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A case in the backyard

The city of Ahmedabad has grown to become one of the finest in country. The economic progress of the state has often been publicized across the country as something that other states should strive for. And it often feels so. The state has a remarkable growth strategy to boast of. It ranks high in terms of economy size (rank: 3), infrastructure (rank: 2), education (rank: 10), health (rank: 2) among the various states (India Today, 2018). One can look at these ranking and numerous other statistics to only conclude that it’s a place to be. As one comes out of the airport, one sees the posters of city boasting itself to be one of the “Heritage city of India” and feels graciously welcomed.

We witnessed something rather different when we had a chance to visit one of not so well known parts of the city. We visited, what is infamously, the Pirana landfill site of Ahmedabad. The landfill site has already been ordered for shifting and its proper management till the shifting is completed in entirety. However, on seeing the mountains of garbage stretching, one can only think the time it has been there and the sufferings that it must have caused to people around. The air stinks and people who have no choice but to stay around are prone to respiratory, skin and kidney related diseases. The landfill site has also left the underground water unfit for drinking and the societies around have to rely on daily water tanks supply.

Waste Generation in India

The situation mentioned above is not particular to Ahmedabad only. Cities across India have a problem of waste management, in particular Solid waste management, in some way or another. From open defecation to these mountains of garbage, the things changes in terms of the volume and not so much in processes. Indian cities make the major chunk of the most polluted cities in the world. While I agree that polluted is not the right measure of the waste generated and processed in a city, however, the Indian cities don’t fare very well in this measure as well.

The country’s solid waste management practices have not been able to keep pace with the country’s economic development. Although the administration has tried to keep up with the burgeoning cities, either the poor design of the policies of their ineffective implementation has led to ineffective results. The same can be understood from the emphasis of that the current government has put on campaigns like “Swatchh Bharat Abhiyaan (Clean India Mission)”.

To put the issue in perspective, India generated 62 million tonnes annually in 2016, of which 5.6 million tonnes is plastic waste, 0.17 million tonnes biomedical waste, 7.9 million tonnes is hazardous waste and 1.5 million tonnes is e-waste. The waste generation per head in Indian cities can range from 200-600 grams per day. Looking at the processing side of it, 43 million tonnes of waste is collected, 11.9 million is treated and 31 million tonnes is dumped in landfill site. Pirana is one of those. And the waste generated seems to only grow in the future. (PIB 2016)

These waste can be further classified into three major categories of organic (biodegradable waste), dry (or recyclable waste) and biomedical (or sanitary and hazardous waste). Nearly 50% of all the waste generated is organic with the other two categories growing with the urbanization.

Waste Management

The process can be seen to be constituting of the following steps.

The process starts with the municipal trucks performing door to door waste collection services. These waste should ideally be treated during the disposal with each type of waste requiring different handling of the same. More than three fourth of the waste management budget is allocated to the collection and transportation, leaving very little room for disposal or recovery of resources. (DownToEarth, 2019)

The Way Forward

While various methods and policies have been tried, we make some recommendations for handling the waste that India is generating:

  1. Introduction of a volume based fee system: The focus here it to control the waste generated and also to generate additional resource to finance waste management.
  2. Construction of Waste to Energy plant: The methane and other gases, and burning of the waste provides a huge potential to capture energy to be put to appropriate form that can also provide energy solutions to these areas which are usually some of the most backward regions of the cities. Various international organizations and countries like South Korea, have shown interest towards help in the installation for such facilities. Installation of waste-to-compost and bio-methanation plants would reduce the load of landfill sites.
  3. Separation of the waste at the point of origin: This fells upon the individual waste producers, or the people of the country. It is important because more than 60% of the waste is organic, and there is a significant chunk of recyclable waste. Separation of such wastes at the point of origin can lead to significant reduction in the effort for waste separation and disposal. Various cities have adopted the blue and green dustbins to allow for the segregation of the waste into biodegradable waste and the others. Encouraging such practice is important, as many municipalities complain that the waste is so mixed up at the dumping site that it is nearly impossible to segregate otherwise.
  4. Decentralized Dumping: The process of waste processing and disposal should be decentralized. Only two cities in India, Pune and Bengaluru, have implemented a process similar to this. The rest of the country has stayed on the course of an earmarked landfill site. The process is rather costly, with high transportation costs and massive pollution. Also, such processes often lead to corrupt practices.
  5. Incentivizing the Market for by-products: The composting of the biodegradable waste, and the production of energy from waste is not a very economic friendly market acting as a deterrent for many to invest in the technologies or to make an economic logic out of it. The focus should be on incentivizing development of indigenous technologies by the government, and also providing subsidies and tax benefits for the companies who wish to foray into this domain. Also, a lot more needs to be done especially for creating a market for compost and also encouraging farmers to adopt these organic ways of farming.

Conclusion

Cleanliness is a basic necessity of the people and the responsibility of ours should not end as soon as the waste goes out of our houses. While we do have a moral inclination for taking the effort of segregation, it is in larger interest, the work of the municipal bodies that needs to be seen at. Countries in east and west both have set clear benchmarks that India needs to adopt. Building appropriate policies and infrastructure can help facilitate the appropriate changes.

References

  1. How Can India’s Waste Problem See a Systemic Change? (2018, November 28), Retrieved from www.epw.in
  2. Singh, R. (2018, February 21). India’s waste management problem. Retrieved from www.livemint.com
  3. India’s challenges in waste management. Retrieved from www.downtoearth.org

Arun Chaurasia is an IIT Kanpur graduate and currently a second year PGP student at IIM Ahmedabad.


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