While the mission got people talking about sanitation and cleanliness, its implementation needs a lot of work
Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) has been one of the key missions of the last Narendra Modi-led government since its launch in 2014. No other ruling party in the past has been able to take issues of sanitation and cleanliness the way it was addressed under this mission. Howsoever hollow in its implementation, SBM did bring a paradigm shift in terms of changing behaviours — making sanitation and cleanliness a topic across towns. But would this be enough?
According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), around 1.43 lakh tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) is generated across the country per day. Of this, 1.11 lakh tonnes per day TPD (77.6 per cent) is collected and 35,602 TPD (24.8 per cent) is processed. In a scenario, where major focus in any city is water, electricity and sanitation, waste has taken a backseat. The situation in all metropolitans of the country speaks volumes about this.
Cities are expanding and engulfing surrounding villages and dumpsites, which were once kilometres away, fall within the city now. Delhi, Bengaluru and Kolkata are classic examples of this. If metropolitans are struggling with population splurge and how to dispose waste, majorly plastics, smaller towns and cities lack resources and capacities to design sustainable waste management systems.
What would make SBM 2.0 work and what agenda should the Modi government be following on waste management in this term? Here are a few suggestions
The key to good waste management is segregation. However, it is still not being practiced in true spirit. There is a common complaint from households that give segregated waste that that the collector mixes it. Cities, till date, do not have any system to support end-to-end segregation. This has to change.
If segregated waste is collected at a household level, the urban local bodies must ensure they have vehicles that can transport segregated waste. This segregated waste should then go to a processing where it can be further sorted. Till the time cities don’t put segregation at the heart of waste management the model will fail.
Ensuring better compliance
In 2016, the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 were revised after 16 years. The rules focussed on generator responsibility and emphasised on segregation and decentralised processing, incineration and disposal being the last resort. The rules also mandated cities to revise their byelaws and states to submit action plans on solid waste management. However, this has not happened.
Across the country segregation levels are low, below 10 per cent, and there’s lax in monitoring of compliance of SWM Rules. Also, most cities do not have SWM bylaws.
It is imperative for the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) and CPCB to push state pollution control boards and urban departments for better compliance and enforcement. Also, the central government should create an appropriate national framework to incentivise and monitor implementation in states. For cases of non-compliance, strict punitive measures must be adopted.
According to SWM Rules, 2016, each urban local body needs to have byelaws that emphasise on segregation, user fee collection and fines for littering. Waste collection is a service households need to pay user a fee for.
Across, the country, sparing majorly metropolitans, user fee collection is not happening. This is also important from a perspective of creating a reverse demand for cleanliness — households pay and segregate waste, municipalities will have to make sure this waste is collected in a segregated manner daily and give better service. This needs to be implemented across the country.
Decentralised over centralised
It is clear that cities will make more revenue if they shift to decentralised systems over the usual ‘collect and dump’ mechanism. This will further cut corruption that happens in the name of transporting waste to dumpsites — trucks would do one round kilometres away from the city and dump the remaining waste and sell diesel.
A city needs to demarcate clusters where segregated waste can be further processed and reused. Cities such as Panjim, Ambikapur, Alappuzha, Muzaffarpur, Panchgani, Mysuru, Vellore and many more have shown the way. However, these practices need to be replicated. These cities do not have capital intensive technologies to manage their waste.
They are composting wet waste, recycling dry waste and sending non-recyclable waste to cement plants or utilising it to make roads. Recently, the municipal corporations of Delhi identified 12 model wards that shall adopt decentralised systems, however, we are running out of time, cities as a whole need to work on developing systems. The time of pilots is over.
The main compliance condition under the Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules, 2000 is focused on landfills. This shifted to decentralised and sustainable waste management in the SWM Rules, 2016. Decision makers still feel waste-to-energy plants would save our cities from drowning in garbage. Despite widespread protests, every city wants such plants.
Learning from the past, India’s experience with WTE plants has been unsatisfactory. The country’s first WTE plant was set up in 1987 in Timarpur, Delhi. It was shut down within 21 days due to poor quality of incoming waste. Since then, 14 more WTE plants of 130 MW capacities have been installed in the country. Of these, half have already been closed down and the remaining are under scrutiny for environmental violations.
According to To Burn or Not to Burn: Feasibility of Waste-to-Energy Plants in India, a report by Centre for Science and Environment, a New Delhi-based non-profit, Indian waste has low calorific value and does not support incineration. Of the 55 million tonnes of municipal solid waste generated every year, only about 15 per cent is non-biodegradable, non-recyclable, high-calorific value waste. This comes to about 30,000 tonnes of waste per day for WTE plants.
The total waste treatment capacity of the 48 existing, under-construction and proposed WTE plants is more than 37,000 tonnes per day. So, the idea that we need more WTE needs to be reconsidered. Or, we will be left with hundreds of white elephants in the middle of our cities.
The government should instead focus on minimising and segregating waste at source and then compost and recycle the waste. Instead of WTE, reduction of waste and maximum treatment of waste in situ should be prioritised. Legacy waste and fractions of waste that reach their end life and lay in dumpsite also need to be recovered.
So, alternative processes that use life-cycle thinking and energy recovery through conversion to refuse-derived fuel (RDF) that can be used in industries must be adopted when possible. Co-processing of end-life waste can be an alternative solution to thermal treatment of waste for cement firms. Waste is already widely co-processed in cement kilns in India. Cement plants — almost every Indian state has — can be upgraded for use of RDF with a little investment.
The plastic menace
India consumes 16.5 million tonnes (MT) of plastic annually. This is expected to increase to 20 MT by 2020, according to a report by Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry. Of this, 43 per cent is plastic manufactured for single-use packaging material that mostly finds its way into litter bins, drains and rivers. The per capita consumption of plastics is 11 kg/annum, which is far less than developed countries but this is increasing.
There is no clear estimate on how much we generate — last estimation by the CPCB showed that India produces close to 25,940 TPD of plastic waste, of which approximately 15,000 TPD is collected.
The Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 and its amendments notified companies to develop collection mechanisms for non-recyclable plastics under Extended Producers Responsibility. However, there’s lax in enforcement.
Presently, there are no targets set to reduce plastic consumption, no system of accountability of brand owners, producers, manufacturers, online companies (produced by more than 30,000 units, 90-95 per cent of them being small-scale informal entities). This needs to be looked into.
Brand owners need to incentivise return of packaged plastics to collection centres by launching deposit refund schemes or adding some value incentive to plastics.
Numerous states enforced plastic bans — 25 states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Jammu & Kashmir, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka and others have banned the use of plastic carry bags have banned a few single-use plastic products. However, just banning is not enough. Continuous monitoring and implementation of the ban is important. Also, there needs to be a clear assessment on availability of alternatives and ease of shifting businesses from plastic manufacturing to alternative jute/cloth bag manufacturing. This will push manufacturers to switch.
Behavioural change is the most important aspect of waste management. Urban local bodies need to engage with civic bodies, local self-help groups or active residents to ensure people segregate, minimise waste and compost at source.
Waste is generators’ responsibility — if municipalities focus on this aspect a lot will change. Also, bulk generators need to install systems to manage and sort waste at source. Minimisation needs to be practiced at the core. Involving the informal sector in setting up systems in cities could help too.
SBM 2.0 should focus on all these aspects to ensure the government’s agenda on making India clean is achieved in coming five years.
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