Turning waste to energy not final solution

Turning waste to energy not final solution

Even though the capital is readying itself for its third waste-to-energy plant in Narela-Bawana, environmentalists say these plants are not the way forward to dispose of garbage in the capital.

Currently, Delhi has 3 waste-to-energy plants. While the Timarpur-Okhla plant handles waste from the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) and the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) areas, the East Delhi Municipal Corporation’s Ghazipur plant is yet to take off. “There have been trial runs since November last year. However, it is yet to be fully functional,” said a civic body official.

The Narela-Bawana plant, which is likely to be operational from June, has a capacity to process around 1,300 metric tonnes of waste per day to produce 24 megawatts of electricity. According to civic body officials, over 80 per cent of the solid waste would be disposed of and converted into electricity and compost.

The only operational plant at Okhla has been in the news repeatedly due to protests from residents of Sukhdev Vihar who filed a PIL in Delhi High Court against the pollution caused by the plant in the residential area. In 2009, they had moved the National Green Tribunal. The NDMC sends around 250-270 MTD (metric tonnes per day) to the Okhla plant and the SDMC deposits over 1,200 MTD.

“From a total waste deposition of over 1,600 MTD, the plant has the capacity to produce 16 MW of electricity,” said Dr Ramesh Kumar, chief medical officer at NDMC. However, what is currently missing from the process is waste segregation while garbage collection to improve the generation of electricity.

“The sanitation workers are being trained to segregate waste at source. We are frequently holding sensitisation programmes with the RWAs (resident welfare associations) so that they are aware of distinguishing between dry waste and wet waste. Most of the waste currently being received is mixed waste,” says Kumar.

“Indian waste is not suitable for energy production. Roughly, 40 per cent is inert waste, 40 per cent is wet waste and around 20 per cent is dry waste, including plastic. After burning waste, 25 per cent of the waste gets converted into ash. The government falls for this as the volume of waste reduction is the core motive.
This, on the contrary, produces more complex, invisible toxic substances. So energy generation should not be a driving concern behind setting up plants,” says Gopal Krishna, convenor of Toxic Watch Alliance.

Experts are unanimous that a waste-to-energy plant is not an eco-friendly solution to dispose system. This can only be one of the solutions put forward by city governments, they point out.

“For cities producing high amount of waste, for instance Delhi that alone produces 8,500 MTD, it can be one of the options,” says Swati Singh Sambyal, programme officer, sustainable industrialisation at Centre for Science and Environment.

“One can still adopt decentralised waste management, but the emission standards need to be stringent. In the developed world, for instance countries like Sweden and Norway, the emission standards are extremely stringent,” she says.

“But in Delhi, Okhla-Timarpur plant has always been in the news due to public agitation. The deadly dioxins in the air have troubled the residents in the vicinity for years now. Will the Narela-Bawana plant follow the same footsteps, or will it be any different, is what we all are waiting for,” says Sambyal.

She points out that a waste-to-energy plant is based on the principle of burning waste with high calorific value, such as plastic, paper, packaging in order to produce energy/electricity. The policymakers became interested in executing this in the late 2000s. ‘It looked like a magical solution that waste could be processed to make fuel which would be burnt to make energy or burnt directly so that electricity would be generated,” says Sambyal.

Needs monitoring

If city governments invest in waste-to-energy plants, there is an immediate need to come up with an action plan for monitoring the emission of gases from these plants.

“The regulatory system needs to be in place which ensures that there is zero tolerance to air pollution. The emissions from these plants need to be intensively monitored and this is possible by setting up state of the art laboratories and people with high technical expertise. The infrastructure cannot is expensive. Otherwise, we will take the landfills to the sky as the gaseous emissions come back in the food chain,” says Ravi Aggarwal, director, Toxics Link.

During incineration, dioxins are among the harmful gases that are released in the environment.

“The problem with dioxins is that once produced and emitted into the atmosphere, they are highly stable compounds which travel long distances and accumulate in the food chain causing serious health hazards like skin lesions, reproductive disorders, endocrine disruptions and even cancer. Pregnant women, newborn and developing foetuses are really sensitive to dioxin exposure,” says Sambyal.

Other initiatives

Among the other initiatives to reduce garbage, the NDMC has decided to come up with a biogas plant in Laxmi Bai Nagar. The project is a part of the council’s smart city proposal. The council will collect green waste from houses in its jurisdiction and send it to the plant for biogas production.

Biogas can be produced from green or food waste, agricultural waste, sewage and manure. It can be used for various purposes. According to the council’s plans, around 500 kilos of waste, including garden and food waste, would be processed every day to produce biogas. This biogas will be utilised as cooking fuel in place of LPG. The gas produced will be supplied to Indira Niketan Girls’ Hostel in Laxmi Bai Nagar area where it will be used for cooking. “It is hoped that this will turn out to be a successful model,” says Kumar.

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