Dear Sweden, Can You Take Our Trash Since You Finished Yours? Love, India

Posted by Shikha Sharma in Environment, News
December 12, 2016

Consider this:

  • Urban India is currently the world’s third largest garbage generator.
  • 622 million tonnes of garbage is generated by the 377 million Indians living in urban India every day.
  • 45 million tonnes or nearly 3 million truckloads worth of garbage is left untreated or is unhygienically disposed off by India’s civic bodies each year.
  • India registers a 1.3% increase in the amount of solid waste it generates on a per capita basis every year.
  • By 2030, India will be the world’s largest generator of solid waste.

The consensus is unanimous. Urban India is drowning in its garbage. And the problem is not going away anytime soon. If anything, it’s only going to get worse. Contrast this with the rather unique problem Sweden finds itself in – the country has actually run out of garbage, and is now looking to import garbage from other neighbouring countries to keep its recycling plants going.

So what’s the crucial difference between India and Sweden? Why are we swamped with garbage, while Sweden goes scouting out for it? The difference, it seems, is the way in which the two countries handle municipal solid waste. That Sweden also has a National Recycling Policy is also another differentiator.

Sweden converts 50% of its municipal solid waste into energy, and less than one percent of it ends up in a landfill. In India, most municipal solid waste ends up in landfills where it pollutes surrounding soil and groundwater with toxins.

While in Sweden, the 53% of energy (biogas) produced is used as vehicular fuel, in India we mostly squander away energy generated from solid waste through open air exposure by letting our garbage rot away in the open.

The biggest differentiator though is that unlike India, Sweden has a cohesive recycling policy  that includes prevention (reduce), reuse, recycling alternatives (energy recovery through WTE plants), and lastly, disposal (landfill). This ensures that the recycling system is so efficient that only 1 percent of its household waste actually goes to the landfills.

Private companies in Sweden undertake the task of importing and burning waste and all the energy that is generated from the waste then goes into the country’s heating network that heats people’s homes in the cold weather.

Many bodies, like GIREM (Global Initiative for Restructuring Environment and Management) have in fact have recommended Indian cities like Bangalore (which has been dealing with huge problems of garbage disposal) use Swedish incinerator technology to not only provide lighting to at least 6500 apartments in the city, but also process tonnes of garbage in a day.

Bangalore is facing a huge crisis when it comes to garbage disposal, and the civic bodies have been at a loss of what to do because the sheer amount of waste generated every day. In Delhi, the situation isn’t much better, and three of Delhi’s four landfills are already overdue for closure.

And India has little or no vision when it comes to a waste management. Which is sad, because as the world’s second largest population of humans and the largest population of cattle, the country has immense potential when it comes to efficient waste-to-energy generation.

We, in India, can only hope for our government to take a leaf from Sweden’s success and replicate some of. Else, Sweden can always count on India for its garbage fix. We surely have a lot of it to spare. Question is, will they be interested in importing our garbage? Here’s hoping.

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