About three decades ago, urban Indians purchased milk via reusable bottles provided by milk companies. Nowadays, they get it in plastic packaging. For decades, we have had ‘chat’ and ‘bhel’ on the roadside, generally in steel plates and with our hands, washing them later. Nowadays, ‘chatwallahs’ readily provide plastic spoons and plates. For decades, housewives purchased vegetables and carried them in custom-stitched cloth bags. Nowadays, it is polybags.
Today, a middle-class Indian buys milk in plastic packaging, not in reusable bottles because of the fear of contaminated bottles. She will generally not have bhel with hands. A housewife will bring home vegetables in more convenient polybags, not in cloth bags. Why bother washing it later?
Now, consider this. The milk will be consumed within a few days of its purchase, but bio-decomposition of its plastic packaging will require at least 70 years. Ditto for polybags. The plastic spoon being thicker will require centuries.
That’s why we have to seriously think about reusing and recycling. Plastic spoons can be reused by the vendors, but then washing plastic spoons defeats the very purpose of using new spoons in the first place. The plastic packaging of milk and torn polybags can be recycled too. But how many people keep such plastic waste separate to sell to scrap vendors?
No wonder, garbage dumping grounds are filling fast. A decade or two later—besides water and electricity crises—our country is going to face a crisis of garbage.
India has 18% of the world’s population, but only 1.9% of land area. The population is estimated to increase from 1.25 billion currently to 1.45 billion in 2028 and to 1.65 billion in 2060, according to the United Nations. Hence, the pressure on land for accommodating new houses, offices, factories, warehouses, infrastructure and farms is only going to increase, not counting land to be set aside for wild flora and fauna.
Alongside, the consumption of plastic is increasing. Per-capita consumption was 4kg in 2006, 8kg in 2010 and 11kg currently. According to a recent statement by the minister for petroleum and natural gas, the government plans to increase that figure to 20kg by 2022.
As per Rule 4 of the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules—implemented 2000 onwards—every municipal authority is responsible for infrastructure development for segregation and processing of municipal solid waste (MSW), commonly known as garbage.
However, the implementation is weak. In Mumbai, only 10% of MSW is treated in bioreactors. In Delhi, 50% is treated. Of the 1.4 lakh tonnes of MSW generated in our country per day, only 24% is treated. Compare that to Sweden, where less than 1% of MSW generated by homes goes to landfills, and the balance 99% is either converted to power or is recycled or composted.
For recycling to be successful, components such as plastic, paper, glass and metal should be kept separate while disposing of garbage. As per Schedule II of MSW Rules (2000), every municipal authority shall undertake phased programmes to ensure community participation in waste segregation. However, segregation at source is weak. For example, in March 2014—and this is 14 years after the implementation of the law—the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation issued notices to a whopping 1,200 housing societies in the eastern suburbs for not segregating waste into wet (biodegradable) and dry.
One of the solutions is a waste generator charge at the time of disposal. It is called ‘pay as you throw’ (PAYT). The charge is levied on the magnitude of waste disposed of, measured either in terms of the number of bins of standard size or the actual weight of the waste. It is implemented in all municipalities of Ireland, Finland and Austria. In South Korea, a system for disposal of food waste by residents exists since 2013—some flats require residents to pay for garbage bags, while others have a centralised bin that uses Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to weigh how much waste each household dumps and bills it accordingly. Even Abu Dhabi will implement it this year.
It’s time we learn from global examples and follow such an abhiyan for a swachh Bharat.
Zubin Sethna is assistant professor at Durgadevi Saraf Institute Of Management Studies, Mumbai, Sanjay Gajria is assistant professor at VES Management Institute, Mumbai