Solid Waste Management
Urbanization, economic prosperity, and population growth have led to a sharp increase in consumption and waste generation.
In India, material consumption has risen six-fold from 1970 to 2015 and is projected to double by 2030. The urban population is also expected to grow significantly. As a result, India will generate massive amounts of waste, posing operational challenges that require substantial resources to manage it effectively.
Around 45 per cent of Municipal Solid waste comprises food waste and biodegradables. Approximately 75,000 TPD of wet waste is generated daily, which is increasing due to population growth and changing lifestyles. Government data shows a significant improvement in damp waste processing, rising from 18% in 2014 to 68% in 2021. Critical key interventions such as composting, biomethanisation, and waste to energy are being promoted to address municipal wet waste.
Dry waste, accounting for approximately 35% of total waste, is a significant concern. Plastic waste generation, at a rate of 2600 tons per day, poses a significant challenge in waste management. Plastic waste generation in India is predicted to increase more than threefold from current levels, making us the fifth largest contributor to marine litter by 2025.
Efficient waste management requires proper waste segregation and using different recycling and resource recovery methods.
The remaining waste should be disposed of in sanitary landfills using scientific methods. In the past, waste was sent to landfills, resulting in large city waste piles. Authorities are now addressing the issues caused by legacy waste and the leachate it produces. A combination of decentralized and centralized solutions should be implemented to effectively manage waste.
Collection and transportation are the main expenses in Solid Waste management. Plastic waste disposal causes soil pollution, which harms soil fertility and poses risks to food security and human health. Many discarded plastic ends up in landfills, leaching toxic substances into soil and water. These wastes are non-biodegradable and therefore pollute the soil and water bodies.
Approximately one-third of plastic waste ends up in soils and water. This becomes more dangerous when the plastics break down into smaller particles, known as microplastics, and enter the food chain. The presence of microplastics negatively affects the soil ecosystem by reducing populations of mites, larvae, earthworms and other species that contribute towards maintaining soil fertility. According to the UNE and FA, agricultural soils face a greater risk from large quantities of microplastics than to oceans.
Sanitation workers and ragpickers are often overlooked in discussions about sanitation. These workers bear the burden of solid waste management. The Covid pandemic has made it clear that they are the first to respond and suffer the consequences. They remain on the outskirts of society, facing deprivation and poverty. Women make up the majority of these workers.
The experience of CDD shows that SWM is not solely a technical issue but rather a problem related to people.
CDD has extensive experience in SWM, including city sanitation planning and pilot implementations. They have also conducted capacity-building efforts, reaching over 20,000 people in 50 cities. CDD believes that proper planning, centralized dry waste management, decentralized wet waste management, and capacity building and IEC are the best approach to SWM. Decentralized wet waste management allows for nature-based solutions like composting, which can be easily practised in most tropical, developing countries. However, it has been observed over the last few decades that high-tech solutions for SWM, such as waste to energy and waste to fuel, often underperform.
Complex technology does not always solve behavioural problems. Source segregation is widely recognized as crucial for effective solid waste management. However, approaches that solely rely on investments and neglect community participation may face sustainability issues. Communities, cities, and countries prioritising source segregation for years have successfully transitioned towards Zero Waste Management. In the case of India, there is still a long journey ahead to achieve that goal.
CDD believes that SWM is primarily a behavioural problem, not a technological or regulatory one. The key to successful SWM is the 3R approach: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Proper source segregation of dry wastes by households is essential to address the solid waste issue. A people-centric lens is necessary to tackle this challenge effectively. Figures like Rs. 11,800 crores per annum resource recovery potential or USD 624 bn in savings through circular economy adoption are meaningless without this approach. Waste to Wealth models for SWM should not perpetuate inequitable distribution. The sanitation worker and ragpickers should benefit from managing the system. Without these workers, the system would fail.
One of the key impacts of improper solid waste management is depicted in the infographic.
- Insects and mosquito breeding can occur in stagnant water pools found on the dumpsites and in canals and waterways that are blocked or constricted with waste.
- This can lead to the spread of diseases.
- There are potential health hazards caused by vermin, insects, flies, and scavenging animals, which can affect workers and nearby residents.
- There is a nuisance affecting the neighbourhood due to the presence of odour and flies.
- Greenhouse gas emissions from the dumpsite contribute to environmental degradation.
- Waterbody contamination can occur during the rainy season when runoff is discharged into natural drains or streams.
- GW contamination.
- A plan for waste bin installation, segregation, and transportation is needed for the village/town.
- Developing suitable treatment infrastructure can involve a centralized, decentralized, or a combination of both approaches.
- Landfill sites are being developed for the scientific disposal of waste.
- Establish a comprehensive monitoring system for the solid waste management value chain.