Why India’s solid waste management system needs a digital overhaul

Why India’s solid waste management system needs a digital overhaul

The need for digitalization in waste collection and disposal operations goes beyond information technology

Rapid increase in urbanisation and per capita income in India has significantly led to an increase in municipal solid waste generation in the country.

Electronic waste and plastic waste has contributed a large amount to the total waste stream in recent years. The use of domestic hazardous waste and bio-medical waste last year shot up due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Improper and unscientific disposal of these wastes can be hazardous for human life and the environment.

Urban Indian generates 62 million tonnes of waste (MSW) annually, said a 2014 Planning Commission report. It also predicted that the volume will increase to 165 million tonnes by 2030.

India’s solid waste collection efficiency, however, is around 70 per cent at present, while it is almost 100 per cent in many developed countries.

Moreover, 43 million tonnes of municipal solid waste was collected annually, out of which 31 million was dumped at the landfill sites and 11.9 million was treated, the environment ministry said in 2016.

A huge portion of the untreated waste is dumped irregularly on the outskirts of towns or cities, causing groundwater contamination and air pollution. There is, thus, a growing need to detect blind spots in the collection and transportation of waste so that the operation can be made more efficient.

Similar to the central government’s ‘Digital India’ campaign launched in 2015, progressive digitalisation needs to be introduced in waste management. India should shift from conventional logistics to digitally automated tracking technologies which are energy-efficient and cost-sensitive.

The need for digitalization in waste collection and disposal operations goes beyond information technology. Smart waste management will create improved data quality and better insights into waste streams during operations.

Any disposal which may be necessary at a later stage needs to be considered in the initial design and then carried out accordingly.

A smart, integrated waste management system ensures real-time monitoring of collection and transportation. Technologies like global positioning system, radio frequency identification, global system for mobile communications, machine-to-machine communication and internet of things, along with innovative mobile and web-based applications can be used to improve and smoothen ground-level mechanism for collection and efficient processing and recycling of waste.

The waste management facilities with Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) monitoring system can be automatically monitored and operated from a centralised control station to ensure efficiency and minimum manual operation.

Waste management with proper information and communications technology (ICT) system can ensure efficient monitoring and assessment. Complaints of citizens can be handled with actual details and analytical reports of the operation can be accessed easily.

Bins and vehicle movement can be tracked live and the route can be optimised for efficient collection and transportation of waste. Also, ICT can help in identifying gaps in the overall system by connecting to the central ERP system for seamless communication between the head office and collection vehicles or bins.

An automated underground waste collection system aims at minimising human interventions, space requirement, health hazards and impact on environment. The digitalized world enables waste management and public authorities to provide increasingly better services to their customers and society and brings them a step closer to circular economy.

Digital technologies come with the promise of a more effective waste management regime which is safer and more transparent with better sourcing of valuable materials in the waste streams and effective link to other sectors in a future circular economy.

Furthermore, the digital transformation can further improve waste management sector economically, environmentally and socially. Moreover, hardly any sector is as intricately linked to the emergence of circular economy as waste management.

Hence, it will not be inaccurate to say that digitalization in the waste management sector is necessary and indeed indispensable to the creation of the circular economy. More study into the level of investment and endowment of digital technologies in waste management is needed.

This may be currently important as a window of investment opportunity. States and municipalities who are lagging in waste management and circular economy, should especially use digital technologies for transforming into a more sustainable regime.

The waste management sector is in an early phase of this development. The chances as well as impact of its digital transformation are emerging and can still be structured.

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