Human population is on an upsurge trend for the last two centuries which has led humans to deal with two perpetual problems of waste disposal and the ever-increasing demand for energy. The fast-growing world of modern times has led humans to generate a huge amount of waste of which only a small portion is disposed of by mankind. The waste generated has various negative impacts such as worsening of the climate crisis, detrimental effect on wildlife and natural environment and it downturns public health by causing diseases such as asthma, cancer, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), low birth weight, preterm delivery, etc.
The waste produced by us if modeled into a systematic methodical design can fulfill our energy requirements to a zenith extent. Active participation and involvement of national government, economically, legally, and technically attracts the attention of a large chunk of the nation’s population. Keeping this in mind, the national government should make its steady way in this direction. The government of India should establish an integrated sustainable design with the participation of NGOs (non-governmental organizations), intellectuals, and business giants who must provide physical assistance, knowledge, and financial assistance respectively. NGOs should create awareness and boost the idea of waste to energy (WTE) among the youth of the nation for such kinds of start-ups & business models in which energy issues of the nation are addressed using waste as the raw material. Waste-to-Energy (WTE) or Energy-from-Waste (EFW) is a form of energy recovery and the process of generating energy in the form of electricity or heat from the primary treatment of waste or the processing of waste into a fuel source. All the big universities, governmental and non-governmental research houses and colleges should come together for sharing their knowledge and updating it to a level where it can be transformed into a big industrial setup. Lastly, the business giants must pour in their financial assistance (such as cooperate social responsibility fund) and manpower expertise to make these industrial setups profitable and sustainable such that they become powerhouses for the nation in terms of energy source. It will even solve the nation’s employment problem and generate huge monetary benefits for the government.
The above-mentioned massive issue cannot be addressed without proper policy formation and implementation. The NGOs along with pressure groups should ask the government to make legislation and the legislation should benefit every stakeholder. These policies will provide a direction to accelerate the waste to energy transformation process exponentially. Policies should be formulated to unlock the land value under landfills by allowing agencies, companies, or industries to collect the waste scattered in these lands. The government through policies and schemes should promote the development of skilled and trained professional personnel to operate and maintain the waste management chain right from the collection, segregation, and its operation in aforesaid industries. The government has already designed certain hallmark waste management strategies such as Swacch Bharat, Swasth Bharat, and Unnat Bharat, so now the only duty left to be accomplished is their connectivity to the industries.
Certain steps have been already taken in this direction for instance- since 1987, 15 WTE plants have been set up across the country. However, since then seven of these plants got shut down. Apart from NCT, these include plants at Kanpur, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Vijayawada, and Karimnagar. The key reasons for the closure of these plants were their inability to handle mixed solid waste which was due to their impotence to treat wet waste which has low calorific value and high moisture content and the high cost of electricity generated rendered them unattractive to power companies. This highlighted two problems- the high operating cost for the industries & unsegregated waste which led waste to become wet. An easier way to solve these problems would be to charge the residents for waste segregation as well as the segregation should be done at the source. The process of segregation should be done at various levels and these levels should be decided on the basis of what can be decomposed or recycled at what level (location). The levels can be classified as local level, state level, national level, international level. This can be better understood by an example- group housings, resident welfare associations, and local level governments (panchayats and municipalities) must pour their decomposable waste (grocery waste such as vegetable peels) in nearby compost pits and utilize the gas obtained (biogas) for cooking and various other purposes such as warming water during winter days. Urban local bodies (ULBs) should invest in preparing an action plan on waste management in accordance with the Solid Waste Management (SWM) rules, 2016 within a time-bound approach and promote and adopt the key elements of waste hierarchy as refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and recover. The waste which cannot be utilized by them should be forwarded to the next level i.e. state government level and the waste which cannot be processed by them should be transferred subsequently to national and international level.
In India, a large amount of waste is dumped in landfills. These landfills release harmful methane gas in gigantic quantities. This poses a large-scale risk to the atmosphere as well as to human health. If these landfills are made in latched area, the released methane gas can be stored and used for numerous purposes such as for brick, cement, plastic manufacturing; can be used as a fuel; for manufacturing organic chemicals; to dry out cereals and fruits. Along with it, India can take a cue from countries with successful waste management programs and develop its own out of the box approach. Countries such as Sweden, Indonesia, Colombia, Switzerland, Uganda recycle about 95% of their generated solid waste, every year. In Indonesia, the government lets its citizens trade garbage for medical services and medicines. It might sound absurd but Sweden has run out of the trash and is asking neighboring countries for it so that their recycling plants don’t get collapsed. Uganda’s mantra to deal with waste lies in the innovative technology of amusement parks. They have built an amusement park entirely from waste. Another country, Colombia came up with the idea of ECOBOT, which is basically a reverse vending machine. These machines have been fixed by the municipality at shopping malls, educational institutions, and public places to encourage people for the process of recycling. Every time people deposit recyclable waste in it, they receive a coupon. From restaurant coupons to movie tickets to shopping dollars, this machine covers it all. All the waste collected is sent to recycling plants instead of landfills. Similarly in the U.S.A, Mr. trash wheel is a solar and water-powered trash cleaner that collects litter and debris flowing down the Baltimore river. The best and the most attractive part about this is that it is an eco-friendly machine.
Science and technology must be the fulcrum to provide solutions to the waste challenges faced by our country, a challenge which is both urgent and important. However, if waste to energy is adopted and tried to reach up to global standards in a sustainable way it will solve the problem of scarcity of land while also generating some much-needed energy and that too clean energy. Even sustainable development Goal 11 of United, nations require human settlements to become inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. Effective solid waste management and removal of toxic elements from the habitable environments is, therefore, the need of the hour. But all of this is impossible to achieve without community participation. So, along with the developed and changed mindset of individuals, scientific innovation is required to make our country a waste positive country or waste glutton machine.