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Reaping a harvest from waste

Students of Thapar University have initiated an innovative zero-garbage solutions project to manage almost 125kg of food waste produced in just one hostel mess every day.

education Updated: May 22, 2013 10:52 IST
Jeevan Prakash Sharma
Jeevan Prakash Sharma
Hindustan Times

While many speak of bringing about change, students of Thapar University represent one. Passionate about environmental changes and sustainable energy development, they have initiated a zero garbage solutions project to address the waste management challenges of the university, especially targeted at food and bio-degradable wastes.

Launched by student members of the International Forum for Leadership and Sustainability, the IFLS chapter of Thapar University, is one-of-a-kind initiative that aims at managing food waste of one of India’s largest student hostels with a seating capacity of 858.

Piloted in hostel ‘J’, in the university, the project addresses the problem of almost 125 kg of food waste produced in the hostel mess every day.

“We witnessed staggering quantities of food being wasted every day. Though a lot of us feel bad about it, we couldn’t really figure out what we could do to solve the problem,” says Mayank Jain, an IFLS team member.

The team got down to finding a solution to address the problem. “The biggest challenge was the issue of scalability. It was extremely important that the system we installed be scaled up to meet future requirements and at the same time was easy to use. It had to be low on maintenance,” says Saket Dave, founder and team leader pursuing his third year of engineering at Thapar University.

Saket’s engagement with environmental institutions got a boost when he was selected as an international climate champion by the British Council for his work and got an opportunity to attend the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, in 2011.

“While comparing various existing practices, we realised that most waste management systems could not be operated on a continuous basis and required very high maintenance costs. Our model had to meet the space constraint and deliver a high rate of conversion of food into manure,” says Ishita Adlakha, another team member.

The team finally closed in on a Delhi- based supplier who was able to provide a custom-made solution to the university. The device installed was based on the aerobic decomposition and Archimedes screw principle that enabled it to produce odour-free compost on a continuous basis. It was divided into inter-connected compartments that could be rotated periodically as and when it was filled with more waste food.

“The device that was designed, therefore, never gets completely filled, and the manure can be obtained regularly. It requires between six to eight weeks to obtain the first compost. In our present set-up, we plan to utilise the compost in two ways - first, to create an ecosystem within the university to undertake organic farming and second, to establish local distribution centres for small- scale farmers. Both initiatives will be undertaken by the IFLS team members,” explains Richa Babbar, the faculty coordinator (IFLS), when asked how the university plans to use the compost.

The project will inspire more students to take up environmental challenges and will encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs to take up issues pertaining to green technology and social businesses.

The project was recently inaugurated by KK Raina, director, Thapar University. “We believe that this project is an inspiration for people in understanding the importance of sustainable development and the role young people can play in leading change at the grassroots level,” says Raina.

Under the guidance of Babbar and the continuous encouragement from dean, student affairs, Seema Bawa, the team spent almost two years analysing the various waste management practices around the world, and building a cost-effective model that could be piloted in the hostel.

‘We have now decided to replicate the idea’

Seema Bawa, dean (student affairs), who mentored the students working on the innovation project, has now decided to implement the zero garbage solutions project in the remaining eight hostels of the university. “The university aims at creating an environment that fosters creativity and social awareness, in addition to imparting high-level of technical knowledge that will help students become socially responsible citizens,” says Bawa. “The international forum for leadership and sustainability is a non-profit organisation that works to develop leadership potential in young people by engaging them in community-based sustainability projects. To enable students to address social issues, seven new such initiatives had taken the shape of student society/chapter in 2011 and we have added four more in 2012. There are now 35 active student societies/clubs and chapters within the university.”

Five facts at your fingertips

1. About Thapar University: It was established on October 8, 1956 as an engineering college and named Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology. It became a university in 1985 under the University Grants Commission Act, 1956. It is ranked among India’s top technical universities by many independent research organisations

2. Flagship programmes: The university offers academic programmes at the undergraduate level leading to BE/BTech degrees, at the postgraduate level leading to MCA, MSc, MBA, ME/MTech degrees, dual degree programme BCA-MCA and at the doctoral level, PhD and DSc degrees. The university is divided into departments, schools and centres

3. Placements: The university is rated among the top technical universities in terms of placement within and outside India. With the help of the university’s
placement cell, students passing out of various departments get job opportunities in reputed companies. It boasts of an excellent on-campus placement record every year

4. Patiala: It is located in the southeast of Punjab

It is one of the erstwhile princely states

One of its famous tourist spots is Qila Mubarak.

Patiala is famous for its turban and footwear

It’s also famous for the National Institute of Sports

5. Admissions: The university admits BE/BTech applicants on the basis on JEE (Main) conducted by CBSE in April, the results of which are out in July. As far as other courses such as BCA-MCA, MBA, MSc, ME etc are concerned, applications are accepted in May and June and the admission process gets completed by end of July

First Published: May 21, 2013 16:54 IST