Waste is created by all lifeforms. Biological waste gets recycled within the natural ecosystem. Living things take in raw materials and excrete wastes that are recycled by other living organisms. However, humans due to their evolving and industrialized lifestyles, have created more waste than nature can cope with. As a result, our environment is becoming more and more polluted as these wastes keep on accumulating in the soil, in water bodies and even in organisms themselves. The increasing volume and complexity of waste associated with the modern economy is posing a serious risk to ecosystems and human health. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that more than five million people die each year from diseases related to inadequate waste disposal systems. Poor waste management – ranging from non-existing collection systems to ineffective disposal -causes air pollution, water and soil contamination. It is essential to understand that how waste is handled often depends on its source and characteristics, as well as any local, state, and federal regulations that govern its management. Open and unsanitary landfills contribute to contamination of drinking water and can cause infection and transmit diseases. The solution, in the first place therefore is segregation at source for effective management of the generated waste. Source separation of waste and subsequent recycling processes are therefore, promising solutions on the road to a circular economy. They reduce waste disposal and the need for resource deployment, while also producing secondary raw materials; as such, they have a significant effect on climate protection.
Need of Segregation at source:
Particularly in the current times of COVID-19 pandemic where there is a rise in biomedical waste, it becomes more imperative to ensure segregation at the source. In India, the COVID-19 biomedical waste has created a new kind of waste crisis posing health risk to sanitation workers and garbage collectors. The society’s perception and practice of indiscriminate disposal of various items can be a potential source of infection of COVID-19 to municipal workers. Lack of segregation decreases the efficacy of the incinerators at waste treatment plants as it results in greater emissions and unburnt ash. Because of sudden rise in biomedical waste, the disposal capacity gets overburdened as the disposal mechanisms available in the cities are not equipped to deal with this huge volume. When the waste to energy plants in India burn mixed waste, the presence of chlorinated hydrocarbons like PVC results in the release of dioxins and furans which are known to be carcinogenic and can lead to impairment of immune, endocrine, nervous and reproductive systems. If wet waste is not mixed with dry waste, it significantly reduces the burden of solid waste management on municipalities. Effective segregation of wastes means that less waste goes to landfill which makes it cheaper and better for people and the environment.
Taking the example of Indian system of waste management, when household waste is not segregated, the most common practice is to routinely empty the day’s trash, organics and recyclables combined, into the green corporation bins commonly found on every street. It is then collected by trucks and taken to transfer stations. Here, waste pickers try to recover as much recyclable material as they can to sell for money, after which the trash is taken either to landfills and dumped unscientifically. Landfills are supposed to be sanitary but sadly majority of landfills today are plots of rotting, festering and often burning garbage. Toxic chemicals from hazardous waste seeps into the ground over time and pollutes the ground water supply. Most people are unaware that the amount of heavy metals, chlorides, fluorides and particulate matter in our water is much higher than permissible levels. The simple failure to segregate waste at home compounds a much larger problem which is fast reaching a stage that may be insurmountable for us. Hard-hitting images of trash polluting beaches and oceans across the globe have brought to light the magnitude and seriousness of the problem.
In 2016, the Center for Science and Environment (CSE) came out with a report on Solid Waste Management titled, “Not in My Backyard: Solid Waste Management in Indian Cities”. It was clear from the report that cities that are segregating their waste have been able to effectively process and treat it. While some have achieved the status of zero landfill cities, others are working towards becoming Zero Waste. The argument that segregation is the key for waste management was strengthened with the release of the Swachh Survekshan 2018 results. Most of the cities in the country that are ensuring segregation of waste at source were in the list of the awardees.
It is now well understood that segregation at source is at the heart of the waste management solution. It improves collection efficiency and leads to better efficiency in processing of waste and resource recovery.
Benefits of segregation at source:
The wet waste can be composted locally; the dry recyclable waste can go for recycling and what remains can be safely disposed of. Wet waste, which is more than half the total waste, is used for composting or bio-methanation in a decentralized manner. Composting is a natural biological process, carried out under controlled aerobic conditions (requires oxygen). Composting through various microorganisms (bacteria and fungi) biodegrades organic waste (food waste, manure, leaves, grass trimmings, paper, wood, feathers, crop residue etc.,) into valuable organic fertilizer. This can be used by farmers to improve their yields. Bio-methanation is a process by which organic material is micro-biologically converted under anaerobic conditions to biogas. Three main physiological groups of microorganisms are involved: fermenting bacteria, organic acid oxidizing bacteria, and methanogenic archaea. Microorganisms degrade organic matter via cascades of biochemical conversions to methane and carbon dioxide.
Segregation at source would also help us to decide the way of their disposal. For example, it would help in identifying the hazardous waste and separating the harmful components. Then it depending on the nature of the waste it would be easier for to dispose them like whether to send them for recycling or to incinerators and landfills. As a citizen, this would be a vigilant manner of waste disposal which as you may have already known it, would limit the adverse effect on the environment that we live in. Furthermore, Waste segregation is beneficial for the family and the whole community to contribute to making this planet safer and pollution-free. As parents, one can set an example to kids, friends, neighbors and then, to the community. One can do so by having a separate container for your biodegradable wastes and non-biodegradable wastes. It’s a straightforward way of segregation that can lead a good example to everyone else who would see it.
Waste segregation in India is important as with an advance in the process of urbanization has led to a demand for proper segregation and waste disposal. Under the solid waste management rule of 2016, waste segregation at the source was made mandatory. Similarly, the nationwide clean up mission: Swachh Bharat mission is a systematic effort towards waste segregation, and several cities and states have launched efforts directed at the municipal waste collection of segregated waste.
Waste segregation practice can be inculcated in the masses through awareness-building programme accompanied by a fine if mixed waste is handed out.
A much smarter alternative for municipalities under the Smart Cities Mission would be to promote decentralized composting of wet waste, tie-up with local “kabadiwalas” or NGOs for recyclable dry waste, and work on safe disposal of the rest.
The savings from eliminating costly secondary transport can easily fund the construction and operation of decentralized centers for the processing of wet and dry waste.
The guidelines of COVID-19 Biomedical waste management can be useful in the direction of bringing regulations on segregation. Stringent actions and penalties shall be imposed in case of non-adherence of guidelines.
Information-Education-Communication campaigns to create awareness among public on waste segregation and safety measures. To overhaul the waste management sector and induce the necessary behavioral change, citizen participation and engagement is the key.
Its 2020 and waste management still remains a major challenge on the path of achieving the/ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. According to the World Bank’s What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050 report, without urgent action, global waste will increase by 70 percent on current levels by 2050. The cost of addressing impacts of uncollected waste and poorly disposed waste is many times higher than the cost of developing and operating simple, adequate waste management systems. Segregating the waste at source thus can be a solution to improve the efficiency of the waste management process and simultaneously to make positive contribution to the economy of the country. And it is always better to take the first step towards this direction from one’s own home, so by that we could protect our health and everyone around us including the environment.