Ananya, a mayor of a municipal corporation was elected for second term consecutively. She was the first women mayor, who tried to improve the condition of the parts of the city, where waste material was (dumped without proper treatment) disposed off. She realized the impact that waste material was causing upon the health of the population and was also deteriorating the environmental conditions. She decided to harness different techniques of recycling, reusing and generating energy from the waste material, which aid the city to resolve the problems of wastage and consequently, a rise in the efficiency of the products.
This is a simple example of how waste material can be viewed as a source of energy and can be used for the betterment of the society.
Currently, the world has been greatly influenced by reuse of waste materials. Before we venture into merits and challenges associated with converting waste into energy. Let’s comprehend the term “Waste”.
Wastes are unwanted or unusable materials. Waste is any substance which is discarded after primary use. They generally are by-products and have less economic value. Waste is a very broad term, which includes municipal solid waste, hazardous waste, waste water, radio-active waste and many others. It poses some threat to the health of all species globally and affecting environment in a devious and irreversible state.
Now, let’s understand the impact of waste material.
In today’s Industrial society, millions of metric ton waste is generated everyday, some polluting the air by excessive carbon emission while other by polluting fresh water lakes and rivers thru chemical waste dumping. The volume of carbon dioxide in air has almost quadrupled in last four decades, which has lead to melting of glaciers, due to which there is a surge in mean sea level across all the water bodies. And it is expected that glaciers are projected to lose around 20% of their mass compared to 2015 levels under a low emission scenario and nearly 33% under a high emission scenario.
Due to this “pronounced imbalance” between current glacier mass and climate, glacier will continue to melt even with no climate change. The temperature over arctic region has increased more than double the global average. This phenomenon is also known as “arctic amplification”
The current rate of sea level rise is now larger than previous rates of two millennia. Surface warming combined with a surge in fresh water runoff entering the top layer of oceans is making the ocean more stratified. With less mixing between different levels and further increase in stratifications will trap nutrients in the ocean interior and reduce the upper nutrient levels. These areas are known as oxygen minimum zone, where only specially adapted organisms can survive as the increase in temperature of water induces the metabolic rate of organisms’ thereby raising the biological oxygen demand.
Many environmentalists views that today’s progressive industrial society has led to deterioration of environment, which has a direct impact on organisms’ inhabitating it. Here, we tried to understand the negative aspects of how waste can be detrimental for the whole environment. Now, let’s dig into some routeways taken by various international organizations to accommodate these rapid changes in the environment.
The first conference which was formed solely on environment was “Stockholm conference” on “human environment” in 1972. After that, there are many conventions that have been built like UNFCCC, UNCBD, UNCCD etc, which have their own goals. There are mainly 3 conventions which deal with waste materials: Basel convention, Rotterdam convention and Stockholm convention.
Under Basel convention, on control of trans-boundary movements of hazardous waste and their disposal, the over arching objective is to protect human health and environment from hazardous waste. The guiding principle of convention is to reduce the trans-boundary movements to a minimum level, minimized at source, managed in an environmentally sound manner and treated & disposed as close as possible to their source of generation.
Under Rotterdam Convention, on prior informed consent procedure for certain hazardous chemical and pesticides in international trade creates legally binding delegation for implementation of prior informed consent. Main objective is to promote shared responsibility and cooperative efforts among parties in international trade of hazardous chemicals in order to safeguard human health and the environment from potential harm.
Under Stockholm Convention, on persistent organic pollutants, the parties are required to prevent the development of new POPs and promote best available techniques for replacing existing POPs. Listing and elimination of dicofole (used as miticides on variety of food crops) and PFOA – Per Floro Octanoic Acid (used as quoting in non stick cookware).
Hereby, looking at these International conventions, we tried to enlighten the problems associated and seriousness of the issue, which sets us now to understand how waste can be used as a source of energy and how effectively it can be utilized with certain challenges and merits.
A waste to energy plant transforms municipal and industrial and solid waste into electricity for industrial processing. It works by burning waste at high temperature and using the heat to make steam. The steam generated derives a turbine that creates electricity. Apart from producing electricity, burning waste also curtails the amount of material that would probably be burned in landfills. Burning municipal solid waste curtails the amount of material (in volume) by about 80%. Thereby, offering a number of social and economic benefits that cannot be easily quantified.
Now, let’s understand the merits and difficulties associated with waste to energy conversion.
Most of the waste that is generated find their way into land and water bodies without proper treatment, causing severe air and water pollution. Waste to energy generates clean, reliable energy from a renewable fuel source, thus marking down the dependence on fossil fuels, the combustion of which is a major benefactor to greenhouse gas emission. In addition, waste to energy success in municipal solid waste management could open on to opportunities in other waste such as sewage, industrial and hazardous waste.
Waste to energy opportunities exists not just in India but all over the world. Thus, there could be significant international expansion possibilities for Indian Companies, especially expansion into other Asian Countries. However, waste to energy is still a new concept in India and so it poses some threats which should be overcome in near future.
The cost of the waste to energy projects are high, as critical equipments are required for a project, are imported. In view of low level of compliance with solid waste management rules, 2016 by Municipal Corporation and other local bodies, segregated municipal solid waste is generally not available at plant side, which leads to non availability of waste to energy plants.
Lack of financial resources, lack of conducive policy guidelines from state governments in respect of allotment of land, supply of garbage and power purchase are some difficulties. The wastes to energy have also triggered heavy criticism from citizens, for example, there has been a continuous protest against OKLHA WTE plant in Delhi for polluting environment.
Now, let’s apprehend, some policies of government which had tried to address these adversities, but implementation of policies and objectives has still not been accomplished.
Indian railways used waste to energy patented technology called Polycrack. It is World’s first patented heterogeneous catalytic process which converts multiple fuel stocks into hydrocarbon liquid fuels, gas, carbon and water. However, it also gives birth to significant amount of dioxins and furnace which are considered to induce serious health hazards.
Niti Aayog, as a part of Swachh Bharat mission, envisages 800 megawatt from waste to energy plants which stands twice the capacity of all existing waste to energy plants put together. Therefore, lack of capital and financial instability has shrinked the possibility of attaining yearned goals.
It has also worked in establishment of waste energy corporation of India, which could constanct incineration plants through PPP Models (Public Private Partnership Contracts).
Here, we have tried to consolidate all important points related to waste to energy. All policies and guidelines are under- utilized. Now, let’s understand the way forward to make Waste-to-energy (WTE), an efficient concept to get utmost perks from waste to energy.
In context of climate change, focusing on renewable source of energy, the WTE approach is needed to tackle the growing energy need in a sustainable manner which ensures effectiveness as well.
Urban local bodies should invest in preparing an action plan on waste management in accordance with solid waste management rules, 2016, within a time bound approach and promote and adopt the key elements of waste hierarchy as refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and recover.
It is also crucial to focus on segregation at source, spreading awareness, preparing an action plan for city for waste management by embracing decentralized technologies. This will not only improve effectiveness of WTEs, but will also ensure protection and improvement of our environment as enshrined in fundamental duties according to Constitution of India.
“The sentiment of every earthling towards the Environment should be to create a culture where environment can also breathe.”