Bengaluru’s world famous eyesore, Bellandur Lake became a headlining act on national and international media, as news reports highlighted how it had caught fire, with foam coming right into pedestrians faces. A change.org campaign demanding an immediate cleanup of the lake has collected over 31,000 signatures so far, while the local authorities have installed water sprinklers around areas where it tends to froth. Yet, the problem doesn’t seem to be solvable until the city’s citizens take accountability to treat their sewage. Actually improving the cities we live in would be a lot easier if we, as individuals, take some steps that don’t just help the environment, but also actually save us a fair bit of money.
Nearly 650 million litres of untreated sewage is discharged into Bengaluru’s vicinity every day, says S Vishwanath of the Bengaluru-based company Biome Environmental Solutions. The firm works on water sustainability solutions in government schools and drought affected areas. He points out that this problem has existed for fifteen years, and it’s only after the foam started hitting the cars and two-wheelers in the city that people took notice. “It was frothing in Vishwavati Valley, where farmers had to deal with this froth since 2000. This is clearly a question of industrial consumption levels of detergents and fatty acids and other stuff which is going into the lakes,” Vishwanath says.
(Also see: Smart Cities Won’t Work Without Smart Citizens)
Vishwanath’s himself harvests water from the roof at the highest level of his home for cooking and drinking, while the water from lower roofs is used for landscaping and gardening. All the grey water (washing machine water and bath water) is funnelled through a series of filtration tanks, where grey water is stored, and plants, algae and bacteria break it down, removing phosphates and nitrates from the water. Guppies are put in so that mosquito larvae don’t breed.
“The fish eat the larvae, and they are also functional indicators. If they start to die, then the water is not getting treated enough,” Vishwanath explains. Eventually, the filtered water is used for in the garden and for flushing the loo below. In theory, this water can also recharge the groundwater. An eco-san toilet installed on the roof recycles urine as fertiliser for plants, while solids are composted in blue drums, so that no human waste goes out of the house.
It’s possible to build an eco-friendly house, with features for rainwater harvesting, solar heating, and using environmentally friendly materials for construction, at around the same per-square foot cost as traditional building methods, experts say. Retrofitting can be a little more expensive, but over time, the saving from consuming less water and electricity won’t just mean a cleaner environment, but also smaller monthly bills.
According to a report, ‘green’ construction can lower energy consumption by 30-50 percent, and lower water consumption by 30-70 percent. Short term planning is a particularly big culprit; a one-star rated gadget like an A/C or geyser might be significantly cheaper than a similar product with a higher energy efficiency rating, but the added electricity it consumes has a real cost, in terms of pollution and your finances over time.
Waste management and chemical pollution are as big an issue as excess consumption. One of the main reasons for Bengaluru’s frothing lakes seems to be our everyday detergent – which has foaming agents, surface active agents, and phosphate. Delara Damania, founder of Bengaluru-based Common Oxenwhich makes natural cleaning agents for the home, points out that even wastewater sludge goes into farms, and comes back into our food. “The fact that nobody is regulating this is just mind-boggling,” she says.
Her startup is built around the problem of eliminating phosphates from household cleaning. “Phosphates on their own are not a bad thing, but they encourage the proliferation of water hyacinths, and other fast-growing weeds, that sort of suck out the oxygen and kill the other aquatic animals, and that’s what spoils the water bodies,” she says.
Vani Murthy, one of Bengaluru’s most active waste management campaigners, is launching a mission to get one million people to compost their green waste at home. “It’s a one week challenge, and is building up to a launch,” she says. “If you could, on your part, take care of that half a kg of waste that you generate, than asking the municipality. That’s one action that can have a direct impact on the future of the planet itself.”
Composting is one action you can do for a better world, she says. “You are dealing with 60 percent of the waste right where it is being generated, converting it into something that is so important for the soil to grow your own food,” Murthy adds. “The safest food is what you grow, because you know what you are putting in there.”
Once you understand the process of aeration, the breakdown of food into micro-organisms, Composting can be a lifetime practice, a gateway to rooftop gardening. Murthy bartered her compost for seeds in her early days, and now she has three terrace gardens growing her own food. The organic terrace gardening group on Facebook has 27,000 members, and out of that, 6,000 to 7,000 are from Bengaluru, she says. They have quarterly events where people bring their produce called Oota from Your Thota.
For the first-time composter, she recommends doing it at zero expense, using an old bucket with some holes in it. “Start off with peels, egg shells, fruit peels. Dry leaves can be added to the compost mix, as it absorbs moisture from the peels and keeps the pile balanced. It does not let the wet waste get compacted,” she says. A composting kit needs a bit of shade, and has to be protected from rain. Cow dung or sour butter milk can be used as a source of microorganisms.
“The basic rule is that it should be well aerated. If it doesn’t breathe, it becomes anaerobic, and that’s when it starts to stink. For aeration, it should not be packed in too compact – it takes a few tries to get the right balance,” she says.
Reducing your energy footprint
If you’re planning to build a green home or live in one, Teri’s Griha Rating Booklet has a bunch of useful parameters to evaluate and rank housing projects by, with a points based rating system based on various criterion. These include factors such as materials used, environmental impact, energy use, water harvesting, low-power devices, 5-star rated electronics, amount of daylight used, surface reflectivity, and cooling.
Teri’s rating system stresses on local sourcing of components – there are somethings that you lose points for – for example you can’t use Italian marble, because it has a higher carbon footprint because of the transportation cost.
Some of the things to look into include insulated walls and roof construction, which can reduce you air conditioning bill in the summer and your heating costs in the winter. Smaller windows will also help – large windows look nice, but turn your home into a greenhouse, which isn’t very suitable in India. You can also look into alternative energy, such as solar panels, and solar heating for water; rainwater harvesting can also make a big impact.
Materials like teak wood, and quarried stone that has to be transported from afar are a bad idea when you’re building a new house. Fly ash bricks and locally sourced materials, design that promotes ventilation instead of air-conditioning, and planning for things like low-flow water and low-energy lighting all add up and make a big impact over time.
Prasanto Roy, who lives in India’s first Teri Griha home, which scored 96 percent overall on their Teri’s ratings, said that building a green home doesn’t come with a significant cost overhead.
“Other houses that have been built in this area cost more than this one, and they don’t even use green features. That is because they have used more expensive finishes, fittings, Italian marble,” he says. “For us, it cost ten percent more per square foot to build this house. There are some savings you get directly in the capex itself, as you need less equipment, and so on.”
Roy’s house is made of two types of fly-ash bricks, which are easily available. Around 70-80 percent of the material was locally sourced. The supply chain for green materials has improved since he built his home, with Teri’s website cataloging the suppliers. “Today, almost everything can be sourced locally, but electronics like controller systems, were imports,” he adds.
“For a typical house, depending on where you are, the one thing to focus on is cooling the home passively, so that you need less active cooling,” he explains. “Go increasingly on to LED lights, and you pick the low hanging fruits – the lights which are always on, and so on. Staircase lights can have motion sensors,” he says, so they will not only be on when needed. “A solar power is a simple enough system to add on, can be paired with an inverter or used directly, a 1 KVA solar panel for around Rs. 1.5 lakhs is a very worthwhile thing to do,” as this can help you reduce your dependence on the grid, and save significant amounts of money over time.
At the same time, low-flow fixtures reduce water waste, and your water bill as well, and rainwater harvesting can be good for the environment and will also reduce your dependence on expensive water tankers, when the municipal supply runs short.
Green Heroes: 86-year-old from Mumbai helps society save 40% on water and power bills
The seven-storey Sea Line housing society at Union Park in Khar (West) is equipped with solar power and a windmill for its electricity requirements, a rainwater harvesting facility that saves 2 lakh litres of water every year and an organic waste recycling technique, which reduces the burden on overflowing landfills in the city.
A decade-long struggle by 86-year-old Navin Chandra has paved way for homegrown answers to waste management, water and power problems through long-lasting, cost-effective and environment-friendly solutions.
The seven-storey Sea Line housing society at Union Park in Khar (West) is equipped with solar power and a windmill for its electricity requirements, a rainwater harvesting facility that saves 2 lakh litres of water every year and an organic waste recycling technique, which reduces the burden on overflowing landfills in the city. The society introduced these green measures in 2005-06 and recovered the costs by 2012.
“The idea was to make the best use of natural resources and safeguard city’s environment,” said Chandra. “When I moved to the apartment in 2000, the whole complex was in a mess, almost an environmental disaster. It took years to convince everyone. But once they reaped the benefits, there was no looking back.”
The couple’s efforts were recognised last month after chief minister Devendra Fadnavis awarded the duo as the ‘best small society’ and ‘clean crusader’ award, one among 7,000 buildings in Mumbai, at an award function organised by a private bank.
With 10 flats, the building has a rooftop solar system consisting of fifty panels and a windmill that powers electricity requirements for all common areas of the building, including an office with six computers. Additionally, a solar water heating system supplies hot water to 40 bathrooms in the building at an average temperature of 60 degrees Celsius.
The renewable energy helps save 60% of the society’s monthly electricity bill. “Prior to the installation of the wind and solar setup, we were spending Rs 18,000 per month, now our monthly bill is not more than Rs 7,000,” said Chandra. “As per our assessment, the renewable energy model has helped us avoid the emission of over 3000kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.”
The complex does not depend upon the civic body for its non-potable water consumption at all. The quarter-of-an-acre rooftop and common areas, act as catchment for rainwater. The water collected is channeled to a borewell with a capacity of 10,000 litres and excess water is used to recharge groundwater.
“In a crisis situation, where we are unable to procure drinking water for the society, we have made alternate arrangements where the stored rainwater is purified with the help of two machines. The cleansed water is directly transported to our drinking water tanks,” said Chandra.
Meanwhile, the society’s complete wet waste is segregated at source, collected from a door-to-door method and recycled into manure at a 3X3 feet vermicomposting pit. Every month, 100kg organic waste is converted into 10kg compost through the use of worms to degenerate the waste.
“In a city where air pollution is a prime concern, treating your own waste not only helps reduce the quantum at dumping grounds but also saves the tax payers’ money by reducing transportation cost of sending daily garbage,” said Chandra.
While the cost of setting up the solar, wind systems was Rs13 lakh, the society spent Rs7 lakh in installing the rainwater harvesting facility and about a lakh for the vermiculture pit. All expenditures were recovered by 2012 and the reduced utility expenses of the society by 40%.
Soon, wastewater recycling initiative at Union Park
Navin Chandra, 86, has developed a blue print to recycle wastewater from an apartment complex for one of the largest public parks at Union Park, Khar (West), which is currently being considered by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation
Wastewater from an eight-storey apartment will be channelled to the park where the park’s bed will be dug up and natural filtration systems such as rocks, stones and red soil will be used to treat the water. An outlet on another end will provide the treated water which can be used for plants and trees.
“After the successful implementation of Chandra’s projects over the last 10 years, several neighbouring apartment complexes got the confidence to follow at least one of the three initiatives. His efforts are an inspiration for residents across all apartments at Union Park as he is consciously working towards reducing a large portion of the city’s carbon footprint,” said Bharati Kakkad, secretary, Union Park Residents Association.
“The municipal corporation and citizens should take note of Chandra’s efforts and push for a decentralised system not only for treating waste but power generation and water supply. In turn, the civic body should respond by providing tax rebates for all those houses that are becoming self-sufficient and safeguarding environment through their efforts,” said V Ranganathan, former municipal commissioner of the BMC.
Deep underground lie stores of once-inaccessible natural gas. There’s a technology, called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” that can extract this natural gas, potentially powering us for decades to come. So how does fracking work and why is it a source of such heated controversy? Mia Nacamulli explains the ins and outs of fracking.
I first learnt of Firdosh Roowalla through an article published in 2015 in Sakaal Times. The article talked about an entrepreneur in Pune who converted the old school concept of waste degradation into a simple soil nutrient production system. I decided to reach out to him. After a quick phone call, Firdosh immediately liked the idea of a story based on him and was kind enough to take some time out for me on a busy Monday morning.
As a Puneite, anyone living in the Koregaon Park – Kalyani Nagar area is considered to be affluent in living and conduct, with their prosperity showing off at every syllable they utter and every step they take. But this perception was belied when I met Firdosh, waiting for me at the gate of Kumar Presidency in Koregaon Park.
Dressed in a simple shirt, jeans, and pair of chappals with a plastic bag in hand, Firdosh is every bit an environmentalist and a social entrepreneur. No jazzy clothes, no swanky electronics, this humble man is warm and welcoming to anyone who comes to him seeking knowledge about his craft. There is a sense of stability and control in his gait and yet he doesn’t mince words while expressing his disagreement on the way people handle waste.
Firdosh Roowalla, founder of the Green Thumb Compost, gets upset seeing our environment getting buried in the increasing pile of waste. A nature lover at heart and a green thumb too, Firdosh blended his passions to start his organization. Here’s the story of his journey so far:
Firdosh’s Organization deals with degrading kitchen and garden waste into soil nutrient compost. Every composting unit has 2 types of installations – the kitchen waste composting and the garden waste composting. As simple as it may sound, the safety concerns in this process are many.
Click Here for the full story with more videos and pics
An environmental disaster in the making.
Japan got its first underground metro in the 1920s. Nearly a century later Mumbai is scheduled to receive its first metro by 2020. Young Mumbaikars, who have lived and travelled abroad and experienced commuting by metro, were most thrilled at the news of having their own. After all it was high time, right?
That’s what I thought until a few days ago when the distant noise of chainsaws caught my attention along with other people in my neighbourhood of Churchgate. A crew of men were slicing away at the bark of a 200-year-old banyan tree—it was painful to watch. I never realised we could be so connected to our trees until that day; I felt violated.
The government has decided that it is going to build the metro even if it means bypassing laws and endangering citizens.
In Mumbai, we don’t have the luxury of private gardens or public parks filled with trees, the song of birds, fluttering butterflies, et al. We live in apartments and can barely afford the minimum nature required for survival. The godlike trees that line the sidewalks equip us with cooler summers and are a relief for the eyes and the soul.
It all began in December 2016 with a newspaper mention that some trees would be cut for the metro. Some curious citizens enquired with the authorities and were told 5000 trees could go.
During the Congress government’s tenure, a monorail project had been initiated to boost the connectivity of the existing monorail, and harbour lines were extended, but the projects have been abandoned by the BJP government for unknown reasons.
Zoru, a resident of Khar, who has filed a petition in the Mumbai High Court, explains that the plan of the Mumbai Metro is badly designed—recreational spaces such as parks and open grounds that have the most number of trees, have been marked as future metro stations. “No thought has gone into planning and considering least damage scenarios where trees and the environment are concerned,” he says.
Robin Jaisinghani, a resident of Cuffe Parade, says the alignment of stations and tracks looks haphazard and mindless. And Cuffe Parade has now lost its garden of 400 trees.
“There was no need to cut down all those trees, if they had done it the right way they could’ve saved at least 350,” he says.
The MMRC is using outdated equipment and methods for construction instead of the commonly used NATM (New Austrian Tunnelling Method)… that would not require all the trees to be cut along the path.
The MMRC is also using outdated equipment and methods for construction instead of the commonly used NATM (New Austrian Tunnelling Method), which has been used for building underground metros since the 60s. The NATM only requires a hole to be dug at either end of the road and one can burrow through it to create a tunnel that would not require all the trees to be cut along the path. Instead, MMRC is using the primitive cut-open method.
According to Jaisinghani, the Executive Director of Planning at MMRC, R. Ramana, said during a visit that the authority didn’t have the resources to save the trees.
Another technicality shows that the area required to build the stations is 60 metres by 25 metres and stations of this size are being built at locations like DN Road. So why are trees being cut on both sides of the 150-metre-wide Churchgate Road when it can clearly be avoided?
There are other rules that are being flouted. One is a Supreme Court ruling that mandates that no construction should be carried out in residential areas from 10pm until 6am, but the loud noise of the ancient equipment in deployment—which easily exceeds 90db— can be heard into the wee hours of the night (any noise above 80db is said to be harmful to humans).
The authorities don’t seem to have environmental permissions either, at least according to a letter sent by the State Environment Impact Authority to the MMRCL dated 21st April 2017. In addition, the construction site falls under the Coastal Regulation Zone, which needs special permissions as it involves mining of rock and substrata material.
Click Here for the full detailed story in Huffington Post
After witnessing the harmful effects of chemical farming, Subash Palekar, a B.Sc in Agriculture, developed the Zero Budget Natural Farming model.
‘Krishi ka Rishi’ is the title farming communities across the country have bestowed on Subhash Palekar. This agriculturist is the creator of the ‘Zero Budget Natural Farming’ model, a method that has been creating waves in the farming community in India.
Palekar was born on 2nd February, 1949 in Belora, a small village in the district of Amravati, Maharastra. The son of a farmer, his interest in farming led him to pursue a B.Sc in Agriculture from Nagpur.
By 1985, however, Palekar began to notice a drop in yield; one that only got worse with each harvest. Curious about the sudden change, he began to look into the reasons for the decline. Three years of intensive research led him to the conclusion that chemical farming was the culprit. Palekar learnt that the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides led to a decrease in the fertility of the soil, wrecked havoc on the ecosystem of the area and also led to long-term health problems for those who consumed the fruits, gains and vegetables harvested under such conditions.
Shocked by the harmful effects of chemical farming, Palekar began the hunt for less-destructive alternatives. Thus began the journey of Zero Budget Natural Farming in India.
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From 1986 to 1988, Palekar’s quest for natural farming techniques led him to the study of forest vegetation. It was here that he discovered the natural system at work in forests which allowed them to develop and nurture themselves, while maintaining healthy ecosystems. After careful research of the system, Palekar began to mimic the techniques he had witnessed, in his own farm. For a period of six years, from 1989 to 1995, he experimented and verified different techniques, before consolidating them into the ‘Zero Budget Natural Farming’ technique.
Zero Budget Natural Farming, as the name implies, is a method of farming where the cost of growing and harvesting plants is zero. This means that farmers need not purchase fertilizers and pesticides in order to ensure the healthy growth of crops.
Below are some of key learnings from the Zero Budget Natural Farming method:
It is believed that plants only receive 1.5% to 2% of their nutrient requirements from soil; the remaining is absorbed through water and air. Given that 98% of the nutrients do not come from soil, using fertilizers is not prudent.
We often come across huge trees in forests, their branches heavy with the weight of countless fruit despite the lack of fertilizers and pesticides. These trees are proof that plants can and do grow healthily without any chemical help.
The reason we do not witness the same in our farms is because the micro-organisms that convert raw nutrients into easy-to-digest form have been destroyed by the use of poisonous chemical fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides. Cultivation of soil by tractor has already proved to be detrimental to these micro-organisms.
Since these micro-organisms help convert nutrients into a digestible form that plants can absorb and use, it is critical to revive them in our farms. This can be done by using cow dung from local cows.
Over six years of research, Palekar found that:
1. Only dung from local, Indian cows is effective on the soil. Dung from Jersey and Holstein cows is not as effective. If one is falling short of dung from local cows, one may use dung from bullocks or buffaloes.
2. Dung and urine of the black coloured Kapila cow is believed to be the most effective.
3. To get the most of the cow dung and urine, ensure that the dung is as fresh as possible and that the urine is as old as possible.
4. An acre of land requires 10 kilograms of local cow dung per month. Since the average cow gives 11 kilograms of dung a day, dung from one cow can help fertilize 30 acres of land.
5. Urine, jaggery and dicot flour can be used as additives.
6. The lesser milk the cow gives, the more beneficial its dung is towards reviving the soil.
More than 40 lakh farmers across the country have benefitted greatly from Palekar’s teachings and his method of natural farming. Palekar spends 25 days a month sharing his knowledge of farming through seminar, lectures, workshops and field visits. Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala have also requested him to spend ten days a month in their states, in order to help their farmers develop healthy farming habits.
In 2016, in recognition of his work and the impact he was creating, the Government of India conferred Palekar with the prestigious Padamashri Award. Palekar also made history for being the first active farmer to receive the award.
Palekar’s Zero Budget Natural Farming has undoubtedly made an indelible mark on farming in India.
Residents of Bangalore are up in arms about the proposed felling of 112 trees in the Jayamahal area to make way for a steel flyover to help reduce traffic congestion in the city. Is there no way in which these large, old trees can be saved from sure death?
Urbanization and development are an inevitable part of living today. Road widening and building of flyovers has to happen in every city, but, this comes at the cost of losing green cover. Though transplantation and translocation of trees is an age-old activity the world across, it is rarely looked to as a solution before a tree is brought down.
In 2009, when the Hyderabad-Vijayawada highway was being built, the existing road needed to be widened. A large number of trees were cut down for this and no one from the general public raised an objection.
Moved by this unfortunate incident, Ramchandra Appari, a resident of Hyderabad, decided to do something to stop the indiscriminate felling of trees.
Ramchandra, supervising the translocation work
“During a random conversation with a friend of mine in Australia I mentioned my feelings about this to him. He introduced me to the idea of tree translocation and after doing a lot of reading about it, I set up the Green Morning Horticulture Services Private Limited, which offers professional help in landscaping and tree translocation,” says Ramchandra, the managing director of the company.
While reading up and learning more about the process of tree translocation, Ramchandra found that knowledge about this practice has been around since 2000 BC. Ancient Egyptian pictographs depict men transporting trees, with their roots, in large containers. The Egyptians, supposedly transported large trees by ships from different parts of the world and transplanted them in Egypt.
“It is indeed amazing that a solution to the felling of large trees exists with humans for many centuries now. It is heartening to know that in most countries, the world over, trees are not cut down but are instead translocated. However, for some reason, in India, this is not popular as yet,” continues Ramachandra.
We all know that trees play a very important role in protecting the lives of all other living beings found around them.
Uprooted tree, with roots packed, being moved by a crane.
Most of our activities generate plenty of carbon dioxide and other harmful gases that pollute the atmosphere, and it is only trees that can convert these gases into oxygen and help counter the ill-effects.
Trees take many years to grow and once fully grown, many species can live for more than a hundred years. The loss of even one tree in a vicinity can cause an imbalance in the natural wealth and health of the surrounding area.
“In India, apart from Hyderabad, tree translocation is being done in certain parts of Gujarat and in Bangalore too. Trees like gulmohar, neem, jamun, mango, pepul and other ficus species can be easily translocated. To date, our company has translocated some 5,000 trees and we can easily say that we have achieved a success rate of 80%. The process is slow and takes time and what makes it expensive is basically the need to hire earth movers, cranes and trailers,” adds Ramachandra.
Tree translocation is a tedious process, which has to be done very carefully. Once the tree is identified, the earth around the roots (at least 4 feet in diameter and depth) is dug and the roots are treated with chemicals to help in the transportation.
After a week the tree is lifted with a crane and the roots are packed up in a large jute bag, making a root ball out of them.
A tree being lowered into the trench in the new location.
The tree with most of its branches pruned, is then transported in a trolley to the new place, where a root ball trench has already been made and the soil has been treated with anti-pest and anti-disease chemicals. The tree is planted in the new trench, and for the next couple of months requires close monitoring.
Recently, in the stretch planned for the Hyderabad Metro Rail, around 800 trees had to be translocated. This major project was taken up by the company and almost all the trees are thriving in the new locations. To try and maintain some sort of balance in the vicinity from where a tree has been uprooted, the company generally tries to plant the uprooted tree as close to the place where it has been uprooted from.
However, if this is not possible, a 5-year-old tree is planted in the vicinity and the full grown uprooted tree is planted elsewhere.
A ficus tree translocated to a large garden.
“The expenses for translocation of the trees mainly depends on three factors: the size of the tree, the number of trees that the client wants to translocate and the distance from where the tree is being uprooted to the place where it has to be replanted. We have once charged Rs. 6,000 for a 15-year-old tree and even charged Rs. 1.5 lakh for a 100-year-old one,” says Ramachandra.
With cities across the world rapidly losing green cover, there is an urgent need for more research on the viability of tree translocation, and it is becoming increasingly important that we take steps to save each and every full-grown tree.
For more details contact Mr Appari at email@example.com.
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About the author: Aparna Menon is a freelance writer, writing for various newspapers for the past 10 years. Her main fields of interest are wildlife, heritage and history. A keen traveller, she loves to read and write and does a lot of art work too.