Akshaya Patra: Transforming Organic Waste into Clean Energy

Shridhar Venkat, CEO, The Akshaya Patra Foundation tells Clean Future, how in addition to providing a whopping 1.6 mn school children with wholesome meals across India, this not-for-profit organization is also doing its bit for the environment by producing clean energy from its organic waste.  

Give us a brief profile of your organization and its core focus areas?

We are a Bengaluru-based not-for-profit organization that runs the world’s largest (not-for-profit run) mid-day meal programme serving hot, wholesome meals to over 1.6 million children from 13,808 schools across 12 states in India.

The Akshaya Patra Foundation strives to fight issues like hunger and malnutrition in India, by implementing the Mid-Day Meal Scheme in the government schools and government-aided schools.

Our aim is not only to fight hunger but also to bring children to school. It’s a journey which began in the year 2000, with just 1,500 students spread across 5 schools. However since then, our organisation has worked towards reaching more children with hot meals on every single school day.

Akshaya Patra is continuously leveraging technology through our state-of-the-art kitchens to cater to the nutrition needs of millions of children. We work in partnership with the central government, various state governments, corporate support, philanthropic donors and our many well-wishers.

The process of preparing meals at such a large scale must lead to generation of huge quantities of organic waste. How does your organisation ensure minimum wastage? 

We generate approx 350 kg of organic waste daily in our kitchens. However to minimize wastage in the pre-processing process itself, we select the right quality and combination of vegetables.

Cooking is planned based on the confirmation of schools on a daily basis. Also, routine checks are carried out by the School Relation Officers (SROs) and route supervisors during distribution to minimize wastage.

Tell us about the waste management systems adopted by Akshaya Patra to manage all the waste in an eco-friendly, sustainable way?

We have also adopted a biogas system to convert organic waste into clean energy. Of the average 350 kg of waste generated daily, approx 150 kg is used by our biogas plants to generate clean energy on a daily basis. A small portion of the organic waste is also used for composting purposes.

The energy produced is equivalent to approx 2-3 LPG cylinders. This technology is among the most proven processes and can convert approx 1,000 kgs of organic waste into energy per day. We quarantine the waste to be used the next day for biogas generation.

The power generated from this energy is used for fire-based cooking; seasoning, frying, small time cooking, cooking for staff, etc. It has helped us to reduce our power consumption by roughly 10 percent.

At Akshaya Patra, we have also identified a technology to treat effluents called Porous Sulpha Sponge (PSS). This technology helps in the scientific handling, disposal and recycling of run offs and kitchen waste.

Besides bio-gas, your organization also uses solar energy to meet your energy needs. Kindly share the details?

Yes. Currently we use Solar PV systems to generate electricity to cater to the energy requirements of our community kitchen’s day time requirement. These systems generate electricity from solar energy.

The system we use generates about 80-100 units/day which is sufficient to power all our day time requirements like lights, fans, motors etc.

For example, our Bengaluru solar PV plant generates approx 10kw of power daily which is used for general lighting. Surat generates about 12kw which is then connected to the main power grid and they get credits on their regular power supply.

What are the major initiatives that need to be implemented at the government & corporate level to prevent/ reduce food wastage in India?

To begin with, it will be prudent to create awareness and provide extensive training to those in the industry to inculcate the right attitude towards food wastage. Ensuring extensive communication across all levels on how the reduction of wastage can benefit everyone in the system is also an important factor.

As a country, we need to leverage modern technology such as the inventory management systems which can provide a transparent view of stock levels, operations, as well as inventory.

This will go a long way to minimizing food wastage and also prevent hoarding and black marketing. Wastage can also be prevented by setting up efficient storage infrastructure at the supply chain level.

Further, large corporates, malls, hotel chains and restaurants have tonnes of wastage that they can harness and convert into energy in various forms. This will help reduce wastage and also control their energy bills. It will also contain land pollution if the wastage is converted into renewable energy.

Are you open to interested players replicating Akshaya Patra’s technology and waste management model?

The blueprints and processes of our waste management and clean energy generation systems are available to whomsoever who asks for it.

In July this year, we had a six-member delegation from Bangladesh who visited our kitchens at Lucknow and Bengaluru to gain an understanding of the Mid-Day Meal scheme and the running of centralised kitchens at Akshaya Patra.

The objective was to study our model and gain valuable inputs which could then be replicated in a similar private-public partnership model that they plan to launch in their country.

Earlier this month on the occasion of the India’s 70st Independence Day we have entered into a partnership with CNBC-Awaaz, the business news channel, to create awareness and encourage people to donate towards sponsoring a mid-day meal for a child.

Again this partnership is a step in the direction of ensuring that every child in India attends school regularly and dream of a bright future.

It is our belief that if we all should work towards a unified goal, ameliorating society should not remain a domain of a chosen few.

Lastly, do you see a larger role for NGOs like Akshaya Patra in ensuring India’s food security and the success of Clean India initiatives?

Akshaya Patra’s purpose is to eradicate classroom hunger from India and we are open to assist like-minded implementing agencies with our technical know-how to set up operations.

The blueprint of our centralised kitchen model is readily available to any organisation that is on a similar mission to eradicate hunger and ensure food security for our people. We have and will continue to support all government initiatives on this subject with our active participation and assistance.