By 2050, the total waste generated by India would take up a landfill area equivalent to some of its biggest cities clubbed together. Swati Singh Sambyal, Programme Manager, Environmental Governance, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), says that given this outlook, the country needs to proactively evolve decentralised waste management practices.
What is the estimated quantity of solid waste, industrial effluents and e-waste generated in India? Are we likely to witness any marked increase in waste generation, going forward?
The 2014 report of the Planning Commission Committee chaired by K Kasturirangan found that 62 million tonnes (MT) of municipal solid waste (MSW) was produced per year, which is based on an average of 0.45 kilo per capita, per day, for India's urban population. According to a latest Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report, in 2016, the country produced some 52 MT of waste each year, or roughly 0.144 MT per day, of which nearly 23 per cent is processed, taken to landfills or disposed using other technologies.
As per the United Nations University report The Global E-waste Monitor 2014, 17 lakh tonnes of e-waste generation was reported in the country in 2014. The report notes that the per capita generation of e-waste in 2014 in India was 1.3 kg per inhabitant.
It is projected that by 2046, India would be producing some 260 MT of waste annually, needing over 1,400 square kilometres of landfills. This is an area equivalent to the cities of Hyderabad, Mumbai and Chennai put together! Thus, major interventions are required. As for a country where people are struggling over resources such as land, forests and water, we cannot use landfills for dumping garbage. A push for decentralised management is a prerequisite.
To what extent have the present methods for ensuring segregation of waste been successful? Has the existing manpower of rag-pickers and scrap dealers been effectively harnessed to aid the process?
Segregation at source has been a major roadblock in waste management in the country. After the advent of the Solid Waste Management (SWM) Rules, 2016, the implementation has been lax. Urban local bodies are not capacitated enough to ensure segregation. Consequently, this has a trickle-down impact.
But there are good practices too. There have been cities in the country that have done tremendous work on segregation. Cities such as Alappuzha in Kerala, Mysuru in Karnataka and Panjim in Goa have been able to push the message of segregation.
Alappuzha has a decentralised model, where households segregate and treat their waste at source through composting and biogas, with only dry waste collected by the municipality. This has helped in considerably reducing the expenditure of the urban local bodies. Meanwhile, Panjim has a five-point segregation model where households, hotels and commercial complexes segregate waste into five components: wet, paper, plastic, glass, metal and others. This has led to resource recovery and creation of a profitable model that looks at finding solutions to every waste stream. In Mysuru, the city has 64 wards that are further divided into nine 'Zero Waste Management Units', there is close to 90 per cent segregation at source in the city. Apart from these, there are numerous other examples that we have documented in our report Not in My Backyard: Status of Solid Waste Management in Indian Cities.
The informal sector has been the most neglected component of waste management in India, although it plays a very important role. Not only does it manage tonnes of solid waste and try to keep our cities clear, it also prevents this waste from entering landfills. It forms an important part of the recycling chain of our country that is preventing our cities from drowning in their own waste.
The overall data with regard to how much waste is being managed and recycled by the informal sector in India is very poor. According to CPCB data of 2011, 70 per cent of recyclable waste is collected but only 12 per cent is processed or treated by the informal sector. As per the 2014 report of the Planning Commission, 80 per cent of recyclable waste is disposed in unhygienic dumps. All the estimates of waste generation do not take into account the waste managed by the informal sector, i.e., waste that is collected by rag-pickers or kabadiwallas (scarp dealers) and processed for recycling.
According to a recent study conducted by the International Labour Organization, an astounding 93 per cent of India's population is employed outside the formal sector. No reliable statistics exist to indicate how many of these jobs are in the waste management sector, but the numbers must certainly run into millions.
Cities such as Alappuzha and Mysuru are making sure that their model of waste management involves the informal sector, but such is not the case with others.
From your own experience, what is the compliance level by housing societies and commercial units towards professional garbage-disposal mechanisms put in place by the concerned administrative authority?
As per the SWM Rules 2016, the responsibility of resident welfare and market associations, gated communities, institutions, and hotels and restaurants has been outlined in waste disposal. The development plan for group housing or commercial, institutional or any other non-residential complex exceeding 200 dwelling or having a plot area exceeding 5,000 square metres has to demarcate separate space for segregation, storage and decentralised processing of solid waste.
In Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Coimbatore, and other parts of the country, people and resident welfare associations are taking initiatives to manage garbage.
Is the progress made in terms of power generation through garbage incineration, bio-gas and vermi-culture projects satisfactory?
No. The problem is that nobody wants to address the really important question of composition of waste, its ramifications and the need for segregation. Without this, these plants will continue to face certain distinct challenges. One, the informal sector removes high calorific value items before waste is sent to refuse derived fuel (RDF) or waste-to-energy plants. The calorific value of Indian waste is between 800 to 1,000 k cal, while it needs to be at least 2,000 kilocalories to be suitable for incineration. Two, waste is not segregated and the tipping fee is paid on its quantity and not its quality. This gives incentive to operators to obtain heavy and unusable unsegregated waste.
This substantially adds to processing costs, so, they have high amounts of rejects and little resource recovery. Three, when waste is unsegregated and incinerated to make power, it creates an additional problem of toxic pollution. Indian standards for dioxin and furans are poor. But worse, we do not have the infrastructure to be able to test and monitor global best standards for these pollutants. Four, it is also clear that these integrated RDF and waste-to-energy plants, where processing is done in-house, have an inherent risk. All plants are expected to process huge quantities of waste, of which they recover a proportion for RDF. The rest of the waste is either recovered or dumped. If waste is not segregated, then costs of processing are high and it is likely to be rejected and dumped.
The truth remains that we do not even know the composition of waste in India. Shockingly, the only comprehensive study which looked at waste quantity and quality was done by National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), way back in 1995! Since then, all plans for waste disposal have been more in the nature of arrows shot in the dark.
Have the tie-ups with national and international private players for garbage disposal and treatment of wastewater and industrial effluents had any significant impact?
Yes and no. On the one hand, promotion of capital-intensive technologies is happening and states have invested in them. However, this cannot be adopted pan-India. The need is to look at affordable and sustainable technologies.
Given the general apprehension on part of Indian industry to invest in water treatment for reuse as using groundwater works out to be far cheaper, what needs to be done to increase awareness and ensure implementation of measures towards conservation of groundwater reserves?
Decentralised wastewater management is the future. We need to make sure we treat at source, both for garbage and wastewater. Land is scarce. We cannot think of taking wastewater through pipes to treatment plants and spend huge capital costs for the same. Affordable technologies, closer to the source, are the future.
What more can be done to improve efficiency in the field of waste management?
Waste management needs reinvention, particularly when it comes to solid waste. We need to promote segregation at source; all efforts to segregate later have led to problems. We have to charge households and institutions user fees for waste generation under the 'polluter pays' principle. Segregated waste needs to be managed using different technologies. Ideally, treat as locally as possible through composting and biogas. Let us push for 'Zero Landfill Cities' at the regional level, 'Zero Waste Campuses and Institutions' at the local level and 'Zero Waste Homes' at the individual level.
- MANISH PANT