Solid waste management: It takes a fire to ignite action

Solid waste management is a major challenge posing multiple threats and calls for putting in place safeguard mechanisms

Written by Anil Sasi | New Delhi | Updated: July 30, 2016 2:40 am
deonar-dunping-ground-fire7 The Ministry of Urban Development, in its manual on solid waste management has estimated country-wide waste generation of 1,00,000 MT per day in 2011.

For what is now a 62 million tonne annual problem, the massive fire in January at Mumbai’s Deonar solid waste dump has prompted action on a series of safeguards in managing the country’s landfills better. In India, where annual waste generation is pegged at 62 million tonnes and the segregation of waste is almost negligible, the post-fire clean-up in Deonar possibly holds out hope of an improvement in waste management methods across our urban centres.

A series of four key steps taken by the municipal corporation of Mumbai in the wake of the fire at Deonar — a 90-year-old landfill that should have long been wound up — include a proposal to set-up a Waste to Energy plant of 2000 TPD (tonnes per day) capacity at Deonar, for which the Tata Consultancy Services has been appointed as consultant. Besides, IIT-Mumbai and National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) have been asked to give suggestion on measures such as slopes stabilisation of garbage heaps, methane capturing and final cover at Deonar dumping ground, along with the preparation of design for management of leachate water. The Maharashtra government, according to information provided by the Ministry of Urban Development in a deposition before a parliamentary panel, has moved ahead to declare the Deonar dumping site as a “prohibited area”, as per the provisions of the state’s Home Department.

With the municipal corporation of Mumbai subsequently lodging an FIR against the private operator Tatva Global Environment (Deonar) Ltd for negligence, a bevy of security measures have now been put in place. This includes the construction of a compound wall along with peripheral road to prevent entry of miscreants inside the Deonar Dumping Ground premises, supplementing the existing 12 CCTV cameras installed for monitoring activities inside the dumping premises with 40 new “night vision” cameras to be installed in the near future and increase in the number of security personnel deployed at Deonar site from 102 to 150 for effective supervision.

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A government official involved in preparation of the report indicated that similar steps would be taken across landfills and dumps in other cities. Solid waste management is one of the major challenges faced by most countries, with inadequate collection, recycling or treatment and uncontrolled disposal in dumps posing serious health risks and the threat of environmental pollution. Along with the issue of waste segregation, there is also the problem of disposal being done primarily by land filling. According to the Municipal Solid Waste Rules 2000 “Municipal Solid Waste” includes commercial and domestic wastes generated in a municipal or notified area in either solid or semi-solid form excluding industrial hazards but including treated bio-medical wastes.

The Ministry of Urban Development, in its manual on solid waste management has estimated country-wide waste generation of 1,00,000 MT per day in 2011. In reality, it is much higher. According to figures issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change earlier this year, about 62 million tonnes of waste is generated annually in the country at present, of which 5.6 million tonnes is plastic waste, 0.17 million tonnes is biomedical waste, hazardous waste generation is 7.90 million tonnes per annum and 15 lakh tonne is e-waste. The per capita waste generation in Indian cities ranges from 200 grams to 600 grams per day. According to the environment ministry data, about 43 million TPA is collected, 11.9 million is treated and 31 million is dumped in landfill sites, which means that only about 75-80 per cent of the municipal waste gets collected and only 22-28 per cent of this waste is processed and treated. To make it worse, waste generation is projected to increase from 62 million tonnes to about 165 million tonnes in 2030.

In April this year, the environment ministry took a step to bring the administrative process in sync with the times, with the announcement of new solid waste management rules, which were revised after 16 long years. The new rules proposed a three-fold expansion of the country’s solid waste management programme, aiming to cover 17,000 inhabited areas — to benefit 45 crore people directly. When it comes to breaking from the traditional mould and leveraging out-of-the-box thinking to tackle what is one of the biggest urban nightmares, the policy framework in India appears to be behind the curve when compared to initiatives in urban centres across most developed nations.

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In the US, a company called Rubicon Global has pioneered a cloud-based, full-service waste and recycling venture. Acting as an aggregator in private waste management it uses its proprietary software as a hub to connect businesses with waste haulers, landfill depots and recyclers. It does not own a single truck or a landfill, but works as an intermediary that holds online bidding for its clients’ waste contracts, fostering competition among waste management companies and bringing down prices. By fostering greater efficiencies in waste management, the company helps reduce the need for landfills. It also analyses its clients’ waste for novel recycling.

In the UK, to cut the garbage going to landfill sites to zero by 2025, the City Council of London has adopted a Recycle Bank scheme that leverages behavioural economics to push people towards recycling. So, instead of fines, the scheme hands out vouchers in proportion to how much they recycle. Vouchers can be either redeemed in certain shops or get credited to the account of charities. According to the City Council of London website, about 600 million Pounds is spent annually to collect, treat and dispose of its 4 million tonnes of annual household waste, of which just around a quarter is recycled.

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