old farming practices already exist (in addition to modern waste disposal system) to remove or recycle bio-waste. Bio or organic waste include kitchen waste, gardening waste, animal waste (cow dung) and more. During the road-map, we will discuss the feasibility of a bio-waste recycling and advantages for the rural area.

 

Image of common organic/ bio-waste in a rural area in northern India. Image provided by Surjit Singh Bains, Village Bains, Punjab.

Another common type of waste nowadays is the plastic waste. Use of plastic is now becoming a big problem all around the world especially because an efficient system to completely remove the plastic waste after use does not exist. Only about 20% of the whole world plastic waste is being recycled and, unfortunately, this recycling is almost non-existent in India even if India’s per capita plastic use is among the lowest in the world. Even more so in a rural setting. This means that any plastic that makes it to a small village, may not leave that village in the next decades. This has its own implications both from cleanliness as well as environment perspective. Out of ignorance, people burn the plastic waste to get rid of it, which should be avoided at any cost. This can pollute the immediate environment with harmful gases and cause health-related issues. Also, a plastic bottle degrades in over 400 years, long after the person using it gone. Therefore, recycling plastic becomes the only possible solution. We will discuss this type of waste also in more detail in the road-map.

WhatsApp Image 2019-07-10 at 7.51.10 AM

The most common form of plastic waste in the rural area is plastic bags and not pet bottles (common to tourist areas and even in metropolitan areas). This is an emerging type of waste with no proper handling at the end. The most common method employed by villagers is to burn the plastic in a heap which is extremely harmful to human health and environment. Image of common plastic waste in a rural area in northern India. Image provided by Surjit Singh Bains, Village Bains, Punjab.

Another emerging waste in rural (and metropolitan) areas is electronic waste or e-waste. The term e-waste describes discarded electrical or electronic devices. As the electronic components (e.g. CPUs) contain potentially harmful contents such as lead, cadmium, beryllium and brominated flame retardants, they can lead to adverse human health effects and also cause environmental pollution. Therefore, they should be properly discarded as well as recycled. Leaky units should be properly segregated. If these components are discarded into normal waste and land into a landfill or even incinerators, the heavy metals can be released in gases and therefore are a potential health hazard. However, the major e-waste in rural setting is mobile phones and batteries and this could be easily controlled when started early enough in today’s time.

The proper segregation of e-waste is a must and while we do not have much of this waste currently in villages, this would be a good time to develop a system that will efficiently deal with it. Most of our fresh food comes from this setting and thus avoidance of this waste could be the best possibility. 

A bigger and more challenging problem is the chemical pollution in rural areas. It comprises of not just pesticides and herbicides that are currently used for agricultural purposes but also household cleaning items or harsh chemicals for house painting. As a rural setting usually consists of water and soil resources used for farming and husbandry, use of these chemicals pollutes the area and with time, accumulation of these chemicals may occur! such a contamination can easily be transferred from the crop to humans and thus cause what is now known as endocrine disruption i.e. hormone regulation of the body can be affected. This chemical contamination has been going on for many years for some very common chemicals and thus an efficient way of usage, as well as discarding, has to be implemented. We will look at some new ways of dealing with these chemicals.

WhatsApp Image 2019-07-11 at 4.42.33 PM

The most common household chemicals are shown. Pesticides, household cleaners, antibiotic medicines used for animals all constitute a risk and must be controlled. Contamination of soil and water must be curbed. Image of common chemical waste in a rural area in northern India. Image provided by Surjit Singh Bains, Village Bains, Punjab, India.

Usually, waste sites are a mixture of all the wastes listed above and a long term dumping (akin to landfill) may result in damage to the local soil and water resources.

 

Image of a recent clean-up drive in Shimla by Healing Himalayas Foundation.

What can we do?

Now that we have segregated the various wastes into 4 categories, let us try to build a general map of how a village in India could possibly develop ways of disposal with minimum supervision and maximum efficiency. Somethings can always vary between different villages but the main culprits will be covered and disposed off as discussed in the previous section.

Road-map

segregationmoney collection

plasticbiowastewaste disposal plant

  1. WASTE SEGREGATION AT HOME

Instead of putting up dustbins ask everyone to collect and segregate the waste at home. The best part of this approach is slowly people become aware of what kind of waste is entering the house, which one is easy to deal with and for families that were not using traditional composting methods and do not know the advantage of composting methods, method generation takes place. This might take some effort on the part of local Panchayat or volunteers as people would need teaching. Having printed posters showing how to differentiate between dry waste and wet waste or plastic waste and bio-waste may help.

segregation

At the same time, collect a certain amount of money from every participating house. This collection should be done before the waste disposal to provide for the van/truck. When a whole community will be involved, this would be a small amount of money/household.

money collection
2. PERIODIC WASTE COLLECTION

Once in a fortnight or month, depending on amount of garbage, collect it from each household and send it to nearest waste disposal plant. This would require a pick-up truck/van, one or two helping hands- Volunteers or paid workers depending on the money collection. While the plastic waste/dry waste are transported to waste disposal units (these units/facilities are in use and under government control; unfortunately people are unaware of how to get to these units or even the fact that these units exist in a rural setting. Sending waste to disposal units will also help people realize that a way to get rid of accumulated waste exist), bio-waste can be composted locally, even at home. Village homes usually have a garden or even fields that are being used for farming. Composting will provide a very natural healthy way of replenishing the soil. Many homes are already using this method to use up bio-waste in a rural setting.

plastic

biowaste
3.  WASTE DELIVERY TO WASTE DISPOSAL PLANT

The last step in this round consists of delivery of waste to the waste disposal plants. For this to work, a prior identification to such a plant near to the village is required. Money collected before will be used for this step. It is possible that the disposal plant also pays money back for every kg of the waste as these plants usually use the plastic waste to produce energy.

waste disposal plant

Once the method is generated, a periodic cycle can be produced where the three main steps are repeated every few months.

4. For the e-waste, a local vendor can be identified. As a mobile selling shop usually recycle mobiles or have contact with companies, they may be the best point of contact for generating a pathway for the disposal of these wastes. For chemical waste, decreasing usage is the best policy. Once in the local environment, it will be difficult to separate and segregate them.

Some other concurrent steps have to be taken. Awareness must be raised about general cleanliness in the village or rural setting. This awareness can be raised in the villagers by talking about the waste disposal during local meetings/ Panchayat meetings/ Temple or Gurudwara meetings. The local community should be informed about the importance of

-> Regular cleaning drives in the village involving all the local communities

-> Putting a stop to open air burning

-> Wall paintings in the village sharing message of cleanliness are also important and have a major impact on the collective thinking of the people.

For a more progressive future, regular discussion with villagers over solid waste management are required. Finally, it is crucial that the system for waste disposal is developed for Indian villages at the earliest both for its socio-economic value as well as a measure to curb health issues due to improper disposal.

*Support Healing Himalayas Foundation in its efforts by clicking here.

 

 

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The Gandalf life-the thoughts of an exam invigilator


none shall cheat

Being a fresh professor, just out of the Post-Doc oven, i was quite excited about my FIRST-EVER invigilation duty with a conviction that no cheat shall pass my hawk-eye.

On the anticipated morning, as soon as I entered the examination hall, i could sense the eagerness in the students. they know me! Some of them knew it would be detrimental to look anywhere else but the sheet because I embodied the invigilator that comes with a sense of finding the truth. To be absolutely sure, I wiped my glasses vigorously with the end of my cotton shirt. I scanned the examination hall very carefully. Visibly excited, I felt the surge of a super power that could see right through the students, to the core of their souls and judge if this student is worthy or unworthy of giving an exam (which most probably does not matter in the long run anyways). Feeling this way, I instinctively thought about Gandalf – the righteous old fool from Lord of the Rings. Ever so watchful, ever so powerful, being a decision maker of a perhaps not so significant exam!

While scanning through the students, my good sense told me that there are most probably 3 types of ‘examinees’.

The first category (just like every gradation, where you start from the top and expect it to be the cream of the lot, I will be as cliched as possible) consists of students that wrote, wrote and wrote and never looked up till the last minute. I assumed that these students have been studying all day long (or better all year long), waiting for this day to show their mettle and as soon as they looked at the paper, realized that they have all the answers and decided to make use of the three hours they got, acquiring the gratification of a great test (for how long, I don’t know).

The second category looked at me as I passed, perhaps afraid, perhaps collecting their thoughts before they wrote. This was a rather peculiar batch. Although I wanted to do a body scan and check every student, I resisted the impulse of frisking each one of them. Every time I passed by such a student, he/she fidgeted. But as is in the court of law, according to the presumption of innocence, everyone charged with a penal offense (here, cheating) is presumed innocent until proven guilty. So, I had to delay these very specific activities till I could notice an abnormal twitch on the innocent.

and then was the third category. The ingenious cheats that never got caught, doesn’t matter how much I looked. They had mastered the art of deception at such an early age, the future managers, leaders and what not! Those were the ones (in my imagination) that cheated as soon as I turned.

I came up with an original idea (pun intended). I so perceptively strategized that If I were to sit at an empty desk, just as a student, I could camouflage myself and wait for that one invigilator moment! Unfortunately , I was unsuccessful and the 1 hour exam time passed peacefully (dreadful moment as an invigilator).

Update: With three exams down and no cheat caught either I am a poor invigilator or the students are honest

Another place, another time, another me


starting a new phase of life with positivity and motivation, like a true scientist.


Hi guys, 🙂

I have some good news for you. I have finally transitioned from my Post-Doc phase to a teaching position (associate professorship) at a leading research University (Shoolini University) in India. Not that I did not enjoy my Post-Doc, but after 4 years of ‘Post-docking’, I felt a need to move to the next stage and honestly, I am in a great phase of my life- starting my own research group, coming back to my own country, living near my father and all this while living amidst beautiful mountains of Himalayas away from the pollution (both noise and air) of a big metropolitan. My apartment, as well as the University, are both nestled in lower Himalayas. Every day I wake up to birds chirping and early morning view of the opposite mountain. While at work, my walks from our one department to the other yields a view to behold.

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View from balcony

I am calmer, sharper and happier at the same time!

although I have a little bit less time right now, I will try to keep you updated as much as possible. I will soon publish the next experiment in ‘curiosity series’ to keep you hungry and motivated for science.

WhatsApp Image 2019-02-22 at 8.15.37 AMEarly morning view from Shoolini University

Arsenic exposure in India- What’s in your drinking water!


Arsenic exposure is on rise in India, making it crucial to discuss the adverse effects of arsenic poisoning in the human body.


Arsenic (As), our topic of interest today, is a chemical element found in many minerals. It usually occurs in trace quantities in all rocks, soil, water and air. As is currently classified as groundwater contaminant in many parts of South-East Asia including many parts of India. According to WHO guidelines, the permissible As level in drinking water is 0.01 mg/l (10 μg/l). WHO has recognized As as a major health concern in these areas. The states in and around the Ganga-Brahmaputra Fluvial plains i.e. West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Manipur and Chhattisgarh are considerably affected.   

Arsenic exposed states

Figure 1 Map of India with the states in and around Ganga-Brahmaputra Fluvial plains indicated! The image was generated using viz.socialcops.com

Currently, WHO has warned that the long-term intake of As-contaminated groundwater causes Arsenicosis which can lead to cancer of skin, bladder, kidney and lung and disease. Arsenicosis also causes inhibition of essential enzymes, in extreme cases, resulting in multi-system organ failure and death. The common symptoms of Arsenicosis include skin discolourations and hard patches on palms and soles. In some cases, discolouration of blood vessels of legs and feet may also occur. Recent scientific evidence also suggests an association between the intake of As-contaminated water and onset of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Reproductive disorders are also implicated. 

arsenicosis

Figure 2 Classical skin discoloration and hard patches on palms and soles with arsenicosis. The image is taken from the UNICEF report on countrywide arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh in the early 1990s.

The inorganic forms of As, As (III) and As (V), are highly toxic (As (III) being the most toxic) and lead to chronic toxicity. Methylated As are also highly toxic. Other than the natural sources that result in As leaching from sediments and soils, industrial processing, wood preservatives, acid mine drainage and burning of fossil fuels increase As levels in water. When smaller amounts of As are ingested, it is excreted through urine. However, larger amounts accumulate inside the human body and lead to adverse effects as discussed above. 

Recent reports of As exposure in the Indian subcontinent

As discussed above, people living in and around the GangaBrahmaputra Fluvial plains are at risk of As poisoning. Proximity to Bangladesh, an already As-exposed country, should be noted. Reporting of cases of As poisoning are on the rise. In the reference section, you will find some news articles reporting new Ascases (as new as 2017). Due to the location, Bihar is the most affected state (see the news article). 

What can we do?

Unfortunately, you can not remove As from drinking water by common methods. Boiling water actually concentrates As as it evaporates. Reverse osmosis (RO) is able to remove As from drinking water although the water may require pre-treatment if it is muddy. In affected regions, it may become crucial to remove As using RO filter technology to reduce the chronic on-going As exposure.  As many of these parts come under ‘poor to very poor’ category, the water treatment should be done at the treatment plant as it may not be possible for poor people to remove As from water on their own.

While As is present in small quantities in the freshwater sources, it is unclear at this time as to what are the exact industrial sources which are responsible for increasing As levels to such harmful amounts. Well-organized studies will be needed to assess the sources and to restraint the activities.

References

  1. Image for arsenicosis– https://www.unicef.org/bangladesh/wes_385.htm
  2. Guidelines for drinking water quality, 4th edition, WHO, 2011 – http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/254637/9789241549950-eng.pdf;jsessionid=437B74206E9107228E8933548ED67DE4?sequence=1
  3. NEWS article resources for As- 1.poisoning- https://edition.cnn.com/2017/04/28/health/arsenic-water-pollution-cancer-india/index.html 2.https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/19-of-indians-drink-water-with-lethal-levels-of-arsenic/articleshow/62226542.cms 3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3719954/ 4. https://scroll.in/pulse/835431/ignored-arsenic-contamination-in-bihars-water-has-led-to-an-explosion-of-cancer
  4. If you are interested in reading in more detail, go to WHO website

Airborne Particulate Matter (PM2.5) Adverse Health Effects


Hi guys, I recently blogged about pm2.5, important to know when thinking about air pollution. if you are wondering about what is pm2.5, it may be a good read. For the ones, who would like to check it out, here is the link-

https://aidindia.org/airborne-particulate-matter-pm2-5-adverse-health-effects/

SOT PDA May 31 Webinar: A Career in Risk Assessment—What Is It? And How Do You Get Started?


Hi Fellow PhD and Post-doc researchers, we are organizing a webinar on risk assessment. Here is the link for you if this is something interesting for you.

http://toxchange.toxicology.org/p/bl/ar/blogaid=2625

My experiences as an International Tox-Scholar


Hi Everyone,

I recently compiled my experiences during the “International Tox Scholar” visit to 4 institutions in India for Society of Toxicology. Here is a link for you:

http://toxchange.toxicology.org/p/bl/et/blogaid=2557

I hope you enjoy it. it was a lot of fun and encouraging for me to interact with these young minds.