Unlike previous generations, we live in an age where many of our desires are met immediately, and with ease. So much ease that we sometimes even forget to distinguish between our needs (such as food, shelter and clothing), and our wants (a big TV screen, the latest mobile phone). It appears that most people do not think about the consequences of our consumption and the waste we produce, just going ahead and acquiring things because we can have them.
Children observe how friends and relations are in a race to study advertisements and show off their knowledge about the ‘latest’ items in every category. They may not be able to buy all that they desire but they are getting increasingly focused on their wants, ignoring the needs of the future.
In the mad rush to consume and satisfy wants, there is a set of long-term needs that get ignored: clean air and water, non-polluting forms of energy, development of young people’s capacities through education. These types of needs, which ensure growth of the society in future and happiness for all, are something teachers today need to draw into the experience of school education. We take electrical appliances like lights, fans, TVs and mixers as basic needs but we forget that the limits of the conventional energy resources required to run them.
School students need to understand that it is the responsibility of every individual to use energy sources and dispose of waste in a sustainable manner so that future generations are not left stranded. Non-conventional sources of energy – such as solar energy, wind energy, and biogas will have to meet the energy needs of the future when carbon fuels will no longer be viable. India is blessed with adequate sunshine all year long and we must build on this to harvest the energy that comes to us freely.
It was this scenario that led us, teachers from a ZP primary school in the tiny village of Dhandarphal Khurd, in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, to act. In our own small way, we wanted to address the problem of depleting energy sources.
Like other ZP schools, our school too implements the midday meal scheme. Every day we make lunch for some 110 students. Earlier, we used LPG gas for cooking. Invariably, the gas in the cylinder would run out in the middle of the month and we teachers would have to leave our classes to find another cylinder. We also tried cooking on open fires, but that meant cutting trees and, apart from the pollution, the smoke would almost suffocate the women cooking the food. Sometimes we would end up with quantities of leftover food, and had the problem of its disposal, as we did not want to waste the food.
These circumstances led to us teachers requesting a meeting with the members and president of the School Management Committee. Our presentation to them was that we realised that we could use the kitchen waste, leftover food from the school meals, and also the waste from the drainage pipes of the school and the Panchayat Samiti (village council), to generate biogas. The biogas would be a clean fuel to cook the school’s midday meals. The biogas plant would also help to eliminate the foul smell that floated around the village.
We were determined to implement the biogas plant project and argued persuasively for the idea. The village Panchayat agreed to give financial aid, while the teachers as well as other school staffers helped with small donations. We received Rs 10,000 from the Panchayat, collected a matching amount through private donations, and started building the plant.
Under the supervision of experts, we first built the biogas tank, as well as an inlet tank to collect the incoming materials. We then created an outlet, which was buried in a hole dug for the purpose. Then teachers Sanjay Karpe, Ravindra Kanavade and I laid the pipes that would eventually be connected to the pipes of the public toilet in the village as well as the school toilet. The new pipes would take the waste from both these sources to the biogas plant.
Once the biogas plant was fully constructed, we were eager to see how it would work. We wanted to collect animal droppings, as most villagers own cattle. Satish Khatal, President of the School Management Committee, had a tractor collect manure from every household. Then we poured this manure into the inlet tank. Every day, we would collect the leftover food in a large tub, along with vegetable peelings and other food waste, to be put into the inlet tank.
Within a week, we connected the biogas plant to the cooking range in the school kitchen with a small pipe and with great joy, lit the flame of clean energy!
Our biogas plant has been functioning smoothly since 2013. Earlier, we would have had to replace the LPG cylinder every 18-20 days. But now that we mainly use biogas, one cylinder, as a supplementary fuel, lasts us for a good three months. The days when the teachers and other school staff would waste time to look for new cylinders are long forgotten. As the toilet pipes are directly connected to the biogas plant, the foul toilet smells have all but disappeared. Since the toilet waste goes directly into the pipes, there are no open drains in the village any more, which also helps reduce the spread of diseases and infections.
We are very happy that we found a good way to dispose of the waste and gain a free source of energy. The money saved on gas cylinders is now being used to provide students with better nutrition. Inspired by the success of our biogas plant, the ZP school in the neighbouring village of Nimaj has also built one for itself. We derived immense satisfaction from this project, and from knowing that we were helping to protect the environment and reduce pollution.
We explained the entire process to the students. This demonstration of saving natural resources and reducing pollution by turning to non-conventional forms of energy, has made an impression on them, and we are happy that we could lead by example. We were also able to explain to students the importance of waste water management as well as the relationship between unhygienic conditions and diseases. There has been a marked change in the students’ attitudes, and they are learning to respect nature as well as to appreciate the underlying science. We also see that they observe their surroundings with greater curiosity than before.
For more information on the biogas plant project, please contact me on +91 7588606092.
Blog: Machindra Pawse Assistant Teacher, ZP School Dhandarphal Khurd, Taluka Sangamner, District Ahmednagar, with inputs from samata.shiksha team
Translation & editing: samata.shiksha team