Managing Municipal Solid Waste in India

Once I saw a movie.  Principal of a school was rebuking his student who did not polish his shoes before coming to school. The principal said, a person who cannot take care of his own appearance,  does not have  any respect for his own self. By this account, we Indians have no respect for ourselves as well as for our country. We see in Indian cities garbage remain uncollected and scattered in different street corners. Stray animals fight for scrap of food in heap of house hold waste. In many places, people defecate in the open in full public view. Uncollected rubbish and offal pose a major hazard to human health. Waste also block drainage channels during rainy season causing major water logging and flooding as well as contribute towards enteric and water borne diseases. Like a seriously ill person who drowns in his own excreta, Indian cities it appears are choking under the burden of waste they generate.

Solid waste generated by households can be disposed of by several different ways. In India, the most common approach is to dump the waste in a landfill site. Household waste has mostly biodegradable components. In the presence of oxygen and microorganisms, degradation takes place. Process in environment friendly, inexpensive and gas generated can be tapped for energy. Biodegradation, however, is a time consuming process. Fresh waste is dumped on top of waste from previous day creating a mound of garbage. Open rotting creates smell, attracts vultures, buzzards and stray animals. Such open dumping grounds are health hazard due to surface pollution as well as underground pollution. 

A Landfill Site

One way of removing waste rapidly is to burn it to generate energy. A waste to energy plant that can generate 10 Mega Watts of electricity has been set up in a landfill site in Delhi. At peak performance, such a plant can consume 1300 tonnes of waste. Delhi produces nearly 3000 tonnes of waste per day. Setting up of second power plant may solve waste management on a day to day basis. Site will still have 5 million tonnes of waste from earlier times. Energy content of Indian waste is low compared to the same in the west. Cost of energy production from waste is nearly four times higher than the same from conventional sources. Problem is further compounded by the fact that several waste to energy plants did not generate any energy. Many places, plant could not resume function because of residents of locality were apprehensive of health consequences of gases that emanated from waste burning.

A Waste to Energy Plant in Delhi

Waste management in India is projected to become a Rs. 60000 crore market by 2015. Production of solid waste is only going to increase with time. According to figure shown, while population will double in cities, the waste production will increase threefold.

 Many companies both foreign and Indian have jumped into the market of waste management at different stages. Some sort waste, others dispose it to landfill site, and some others try to generate energy from waste. As discussed above, waste to energy has not been very successful in India because of low energy content and high cost. Besides public fear has not let many projects to takeoff. May be process of energy generation needs optimisation. Commercial units are, however, weary of investing money if they do not see long term return backed by policy decision. There are other options like thermal depolymerisation and pyrolysis of waste in the presence of oxygen in a sealed chamber. Such techniques convert waste into combustible oil. Cost of setting up such technology is very high.

I think in the long run composting or organic degradation of municipal solid waste is a good, clean and safe proposition. We need to do research to improve degration time and turnover time of landfill sites. Also, instead of using one big site, may be every community should designate small sites for biodegradation of wastes. It is important to recognise the gravity of the problem of waste management. I think like minded people should come forward to setup a project to do research and eventually manage waste in our cities, towns and villages. If necessary we should seek government help and support. For money minded, there is a scope to make money given the enormity of problem. At the end of the day, it is our country, city, town and village we are talking about. If we don’t who will?

Tags: Solid Waste Generation, Solid Waste Management, Business of Solid Waste Management, Waste to Energy, Composting, Pyrolysis

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