Solid Waste Management (SWM) has emerged as one of the biggest development challenges in urban India. Studies indicate that unsafe disposal of waste generates hazardous gases and leaks due to microbial decomposition, climatic conditions, waste characteristics and landfill operations.
Various laws have been passed regulating the mode of waste disposal. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) have together formulated policies and programs to address these issues. However, most of these have failed to achieve their objectives due to lack of clarity and awareness between stakeholders and poor enforcement by regulators.
Solid Waste Production and Composition
In 2016, the world’s cities collectively generated 2.01 billion tonnes of MSW, with a per capita volume of 0.74 kilograms per day. “With rapid population growth and urbanization, annual waste production is expected to increase 70 percent from 2016 levels to 3.40 billion tonnes in 2050.” This variation in solid waste production is based on various factors including population growth, improved income and changing consumption patterns. The growth of urban population, in particular, directly leads to an increase in waste production.
Waste Collection And Transportation
Waste collection and transportation are essential elements of SWM. The MoEFCC estimates that only 75–80 percent of the total municipal waste is collected and only 22–28 percent of this is processed and treated. A large proportion of the collected waste is often dumped indiscriminately, causing drains and sewerage systems to jam. They also become breeding grounds for rodents and insects, which are carriers of deadly diseases. According to a study released in January 2020, waste collection in Delhi is the lowest (39 percent) while Ahmedabad has the highest (95 percent). The informal sector of the country plays a huge role in waste management. However, informal sector workers are not officially recognized and lack legal status and protection. They collect more than 10,000 tons of reusable garbage every day, with no protective equipment such as gloves and masks, and often even uniforms and shoe essentials.
Current SWM regulations do not provide any incentive for waste pickers, nor do they recognize the economic value of informal waste recycling work. Under the new rules, municipalities have been directed to include informal waste pickers in their waste management process. The new SWM rules of 2016 made it compulsory for door-to-door collection of individual wastes, in which garbage producers are obliged to pay “user fees” to garbage collectors. However, the rules do not provide details about how the fee is fixed – regardless of the quantity or type of waste generated.
Solid Waste Disposal
Waste dumping and open burning are the major methods of waste disposal in India. Most cities and towns dispose of their garbage by depositing it in low-lying areas outside the city. A 2014 Planning Commission report found that more than 80 percent of waste collected in India is indiscriminately disposed of in dump yards, causing health and environmental degradation. Landfilling techniques are often used for waste disposal in India. However, dumping grounds are often as unstable as landfills, as they have no foundation, liner, leveling, covered soil, leachate management or treatment facilities. A widely used technique for recycling residual waste is waste-to-energy (WtE) which uses combustion to provide heat and electricity. The adoption of recycling with this technology can significantly reduce dumping in India.