By Parth Sharma:
Of the 62 million tonnes of waste generated every year in India, 45 million goes unattended —straight to the landfill. The waste is only going to escalate as India is estimated to produce 165 million tonnes of waste by the year 2031 and 436 million tonnes by 2050 if the trends continue unnoticed.
India stands third, after China and US, in the world, regarding the quantity of waste produced. However in its attitude towards Solid Waste Management, it even lags behind Sri Lanka and Bhutan. India’s seriousness is also exposed looking at the number of waste-to-energy (WTE) plants—producing electricity, recycling goods, and creating compost. While the European Union operates 445, China has about 150, USA a little over 86 and India only 13. Of these thirteen none are operating at their full capacity and the area around these plants has also turned into a landfill.
Now even if we assume that setting up of WTE plants is quite difficult, it is hardly irrefutable that the government has failed to utilize its most abundant resource — the people. Chintan, an NGO claims that in India all the 20-25% of recycling that happens, becomes possible only because of the segregation done by waste pickers. Chintan along with Safai Sena, a registered organization of waste pickers and recyclers, run a recycling unit in Bhopura, near the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border, where 70 waste pickers hired to segregate, recycle, and compost the dry and wet litter work with a success rate of about 85-90%. They have asked the government to follow in their footsteps but to no avail.
With such scandalous figures to its name and such lackadaisical attitude in matters pertaining to Solid Waste Management, India’s hopes of becoming a “Swachh Bharat” lie pretty deep in the trash can.
However, on other side of the spectrum, we have something quite astonishing. Sweden, a small country in the EU is undergoing a “recycling revolution.” While India is still struggling to wriggle out of the mess it has accumulated, Sweden has become 99% waste free. With its 32 WTE plants it not only recycles all the waste they generate but also imports 800,000 thousand tonnes of waste from U.K, Italy, and Norway for energy production.
Now, as quickly as you may believe that Indians are a hopeless lot ever to achieve anything like Sweden, let me tell you there’s still some light at the end of the tunnel. This time, it shines from one of the poorest states in India, Chattisgarh, which has shown that – it does care.
The Darra Panchayat of Balod district has banned the use of plastics and disposables in wedding and funeral ceremonies. They have advised people to bring their cutlery and utensils when attending the ceremony. They have also banned the offering of ‘kafan’ (shroud for the deceased, which is later burnt) asking people to donate the money of the kafan to the family of the deceased which can be used for the cremation ceremony.
Jalmala village has even banned Holika and Ravan ‘Dahan’ to save wood and environment. The priests and temple committee of the Ganga Maiya Temple in the village have also managed to curb the use of polybags thus making it one of the cleanest temples even after a footfall of 10,000 every day during Navratri. Ambikapur, another district in Chattisgarh, has achieved something remarkably significant. It has earned its badge of becoming the first dustbin-free municipal corporation in the country. By digitizing their garbage management along with segregation of waste at the source by distributing red boxes (for inorganic) and green ones (for organic) to residents, they’ve successfully implemented the idea of converting ‘garbage to gold’; making Ambikapur India’s ‘little Sweden’—which doesn’t need a dumping ground.
Most of this achievement is attributed to the people of Chattisgarh who have positively responded to such initiatives rather than being a spoil sport by saying “why should only I do it?” Maybe they’re privy to the fact that if they don’t—no one would. A pretty civilized lesson from a state with 65.18% literacy don’t you think? But what will this entail for the rest of India? We’ll have to wait and watch. Or, should we do something about it? I think it’s high time we should.