India’s cities already generate over 150,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste every day, with Mumbai being the world’s fifth most wasteful city. As India’s economic growth accelerates, the garbage problem would only get bigger.
Extent of the problem –
- The waste heaps that dot the edges of India’s cities are set to double in size by 2025.
- Only one-third of the waste undergoes even rudimentary treatment, according to the urban ministry’s optimistic assessment, and hardly any of it is segregated, which would make processing easier.
- According to the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, cities are already beginning to run out of land on which to dump their waste and have begun throwing it in the backyards of smaller towns, suburbs and villages. Thus, garbage may soon become a flashpoint that sets off recurrent conflict across the urban landscape.
Why burning the waste is not the right solution?
- In August 2017, NITI Aayog in its medium-term three-year vision for the country has proposed only one big national idea i.e. to incinerate or burn the garbage.
- By burning the waste, a small amount of energy could also be produced, at least in theory. A minuscule amount of energy is generated, but there has been very little debate on whether incinerators work in the Indian context.
- Currently, about 3% of urban India’s daily garbage output gets fed into waste-to-energy incinerators.
- Unlike the Western world, a large chunk of India’s waste is still organic kitchen waste—almost 40% of the total volume.
- Since segregation of waste is yet to become a reality, incineration is a highly inefficient solution.
- In the Indian context, there is also very little certainty on whether the harmful gases, which are a byproduct of incineration, are adequately contaidned and treated.
- A 2017 report by GIZ, a German government agency working on waste and sanitation, states that mixed municipal solid waste in developing nations is by its nature different from that in industrial countries and has specific characteristics in every city. This diversity must be considered in any technology assessment.
What else can be done?
- Apart from incineration, the other big idea that several cities have tried is bioremediation, which effectively involves the use of living micro-organisms to degrade the contaminants in a landfill into less toxic forms.
- While the technology is somewhat effective in dealing with existing landfills, in an ideal future, the waste processing chain should abolish the need for a landfill to begin with. That is the path that several smaller Indian towns have already embarked on—from Alappuzha in Kerala to Mysuru in Karnataka, both of which endeavour to build a “zero landfill” city.
- In both the above cited examples, segregation and composting are a big part of the mix of solutions that are being implemented. Their experience in inducing collective action among ordinary citizens to segregate waste may hold important lessons for India’s large cities.
Triggering behavioural change –
- Global examples show that the national mood changes under the influence of an adequate trigger, which makes a radical change in collective behaviour possible.
- In New York the magnitude of the waste management challenge became clear when a barge loaded with 3,100 tonnes of garbage set sail from the city in 1987 to find a resting place, only to be rejected by six US states and three neighbouring countries.
Indians should start demanding clean and healthy cities as a basic right and governments must step up and deliver that basic human need.
Source – Livemint
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