Insights into Editorial: Cleaning up the mess: the need for a waste management policy
In India, less than 60% of waste is collected from households and only 15% of urban waste is processed.
Hyperconsumption is a curse of our modern times. Humans generate monumental amounts of waste, a sizeable portion of which is disposed in landfills and through waste-to-energy incinerators.
However, billions of tonnes of garbage, including microplastics, never make it to landfills or incinerators and end up in the oceans.
This garbage chokes marine life and disturbs zooplankton, which are vital to the elimination of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
To understand the existing scenario of waste management, impact of poor waste management solutions, policies that have been framed to address it and the major systemic changes that need to happen to ensure this important public issue does not turn into a national calamity.
Unsegregated Waste end up in Landfills:
In India, nearly 60% of the household waste is wet organic waste, with low calorific value.
Landfills are seedbeds of methane and other greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming.
These toxic chemicals poison the soil and their leached run-off makes its way into the oceans. And while they do generate energy, waste incinerators cause health issues such as cancer.
This makes options such as waste-to-energy incinerators inefficient. We need to design incinerators that are suited to Indian conditions.
Problems of unscientific MSW disposal:
Only about 75- 80% of the municipal waste gets collected and out of this only 22-28 % is processed and treated and remaining is disposed of indiscriminately at dump yards.
It is projected that by the year 2031 the MSW generation shall increase to 165 million tonnes and to 436 million tons by 2050.
If cities continue to dump the waste at present rate without treatment, it will need 1240 hectares of land per year and with projected generation of 165 million tons of waste by 2031, the requirement of setting up of land fil for 20 years of 10 meters height will require 66,000 hectares of land.
Scientific disposal of solid waste through segregation, collection and treatment and disposal in an environmentally sound manner minimises the adverse impact on the environment.
The local authorities are responsible for the development of infrastructure for collection, storage, segregation, transportation, processing and disposal of MSW.
If municipal solid waste management is done through proper planning and management, it would lead to a business case of income generation and provide financial support to ULBs by generating revenue.
There are several problems in India in how waste is treated:
First, segregation of waste into organic, recyclable and hazardous categories is not enforced at source.
As a result, mixed waste lands up in the landfills, where waste-pickers, in hazardous conditions, try to salvage the recyclables, which are of poor quality and quantity by then.
Second, ideally, waste management should not be offered free of cost to residents.
Only if residents pay will they realise the importance of segregation and recycling.
Third, there is the issue of logistical contractors who are motivated to dump more garbage in landfills as their compensation is proportional to the tonnage of waste.
They are also prone to illegally dump waste at unauthorised sites to reduce transportation costs.
Fourth, and importantly, organic farming and composting are not economically attractive to the Indian farmer, as chemical pesticides are heavily subsidised, and the compost is not efficiently marketed.
There are solutions to the garbage pandemic through the crucial processes of material recycling and composting.
Efficient composting is possible through an optimal combination of microbes and temperature to produce a nutrient-dense soil conditioner.
The manufacturers or brand owners of sanitary napkins are responsible for awareness for proper disposal of such waste by the generator.
They should also need to provide a pouch or wrapper for disposal of each napkin or diapers along with the packet of their sanitary products.
There is a need to give sufficient power to the local bodies across India to decide the user fees.
Municipal authorities will levy user fees for collection, disposal and processing from bulk generators.
As per the rules, the generator will have to pay “User Fee” to the waste collector and a “Spot Fine” for littering and non-segregation, the quantum of which will be decided by the local bodies.
The need of the hour is we need a comprehensive waste management policy that stresses the need for decentralised garbage disposal practices. This will incentivise private players to participate.
Behavioural change and citizen/community participation in SWM is the key to sustain a project related to management of municipal solid waste.