Apartments fall prey to unauthorised instant compost-making machines

They claim to be environment friendly, but consume more electricity and produce ‘pre-compost’

Instant compost-making machines are proving to be a bane for citizens, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) alike. Apartment complexes are required to have solid waste management solutions in place, such as composting in-house or tying up with an empanelled vendor to pick up waste.
However, many apartments are falling prey to unauthorised companies who sell them “instant compost-making machines,” which can break down garbage within 24 hours but are not eco-friendly. A few months after installation, the citizens realise that they have been duped.
It’s only after they bought the products that residents realised these machines not only consume a lot of electricity but also churn out ‘pre-compost’ in the end, which is dried garbage. These machines cost ₹8.5 lakh and above.
Both BBMP and KSPCB officials said they had not issued permits to any company selling automated machines for compost generation. However, companies are making a lot of money by falsely promising quick compost generation without the hassle of dealing with odour, flies or leachate.
At an apartment complex in Electronics City, the management had installed an automatic compost machine two years ago at a cost of ₹10 lakh. Initially it worked well and the company even bought the ‘compost’ generated as promised. But soon, things started to change.

Malfunctioning machines

According to Sudhakar S., a resident of the apartment complex, smoke billowed out from the machine, which also began to consume a lot of electricity. The exhaust had to be finally turned towards a vacant plot adjacent to the building to avoid the smoke.
“The electricity bill went up to ₹30,000 a month. The compost generation was also not efficient. When we reached out to the company, they began dodging our calls and later blocked our numbers,” he said. Today, the machine is gathering dust.
In another instance in Padmanabhanagar, residents procured a compost-making machine. which assured ‘pre-compost’ by drying the wet waste fed into it. Within days, the machine broke down, said B.R. Moudgal (name changed on request), a resident of the apartment.
“Some of the key elements broke down and the machine kept burning stuff in it. Luckily, we had taken it only on a trial basis and we gave it back,” the resident added.

Companies unauthorised: BBMP

BBMP’s Joint Commissioner (Solid Waste Management) Sarfaraz Khan said several such instances had been reported to them. “These companies are functioning without any authorisation from the government. We have been conducting awareness meets among residents to highlight this issue,” he claimed.
KSPCB Chairman Lakshman said the board was giving permission only for organic waste converters and not for any automated machines.
Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT) member and waste management expert N.S. Ramakanth urged KSPCB officials to form a committee to look into this problem. “We have placed several requests in this regard. However, the KSPCB has not taken any initiative till date,” he said, adding that SWMRT would soon write to the board.

Fully automatic composting machines

Just Google “fully automatic composting machines”, a number of companies making out-of-the-world claims pop up instantly. Among them, “composting in 24 hours” is the most common.

I have been approached by a few vendors in Bengaluru to write about their products as a community composting method. When I met them, each vendor made different claims although all of them ran on similar technology. Some had sophisticated temperature display panels and the rest were basic. The shapes and sizes varied, too. But all of them seemed to consume power and let out CO2 intensely. Interestingly, none of the vendors buckled when I pressured them to get compost samples tested. They politely said they would, but never came back. Secondly, none of them came up with carbon emission analysis either.

Composting in 24 hours?

Please refer to this post on how composting happens. Composting is a process that progresses in stages and at each stage, certain types of microbes enter the pile and work their magic on it. Can all this happen in 24 hours, flat?

The claims

When I grilled a vendor, he claimed that they have imported “special microbes” from Canada. What does that mean? These particular microbes are not present in the Indian soil? Or, are these typically those that survive at sub-zero conditions but become suddenly hyperactive in a hot region?

I have been told that this ‘process’ doesn’t need a shredder as the machine itself will take care of it inside. In fact, even thick branches get ‘composted’ in 24 hours. How does that happen? A vendor replied that the temperature goes up and helps break down the material completely. As already discussed, only extremophiles survive at 122°C. Does that mean these machines are loaded with only extremophiles? If yes, then who will fill in for fungi and actinomycetes?

One vendor also claimed that these microbes can survive without food for one year. Now that’s another claim one should be wary about.

Is it compost or burnt carbon?

When I cross-checked all these findings with an expert, he said that “what comes out of these machines is not compost, but burnt carbon”. Since he has also been promoting his own composting system, he didn’t want to be quoted for obvious reasons. However, he regretted how government authorities are falling for these claims and letting such machines hit the market without due diligence. More importantly, he was concerned about the wrecked-up electrical conductivity of such ‘compost’ which can damage the soil composition and kill the plants.