In her race to be the champion among other countries , the waste that our country leaves behind totals to about sixty-two million tons a year. Waste generation is hence a major crisis faced by our country and the world at large. The integrated effect of population, development and social changes along with improper waste management and lack of awareness has paved the way for this problem. Waste generation with its impact on every aspect of our lives thus deserves prime attention.
The increasing amount of garbage and its impacts can be traced back to many reasons. The growing population and the subsequent increase in production for meeting the demands contribute to increasing waste. Along with this, the corporate tactics for the financial gains of low durability products and the introduction of a mentality of ‘new is prestige’ made people opt for new products and has consequently increased waste. Urbanisation without effective urban planning and changes in living patterns add to this problem. The change in consumption patterns and the lack of responsible waste management in households, industries and government alike contribute to the mounting pile of garbage. Instead of encouraging students to use old books, the schools make it compulsory to buy the new ones for their own monetary gains. The households, instead of using kitchen waste for compost, often prefer to throw it somewhere, land or water. All of these small actions make each individual a deliberate sponsor for this ever-growing mountain of garbage.
The impact of waste is tremendous! Its effect on people is multidimensional; social, economical and environmental. Organic or inorganic, hazardous or non-hazardous, if not treated properly has its own impacts. Organic waste is easy to handle while others are not. E-wastes, hospital wastes and hazardous wastes are of grave concern and needs special attention.
India is a country which tried to remove its concept of ‘purity-pollution principle’ for centuries but ironically , the problem of waste management made it possible for this discriminatory principle to again reassure its place back in society. Waste generation and its inefficient management affect the lower strata more than the upper strata of our society. It can be easily drawn from the fact that most of the landfills are found near the places where people of low incomes reside. Also, the waste management that exists is done by the poor and the people of lower caste without any supportive networks and protection; they are more prone to health risks and yet, the voice for this section of our society is never echoed.
The stray dogs feed on the meat waste thrown into the open and this becomes one of many factors for the aggressive behaviour of the dogs. Increased waste helps in the outgrowth of rodent population which in turn may act as vectors for malaria, cholera etc and has the potential to affect food security as well. Recalling Ghazipur landfill incident, where the collapse of sixty-five-metre-high landfill killed 2 people, makes us aware of different kind of danger landfill poses to people.
Increased waste also means inefficient use of resources. Inefficient waste management leads to increased diseases which in turn increases the expenditure on health and loss of the manpower ,consequently increasing poverty and reducing immunity. Huge cost is incurred to revive the water bodies that are affected by waste dumps. When the state steps in to face the challenges of the health and waste sector, it might result in lower spending on other sectors .
Waste not only increases expenditure but also decreases revenue . Who would want to spend their money only to see smelly landfills and waste-filled water bodies ? Waste, thus affects the natural beauty of our country and could lead to potential loss in the tourist sector .
As a disease prone society with polluted environment, our ranking could lower in the global indices such as Environment Performance Index and thus hurt the pride and the prestige our country holds in international level.
Great pacific garbage patch and marine debris failed to catch the necessary attention until the harrowing sight of bird skeletons with stomach full of plastics became viral! It makes us remember how the irresponsible acts of self-declared ‘dominant species of Homo sapiens’ affect other innocent species as well.
In the paper Marine Pollution Bulletin , one of the reasons stated for the upstream movement of mangrove forests is the sewage sludge that causes pollution in water bodies. Sewage sludge is also known to cause about twenty-three types of diseases! Sewage sludge and waste polluted water bodies have negative impacts on the species in the water as well. When the contaminated water is used for irrigation, it too affects soil fertility or when consumed, may endanger some species leading to the interruption in the food chain. The wastes may obstruct the flow of our natural drainage system and add to the possibility of floods.
The landfill fires and the burning of plastics and other wastes which emit greenhouse and other gases causes air pollution and contributes to greenhouse effect , global warming and climate change . The leachate from landfills and waste may pollute the underground water table which may cause water scarcity. The recently debated scenario of agricultural waste , stubble and its burning needs mentioning too. Plastics and other wastes also affect the fertility of the soil. Hospital waste may cause release of pathogens and formation of drug-resistant microorganisms. Toxic materials from waste mainly E-waste causes serious ailments such as cancer , respiratory problems etc.
The picture after the floods in Kerala of the piled up wastes that the floods left behind makes us think that the nature itself had become the judge, jury and executioner for its suo moto case against humans. Before we become victims of our own greed , this menace of waste has to be tackled. Multifaceted problem of waste needs multi-pronged strategy of command and control instruments, economic schemes ,R & D , technology , awareness generation help in reducing and managing wastes at individual and industrial level. Hence , an integrated approach of academia, intellectuals and stakeholders is needed for the effective management of waste.
The primary solution is, of course, the three R’s; Reduce, Reuse, Recycle with source reduction given prime importance. Awareness generation at the grassroots level helps in creating a more responsible society. Every one of us has the responsibility to do our part. Biodegradable waste can be used as compost through methods such as vermicomposting, bio composting etc.
Encouraging the use of more durable things is appreciable. Instead of plastics and paper glasses or plates, let’s switch to glass tumblers at weddings etc. Using cloth bags in lieu for plastic bags can be made compulsory. Even such small actions can contribute to a larger cause of managing waste. Participation of NGOs are an effective way for awareness generation and managing waste. Successful examples that can be quoted are Saahas, No Dumping .
Stringent legislations are to be implemented. Irresponsible handling of waste must be monitored with standard in residential and industrial areas. Segregation of waste at home and industries must be made compulsory and must be fined if not done properly. The model used in Germany of refunding for the plastic bottles when returned can be introduced. Incentives must be in place for industries for proper waste management. Imposing waste tax should be implemented effectively. Mechanisms must be initiated to make sure that valuable metals are recovered from e-waste. Along with control instruments , monitoring must also be done such as placing cameras and managing data on waste generation .
Technological interventions help in easy waste disposal. Municipal sanitary landfills are better when compared to traditional landfills. With careful site location , day-to-day management of evenly spreading and covering with soil and bottom liners and leachate collection systems, landfills can reduce the impact of waste. Incinerators can also be used for waste reduction if it is accompanied with air pollution control equipment, technical supervision and segregation of wastes which can be harmful under high temperature like heavy metals or toxic products . Though such measures are not devoid of complete impact on the environment, it reduces the impact multi-fold.
Along with this , more importance must be given to R & D for technology-driven and sustainable ideas. Bitumen roads using plastics can be used more. Enzyme cocktails of PETase and MHETase or enzyme PETase which can digest plastic are more innovative ideas. Generating energy, fuels from wastes including refused-derived fuel helps substantially.
All our achievements as a country cannot be heralded when there is a pile of unaccounted waste, revealing the need for a circular economy rather than a linear one. Waste is a cancer that slowly deteriorates our Mother Earth. Until and unless we, the sons and daughters, understand the responsibility we hold towards nature and our fellow beings, there may not be an earth but only one large planet of garbage!