Last year, the collapse of Delhi’s Ghazipur landfill site drew the attention of many citizens, regarding the big threat that our own waste poses for our future. Usually, this problem is considered small when compared to the other problems that our country is facing now. But, it is this very thought that has made this problem even bigger and more dangerous.
The per capita waste generated in India ranges from 200-600 grams per day (the cumulative total being 62 million tonnes every year). Due to the efficiency of our present system, 70-80% of this waste is collected, and 22-28% of this waste is processed and treated.
To deal with this mess which our own waste has created, a petition was filed, following which the Supreme Court of India had appointed a committee called the Burman Committee. Based on the recommendations of that committee, the government of India, in 2000, framed the Municipal Solid Wastes(Management and Handling) Rules for effective solid waste management. The rules recommended the use of different technologies by municipal bodies to reduce the ill-effects of waste.
Even today, many citizens and towns have not even initiated these measures even though it is an obligatory function. On the other hand, some small towns like Suryapet (in Telangana), Bobbili (in Andhra Pradesh) and Namakkal (in Tamil Nadu) have become zero garbage towns by just following these rules since 2003. They received no financial input from the state or the Centre. However, due to their commitment and because they formed a good management body, they were able to set an example for other towns.
In 2016, these rules were revised and renamed as the Solid Waste Management (SWM) rules which now extend to urban and industrial areas. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that the SWM rules have been followed. Neither have the relevant agencies been empowered. The activist who had filed the petition earlier had suggested that a Solid Waste Management Cell should be formed for each state. According to the petitioner, such a Cell should reward the cities with good performance (as regards waste management) and fine those which do not follow the rules.
The key challenges to solving this problem are:
1. The agencies responsible for implementation have not not been geared up and empowered.
2. Community engagement has not taken off.
3. Suitable infrastructure has not been developed, and the incentive system has not been altered successfully.
The possible solutions to these challenges can be:
1. Community engagement to drive deep behavioral changes.
A first step towards that can be the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike’s pitching model that involves citizens composting their waste and the civic agency buying it from them. These composts will be used in the city’s parks, before the waste is taken to waste plants. This will encourage people to start segregating and making composts at home. Other such initiatives can also be implemented.
2. The other solution to the challenge is inculcating the prowess to make right technological decisions.
For instance, the problem of plastic waste is a menace for the world, since the waste takes millions of years to degrade and causes a big threat to environment. However, an Indian professor in Madurai, Rajagopalan Vasudevan, has given us a possible solution to this problem by using this plastic to make long-lasting roads. A dumping ground in Mumbai’s Gorai was treated using herbal methods, enzymes and bacteria. This was another great initiative to solve the problems associated with landfill sites.
3. Political capital to make the requisite by-laws and enforcing them is the next solution to this problem. To ensure this, increasing taxes on fresh material may be increased, thereby encouraging people to start reusing materials.
4. Last but not the least, it needs to be ensured that human capital on a large scale follows all the aspects of this process – from planning, research to implementation. This is a solution which is being commendably followed by Kerala’s Alappuzha city, which was even placed second in the United Nations Environment Assembly’s list for smart waste management.
As individuals, we should always follow the 4Rs (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) for efficiently handling our waste. Start segregating your waste at home into dry and wet waste. A major portion of the waste generated in India is wet waste, which can be converted to a compost. So, start composting at home to turn wastes into resources.
It is very easy to blame the authorities instead of doing something constructive ourselves. It’s high time to realise the damage our own waste can do to our future. So, start working on it now, before it gets too late.