SEGREGATION AT SOURCE
Unused potential, well-thought policies, brainstormed ideas by like-minded environmental scientists and crores spent on building waste to energy plants that go down the drain(literally and figuratively), as they are propelled towards closure, are just the many facades of a simple yet firmly rooted problem- lack of segregation at source.
In this context, it is important to note that there is no “one size fits all ” policy when it comes to waste since it is of different types namely- E-waste(that needs to be sold/reused), solid waste(needs to be composted), biomedical waste (needs to be burned), and plastic waste(needs to be recycled). Similarly, glass, tin and metal need to be separated. It is the only key to efficiency. If not done properly recycling will not be effective as it reduces the quality of the recycled products. So, waste collected is not used, instead ends up in landfills. According to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry, investors valued waste in landfills at $1.5 billion. Landfills disrupt public health by producing poisonous gases such as methane, halogens and hydrogen sulphide. They further harbour vectors of various diseases and leach harmful chemicals such as mercury and ammonia. In an attempt to curb all this the government comes out with a so-called “new and revamped policy” that couldn’t be any more blurred causing further loss which adds to the woes of unused waste and resulting economic drain. Overcoming all the hurdles, even if an aspiring firm tries to convert waste to energy it only ends up causing more pollution as the unsegregated waste with full of debris causes lack of fuel efficiency. Even ‘the leftover burnt material is not suitable for brickmaking, which then has to be disposed of in landfills ‘ says Sabyasachi Majumdar, Senior-Vice President, ICRA. The Netherlands, considered most efficient when it comes to Waste-To-Energy(WTE) conversion has an efficiency of 30% whereas in a country like India, where there are no proper segregation laws in place for the common household, it is a disappointing 17-22%. Thus leaving a 10,000cr industry endangered. In fact, it causes so much pollution that to burn or not to burn remains the question. For instance, the first WTE unit in India was set up in 1987 at Timarpur, Delhi but it had to shut down after running for just 21 days due to poor quality of incoming waste. More recently,300 South Delhiites organized one of the largest open-chain rallies to protest against the Okhla WTE plant due to its toxic fumes and stench. This could have been avoided by proper implementation of Solid Waste Management Rules,2016 which states that it is the responsibility of generators to segregate waste into three categories-wet, dry and hazardous waste and hand over the segregated waste to authorised waste collectors or local bodies.
Reasonable restrictions and meaningful co-operation between households, municipal waste collectors and local government are essential to take up the task of waste segregation. Households should be encouraged to make weekly trips to the local recycling centre to voluntarily dispose of recyclable waste into categorized bins. Hotels, restaurants and other waste generators should likewise be monitored. Moreover, the 2- bin segregation system introduced in 4000 cities (on 5th June 2017 celebrating World Environment Day) should be enlarged to include all major cities and should be implemented effectively. Simultaneously, municipal waste collectors must reward people complying with waste separation norms by paying them a fee based on quality and not quality as it ultimately reduces the work at later stages. Oppositely, people flouting norms must be made to pay a fine which would become hefty over time. With an average reach of 1.1 billion people (in India) and the essence of the matter being captured within seconds, the benefits of the most powerful art form of the 21st century cannot be overlooked. The benefits accruing to their work in the segregation of waste must be visible since ‘seeing is believing’ and direct benefits rather than unseen and lack-lustre gains that are promised in the near(more like never) arriving future are more incentivizing to people. It is only fair that in a country where the culture of people is imbued with cleanliness, the task of waste segregation is taken up by entire communities. The Supreme Court too, had last year, opined that “the problem of solid waste management will certainly require the active cooperation and assistance of the residents considering the fact that their position is very critical”.
Proper disposal of waste, owing to better waste segregation leads to better community and individual health besides saving money, time and effort. The waste so collected can be seamlessly converted into energy. More importantly close to 31 metric tonnes of waste and 91% of total plastic waste that ends up in landfills can be properly utilized. Thus, allowing to convert India’s stand in the world forum from “India the largest dumpster” to a much better stance of “India the largest rejuvenator”. India alone can increase enormously the power resources of humanity and all manner of epoch-making discoveries hinge on it. The benefits accruing to this simple task is a manifold increase in economic and social well-being.
Recently the government unveiled new Solid Waste Management (Amendment) Rules,2020. However, betting high on waste management principles alone, without a foolproof and all-encompassing system of waste segregation is a project that is doomed to fail. Examples of an ideal project are the ones undertaken by the South & North Delhi Municipal Council(S & NDMC) which aim to achieve 80% segregation by September 2021. For continuing triumphs, a paradigm shift in focus towards the source rather than the end of the chain is necessary. Flawed promotions, the nucleus of waste management in India being the conversion of WTE rather than segregation at source and lack of clear cut policies to attain the very thing needed i.e, quality waste(two words that generally do not belong together, just like the plastic that doesn’t belong in your normal garbage bin) are at the root of the problem. The problem needs to be solved before it starts. The bottom line is that waste quality matters and segregation at source delivers.