Saving environment: Decentralised composting & treatment of water can convert municipal waste and sewage as inputs for new products

Published: November 7, 2018 12:22 AM

India has around 70-80 million tonnes (MT) of municipal waste, 7-8 MT of construction & demolition (C&D) waste, 1.8 MT of e-waste per annum, and 8.7 million ELVs (end-of-life vehicles).

Turning wastes into circular economy benefits

By KK Pandey

Urban waste in India, as elsewhere, has the potential to operate as secondary resource material and generate a value chain in the economy. Material consumed in India with 97% extracted domestically has substantial footprint in urban waste, which is a Rs 5 trillion market at initial stages of recovery. At current rates of growth, consumption in India is likely to grow threefold during 2015-30.

India has around 70-80 million tonnes (MT) of municipal waste, 7-8 MT of construction & demolition (C&D) waste, 1.8 MT of e-waste per annum, and 8.7 million ELVs (end-of-life vehicles). Only 10% of municipal waste, 15% C&D waste, 2% e-waste and 10% ELVs is recovered. The processing of urban waste, by and large, is done by segregators, dismantlers and recyclers (mainly from the informal sector) for value chain, and not certified for health or safety standards.

The Namami Gange-National Mission for Clean Ganga (97 towns) and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (a majority of open-defecation-free statutory towns) with their focus on water and sanitation have provided a platform to convert urban waste as input for circular economy. We have to draw a suitable strategy on each of the component of urban waste in a phased manner, taking into account the innovations applied under the missions and elsewhere in the country.

Decentralised composting and treatment of water are successfully converting municipal waste and sewage as input for new products. Bengaluru is using segregation at source and has a citywide network of dry waste collection centres for all the 198 wards to segregate and sell paper, plastic, metal, etc, to vendors mainly belonging to the informal sector. Nearly 40% households process kitchen waste within the premises (Koramangala/Yelahanka) or neighbourhood (Dollars Colony). It is a result of joint efforts from civil society activists, municipal officials, vendors and other stakeholders, and also includes a composting santhe (fair) organised weekly at ward-level on rotation, where the stakeholders interact and showcase models on decentralised processing for adaptation. Ward committees are also set up to prepare micro plans for 1,500 population to process municipal solid waste. Several other cities such as Pune, Indore and Visakhapatnam are also segregating waste for better recovery.

The sewage in Ahmedabad is sold to Arvind Mills for treatment and use in the manufacturing of clothes. A first-of-its-kind concession agreement has been signed for hybrid annuity-based PPP mode STP in Mathura between Namami Gange and Indian Oil to reuse of 20 MLD treated water, bear operation & maintenance (O&M) cost for 15 years, and pay `8.75 per kilolitre towards partial capital cost.

Ahmedabad and Delhi are the initial efforts in the country to process C&D waste as input (for producing bricks, slabs, etc), which is associated with a buyback facility from respective city governments. C&D waste also has the potential for urban mining under renewal and reconstruction projects to use 35-40% material on the plot itself.

India is fifth-largest generator of e-waste (5 MT per year) with huge potential to recover gold, silver, copper and other valuable material. The current market is, by and large, informal and does not address the potential in an economic and environment-friendly manner. In this regard, end-of-use disposal norms of the government along with the Extended Producer Responsibility need to be applied widely.

ELVs have a vast potential of 75% recyclable metals and 25% plastic. Delhi alone has 4 million vehicles of the 8.7 million under the category of over 15 years that have been de-registered.

Around 20 million ELVs would be available by 2025 for dismantling, recycling, reuse and recovery. Some initiatives (Mahindra Cero) are emerging to handle ELV waste that needs to be integrated with the informal value chain already existing in the market.

Intergovernmental follow-up should be prepared with city governments as nodal agencies to create 5R hubs (reduce, reuse, recycle, refurbish and repair) in city and regional contexts to integrate informal sector in formal value chain, and provide suitable technology options, safety measures, finance, raw material (C&D waste, etc), incentives (buyback facility) and concessions.

The government should plan suitable incentives, concessions and technology transfer for a circular economy. At the same time, the role of social activists, community, judicial activism and media is equally important to expedite the process in a larger context of a safe environment, productivity and sustainability.

The author is Professor, Urban Management, Indian Institute of Public Administration, Delhi

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