What a waste

Written by Garima Pant | Updated: Jun 7 2010, 03:53am hrs
What happens to these disposable diapers Isn't the plastic used in them difficult to treat Won't it take longer to decaywere a set of questions posed to this journalist by an elderly lady, advocating the use of cotton nappies for babies. Maybe there is sense behind her thoughts if one considers the fact that disposable diapers take 450 years to biodegrade. In our effort to appear green, we hardly stop and think what happens to the household waste that is kept outside the door to be collected by the waste collector everyday. It becomes a part of the overflowing municipal dustbins and is eventually dumped in a landfill, is the common response. But there's more to the waste journey than meets the eye. Out of sight, out of mind has been the prevalent attitude when it comes to waste disposal.

Approximately 42 million tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) is generated annually in India. With daily collection and proper disposal systems not in place, waste is seen strewn all across Indian cities. Various studies reveal that about 90% of MSW is disposed of unscientifically in open dumps and landfills, a hazard to public health and the environment. Municipalities in India spend between 10-50% of their budget on solid waste management, with the majority share being used in the salaries of sanitation workers and transporting waste. A negligible amount is spent on public awareness about scientific disposal and education about waste minimisation and segregation of waste recyclables and non-recyclables, which are a big challenge for municipalities responsible for managing waste. Experts believe that if each sector takes out some time to segregate solid waste, 80% of the problems faced in solid waste management can be solved.

But some experts differ. We do segregate waste at source, such as paper, metal, plastic, etc, to be sold to the local kabadiwala. Its the decayed waste that cannot be segregated at home, says Asit Nema, a solid waste management expert. Open dumping of waste is a common practice. Open landfills are a serious public menace and increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Work on waste management, including waste minimisation, its reuse and recycling, has also been a major cause for concern.

A survey of 22 cities, conducted by FICCI in 2009 to highlight the current state of MSW management, was shocking. Most of the waste was getting disposed in existing unorganised dump sites without any scientific treatment. What was also surprising was the absence of designated dump sites in certain cities. The results also pointed towards the fact that waste treatment options such as composting and waste-to-energy plants were not being adequately explored by cities generating maximum quantities of waste. Lack of knowhow and technical manpower are a major roadblock. And in non-JNNURM cities, funding is also a big constraint, says Rita Roy Choudhury, director and head (environment, climate change, renewable energy), FICCI.

These figures also point towards the ineffectiveness of the local municipalities and the burgeoning need for participation of the private sector. The slow pace at which policies are being implemented has created a big hurdle in the efficient implementation of MSW in the country. For instance, the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000, laid down the procedures and guidelines for collection, segregation, storage, transportation, processing and disposal of municipal solid waste. The rules require that all cities should provide suitable infrastructure for waste treatment and disposal facilities. Specifically, identification and setting up of landfill sites had to be completed by December 2003. However, only four citiesSurat (Gujarat), Pune (Maharashtra), and Puttur and Karwar (Karnataka) have constructed sanitary landfills. Identification and construction of more sites is in progress, says Sasidhar Chidanamarri, programme manager (environment and building, South Asia & Middle East), Frost & Sullivan.

The situation of solid waste management in the country makes it necessary for the municipal authorities to seriously consider changing their role of being a service provider to that of a facilitator, says Amiya Kumar Sahu, president, National Solid Waste Association of India. And its this change in attitude that can bring in huge benefits.

Growing industry

As per a study in 2008 on Indian Waste Management Services Market by Frost & Sullivan, the market size of the municipal waste management services stands at Rs 850 crore. With increasing private sector penetration in collection and transportation services market and development of scientific recycling and disposal methods for management of MSW, the market is expected to grow at CAGR of 22.4% from 2008 to 2013, says Chidanamarri.

With better access to latest technology, trained manpower, knowhow and finance, the private sector could give the MSW management market the much needed impetus. Experts believe that a successful model of public-private partnership can enhance the chance of better waste management in Indian cities. The private sector usually shows efficiency in its performance because it is accountable to its customers, and is less restricted by bureaucracy and political interference, says Sahu.

Smart solutions

For waste management to be successful in India, you need a concept of tipping fees, says Nema. The (tipping) fee charged to individuals, businesses and waste haulers to dump trash in the landfill is fairly common in many countries, including the US, and it helps subsidise waste management programmes. He also advocates dignified burial of municipal waste in a sanitary landfill for reducing the negative effects of solid waste. Given the vast expanse of India and volumes of waste generated, offering end-to-end solutions spanning across the entire waste management services value chain is the ideal proposition, says Chidanamarri.

The integrated approach to waste management ensures that all aspects of waste management are carried out in a scientific manner with special emphasis on processing through a mix of technologies. Each component of waste gets its due treatment; composting/biomethanation for segregated organic waste, refuse derived fuel (RDF) for mixed waste and inert management for inert matter. The concept ensures that minimum waste goes to the landfill, thereby promoting recycle and recovery and also reducing load on landfills. Providing the entire gamut of integrated servicescollection, transportation, treatment, recycling, and controlled disposalis the optimal business model that is likely to prevail in the long term, Chidanamarri adds.

It might also just make for a more eco-friendly and cleaner India.