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Biodiversity & Environment

From Waste to Wealth

  • 29 Sep 2022
  • 9 min read

This editorial is based on “What is the solution to India’s garbage disposal problem?” which was published in The Indian Express on 28/09/2022. It talks about waste disposal in India and related issues.

For Prelims: Single-use plastic, Non-Biodegradable waste, E-commerce, Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules 2022, Composting, Carbon dioxide Sequestration,

For Mains: Current Status of Waste Management in India, Challenges Related to Waste Management in India, Recent Government Initiatives, Circular Economy

Rising incomes, rapidly growing but unplanned urbanization, and changing lifestyles have resulted in increased volumes and changing composition (increasing use of paper, plastic and other inorganic materials) of waste in India.

Improper waste management in India has numerous implications on the environment and health. Besides paying attention to ameliorate the immediate environmental and public health crises resulting from the current state of solid waste management, there is also a need for articulating a long term strategy to address the future challenges of solid waste management in Indian cities.

What is the Current Status of Waste Management in India?

  • The Municipal Solid Waste Management Handling Rules, 2000 indicated that all the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) are responsible for the collection, transportation, disposal and segregation of solid waste in India.
  • India generates 62 million tonnes of waste each year. About 43 million tonnes (70%) are collected, of which about 12 million tonnes are treated, and 31 million tonnes are dumped in landfill sites.
    • With changing consumption patterns and rapid economic growth, it is estimated that urban municipal solid waste generation will increase to 165 million tonnes in 2030.
  • Most of India's dumpsites have exceeded their capacity and height limit of 20 meters. It is estimated that these sites enclose more than 10,000 hectares of urban land.

What is the Major Classification of Waste?

  • Solid Waste: vegetable waste, kitchen waste, household waste etc.
  • E-Waste: discarded electronic devices such as computers, TV, music systems etc.
  • Liquid Waste: water used for different industries, tanneries, distilleries, thermal power plants.
  • Plastic Waste: plastic bags, bottles, buckets, etc.
  • Metal Waste: unused metal sheet, metal scraps etc.
  • Nuclear Waste: unused materials from nuclear power plants.

Further, all these types of waste can be grouped into wet waste (Biodegradable) and dry waste (Non Biodegradable).

What are the Challenges Related to Waste Management in India?

  • Inefficient Waste Management by ULBs: In most of the municipalities in India, the solid waste management practices are highly inefficient along with other administrative obstructions such as the difficulties in the decision making and the problem of cost planning.
    • The Municipalities bodies under the state government are mostly understaffed as most of its financial budgets are utilized in the waste dumping practices.
      • Furthermore, many municipal bodies hire private contractors to pick up and dispose of garbage in order to earn profits.
  • Lack of Segregation of Waste: There is a lack of awareness among a large section of the population regarding the segregation of household waste. Failing to segregate trade waste properly ends up mixed in landfills.
    • Waste items like food scraps, paper, plastic and liquid waste mix and decompose, releasing run-off into the soil and harmful gas into the atmosphere.
  • Unsustainable Packaging: The popularity of online retail and food delivery apps, though restricted to big cities, is contributing to the rise in plastic waste.
    • E-commerce companies too have come under fire for excess use of plastic packaging.
    • Also, there are no disposal instructions included with packaged products.
  • Lack of Data Collection Mechanism: India lacks time series data or panel data in connection with solid or liquid waste. So it is very difficult for the waste planners of the country to analyze the economy of waste management.
    • Hence it becomes difficult for private entities to understand the relationship between cost and benefits of the waste management policies and enter into the market.
  • Rising Rural-Urban Conflicts: In most of the cities in India, waste is dumped in the outskirts near the villages that impact the environment of the village and induce many health hazards giving rise to urban-rural conflict.

What Should be the Way Forward?

  • Extended Producer Responsibility: There is a need to devise the mechanism for Extended Producer Responsibility in India to ensure that product manufacturers are made financially responsible for various parts of the life cycle of their products.
    • It includes take-back, recycling and final disposal at the end of their useful life, in a way promoting circular economy.
  • Decentralized Waste Management: A new innovative system can be introduced at city level for collection of recyclables at the community level, preferably through involvement of the informal sector.
    • Decentralized waste management systems or community level waste management systems will reduce the burden of handling large volumes of municipal waste at a centralized location, with corresponding reduction in costs of transportation and intermediate storage.
    • It will also provide job opportunities for informal workers and small entrepreneurs at city level.
      • For instance, in Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh), ULBs in partnership with a local organization, have been working with waste collectors since 2008 to streamline plastic waste collection and sales to recyclers.
  • Behavioral Change Towards Waste and Waste-Pickers: Waste is often viewed as useless, and waste collectors are often isolated. There is a need to change this perception and look at proper waste management.
    • Also, ULBs should reward waste pickers by providing incentives and spreading awareness to the public regarding their social inclusion.
      • The inclusion of waste pickers is crucial not only for their own health and livelihoods, but for the economies of municipalities as well.
  • City Composting Centers: Composting centers can be established in cities to reuse organic waste, which will enhance soil carbon content and eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers.
  • Technology-Driven Recycling: Government should encourage research and development in the field of waste recycling at university and school level to promote active participation of masses in technology enhancement in the field of waste management.
    • Thiagarajar College of Engineering in Madurai has received a patent for manufacturing tiles and blocks from waste plastic.
      • The manufactured tiles could withstand heavy loads and could be used as a construction material.
  • Integrated Solid-Waste Management:

Drishti Mains Question

Considering the current state of waste disposal, discuss how a decentralized waste management system can be introduced in India.

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Question (PYQ)

Q. Why is there a great concern about the ‘microbeads’ that are released into the environment? (2019)

(a) They are considered harmful to marine ecosystems.
(b) They are considered to cause skin cancer in children.
(c) They are small enough to be absorbed by crop plants in irrigated fields.
(d) They are often found to be used as food adulterants.

Ans: (a)

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