India is the sixth largest garbage generating country, but has made provision to treat only 12.5 per cent of it… The mountains of municipal solid waste that often mark entry points to cities will only become bigger in coming days…
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set for India an ambitious and noteworthy goal: elimination of open defecation by 2019. But it is not just open defecation that is a menace; municipal garbage is an equally big problem, Mr.Modi. According to a latest World Bank report (2012), India generates about 109,589 tonnes of municipal solid waste a day, making it the sixth largest municipal solid waste generating country of the world (see graph). However, the country has provisions to treat only 12.5 per cent of the generated waste. Not much was thought about waste in the country till the public interest petition of Almitra H Patel and others was filed in the Supreme Court in 1996. It alleged failure of Government authorities to discharge their obligatory duty to manage municipal solid waste.
A consequence of the case is the present legislation on solid waste management in the country—the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules of 2000, notified by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests in September 2000. A decade has passed since the notification, but not much has happened on ground. We still have still not finalised the technology of treatment. Debates about the technology which needs to be adopted to treat the municipal solid waste—composting, biogas generation or thermal treatment—are still on. Thermal technology–waste to energy treatment plants—are facing huge resistance.
Thermal technology, though successful and established in other parts of the world such as Japan, Spain, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic, has not yet been established still in India. According to the 2013 data of Central Pollution Control Board, a total of 5 waste-to-energy plants—four in Andhra Pradesh, and one in Delhi—are operating in the country. However, these plants are controversial and are not operating successfully, say environmentalists.
During the UPA regime’s budget discussions in 2013, P Chidambaram, the Finance Minister at that time, was worried that none of the municipal waste-to-energy treatment systems had been successful. He promised incentives and aid for new waste to energy treatment plants.
The mountains of municipal solid waste that often mark entry points to cities will only become bigger in coming days. Today, India’s per capita solid waste generation is astonishingly low: our per capita solid waste generation is 0.34 kg waste per capita per day , fourteenth lowest in the world. Probably because of the traditional and philosophical thought process of the country not to waste resources, Indians in general don’t think of throwing things into the dustbin, but try to reuse them in some form. However, with globalisation, the per capita solid waste generation of the country may go up. Given the land and space constraints in the country and the fact that we have not established thermal technologies to treat waste and with the “not in my backyard” (nimby) mindset of people, it will be really tough for the Government to include municipal solid waste mess in its sanitation drive.