India and its garbage processing

Madhav Mittal | Updated: January 31, 2020, 4:35 IST

Plastic bottles that need to be processed as garbage.

India is the 5th largest economy in the world. Reading this would make any Indian proud, but it also brings a grim reality to light. India individually generated 62 million tonnes of waste (mixed waste containing both recyclable and non-recyclable waste) in 2016, and according to Press Information Bureau of India, India’s waste generation increases by 4% each year on average. Out of the total waste generated in our country, only 60% waste is collected, out of which only 20% is processed. That amounts to a mere 12% processing rate.

The capital of India, Delhi started popping-up on international news channels for its iconic mountain of garbage in Ghazipur, East Delhi. The permissible height of the landfill is 45-60 feet, and that height limit had already been reached in 2002. Currently, the height of the garbage mountain is estimated to be well over 180 feet and is predicted to surpass the height of The Taj Mahal in 2020.

Given that India is the 7th largest country in the world and have the second largest population, it may not be practical to implement a waste management strategy that is uniform in nature. India is known for its wide variety of social, and topographical variation, so it is safe to say that State Governments in India would have to come up with a solution that works best for their respective states. As quoted by one of the Ex Municipal Commissioners of the city of Surat, Mr. S.R. Rao, “A city is only as clean as its dirtiest areas”. To make a successful waste management strategy, State Governments need to recognize, support, and reward people and municipal workers on their participation and performance actively.

Some of the steps that can be taken towards a better waste management system all across India could be:-  

· Given present practices in most of the households and commercial places, all of the waste produced is dumped into one waste bin and passed to municipal workers for dumping, making it more difficult and costlier for the municipal workers to segregate dry waste (recyclable waste) from the wet waste. Municipal committees could role out directions for households and commercial holdings to segregate waste at source. This will not only make it easier for municipal workers to collect the waste, but also achieve cost effectiveness.  

· Many areas in India are still under slum type construction and don’t have enough space for the pervious method to function properly. Municipal committees could provide a temporary take-away waste bins in slums that could be cleared timely and help in better collection of waste around slums in cities across India. 

· Many cities like Nasik, Maharashtra, do not provide public Kuda Ghars (garbage houses) near societies which could be breeding ground for many dangerous diseases and a source of hazardous gases in the environment. Municipal committees could provide daily collection of garbage through garbage trucks near societies at fixed timing every day. This method is effective for cities across India with a population of no more than 15,00,000 as it could become fuel inefficient in bigger cities and hence can pollute the environment instead. 

· Given that all the power is concentrated to the higher rank officers in the municipal committee, one way to an effective and efficient waste collection system is to decentralise the power to the ground level. Municipal committee could instill power in every municipal worker working in a particular area and can build a reward system for them on their monthly performance, inculcating a sense of responsibility and reward expectation.  

· In countries like Sweden, Denmark, and Finland more than 40% of the waste is incinerated for electricity generation. Similar projects could be pilot tested across cities around India. Giving an alternate source of electricity provision for cities and cutting down on the problem of frequent power cuts around the country.  

· Countries like Singapore and Malaysia have inculcated a sense of cleanliness into its citizens, by imposing heavy traffic tickets and default charges on people seen littering in public places. Contrary to that, you would find people driving on Indian roads and pedestrians littering with no regret at all. Central Government could introduce littering fine to curb such practices.  

· Educational institutes will also play a vital role in educating students about proper waste management practices. Schools could direct their students to contribute recyclable waste towards the school, while the school can arrange NGO driven classes pertaining to environmental health in exchange of recyclable waste to the NGOs. 

· Decentralized composting - Disposal of wet waste and turning it into compost inside household premises, which further could be used to plant new trees and add nutrition to already planted flora in the household is a concept practiced in many economies around the world.

Rather than waste management just being a duty towards the society, it should be perceived more in the lines of a duty towards the future generations to come. Awareness towards waste management and sustainability is the topic of the hour for many economies around the world and it’s high time we turn our heads towards the same before it gets too late.

About the writer:

Madhav is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Finance from Stockholm School of Economics

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