Tardy implementation of solid waste rules

Tardy implementation of solid waste rules

Futile effort

More than three years after a new set of municipal solid waste rules were notified by the central government to clean up urban India, implementation of those rules remains tardy in most of the cities and towns.

India currently generates about 62 million tonnes of municipal solid waste annually, which includes organic waste, recyclables like paper, plastic, wood and glass. Nearly 45-50% of the waste is biodegradable or wet whereas 20-25% is recyclable and about 30-35% is inert.

While only 25% of the waste is recycled, 10% of the total garbage is plastic waste alone. According to an official estimate only about 75-80% of the municipal waste gets collected, out of which only 22-28% is processed and treated. The rest is deposited indiscriminately at dump yards.

With India projected to generate 165 million tonnes of waste by 2031 and 436 million tonnes by 2050, the requirement for dumping grounds is on the rise. If current trends continue, then almost 66,000 hectares of land would be required to set up landfill sites to dump the waste in 10 mt high piles for the next 20 years.

But not-in-my-backyard protests from people are also on the rise as landfills are not the best way to deal with the municipal waste. Out of 62 million tonnes of waste generated annually by 377 million people in urban areas, more than 80% is disposed of indiscriminately at dump yards in an unhygienic manner by the municipal authorities leading to problems of health and environmental degradation.

Segregation, treatment and recycling are considered the best way to clean up the Augean stable. The trouble, however, starts at the beginning as segregation of dry and wet wastes happen only in 30% cases and that too is not an end-to-end process. A lot of time, the waste gets remixed in the later, defeating the very purpose.

“Waste segregation is a behaviour change issue. One time distribution of bins is not enough, which is what is happening in the name of promoting segregation. A lot of hand-holding and support is required,” Swati Singh Sambyal, programme manager, Environmental Governance (Waste Management) at the Centre for Science and Environment, told DH.

“Segregation has to be end to end, which means households should give segregated waste, which must then be collected in a segregated manner and then processed, ensuring only 10% rejects goes to landfill. If this happens, then India’s waste problem will be resolved.”

Also, as per the 2016 municipal solid waste rules brought out by the Union Environment Ministry, every city had to change their municipal by-laws. But it hadn’t happened in over 80% of cities.

According to a Niti Aayog report, out of 65,000 municipal wards, nearly 77% of the wards have door to door waste collection system whereas segregation happens in 38% wards. Also, only 29% of the waste is processed, clearly showing that a lot more needs to be done.

The 2016 rules made it mandatory for housing societies, resident welfare associations and big markets to segregate their waste before disposal. The rules cover railway stations, industrial townships, airports, ports, defence establishments and places of pilgrimage, going beyond the municipalities. But when it comes to implementation, there are only few baby steps taken by a handful of the agencies so far.

While examining the issue of waste disposal, a committee of Parliamentarians felt that the ‘laid out mechanism exists only on paper’. “Enough time and efforts have been wasted by now and it is time for taking coordinated steps on a war footing to tackle the menace of solid waste in the country,” the House panel said in its report submitted earlier this year.

Inefficient process

Several urban local bodies currently use compactor to reduce the volume of the waste before the compacted bricks are thrown into the landfill sites. But in most of the cases, the waste is not segregated making the process inefficient. If such mixed waste goes to incineration it will have very low calorific value — the reason why all the incineration plants in India have failed as they need high calorie value feed.

“Only if non-recyclable and high calorific value rejects go for incineration, the problem is solved,” Sambyal said.

“Though the 2016 rules are an improvement from the previous one, it is still impossible to manage such a huge volume of waste with these rules. The only way is to reduce the plastic and food waste as well as treating the waste in a decentralised manner in the colonies,” said Bharati Chaturvedi, director of Chintan, a Delhi-based environmental research and action group.