Turning Garbage to Gold

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Despite various cleanliness campaigns, huge amounts of waste lie untreated in India. An expert panel has prepared a report on the effective ways to dispose of solid waste and this could become national policy.
By Prakash Bhandari


Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyan initiative, little has been done to reduce waste in India. Besides eliminating open defecation, there is a need to treat liquid waste (municipal and industrial discharges) prior to it being discharged into any surface water and managing hazardous, industrial and municipal solid waste (MSW).

A PIL was filed in 1996 against Urban Local Bodies (ULB) and all states for their failure to manage solid waste. The Supreme Court set up an expert committee and gave directions in 1999 to all Class One cities to take action as recommended and asked the Ministry of Environment & Forest (MoEF) to frame rules. Though the MoEF framed MSW Management Rules, 2000, have been in place for the last 15 years, there has been little compliance.

COMPLIANCE OF ALL NEEDED (Left) Under the new rules, citizens shall be made responsible for waste management
COMPLIANCE OF ALL NEEDED Under the new rules, citizens shall be made responsible for waste management

WHAT A MESS
Out of the 1,70,000 metric tons of MSW generated each day in 7,935 urban centers, only about one lakh tons is collected and only 25,000 tons is processed. The rest goes to open dump sites causing serious health and environment problems and usurps thousands of acres of precious land.

The MoEF has now decided to supersede the existing MSW Rules and replace them with more comprehensive Solid Waste Management (SWM) Rules, 2015, fixing accountability among various stakeholders. Meanwhile, a committee of experts headed by the chairman of Ahmedabad-based UMC Global Pvt Ltd, PU Asnani, was set up to prepare a report in this regard. It submitted this to the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) in December.

Out of the 1,70,000 metric tons of MSW generated each day in 7,935 urban centers, only about one lakh tons is
collected and only 25,000 tons is processed.

The ministry will review it and frame new rules. This expert panel has made several ministries responsible for effective implementation and issues that were not included in the SWM Rules have now been added.

Speaking to India Legal, Asnani said: “This committee stressed the need for strengthening the regulatory framework and strategic systems improvement and found that the solution lies in adopting a citizen-centric approach and making the citizens, municipal authorities and various stakeholders accountable for the management of MSW. The committee also looked at the promotion of private investments in service delivery of a PPP mode and also for providing technical and financial assistance.”

MSW is non-hazardous solid waste from residential, commercial and institutional areas. It also includes non-pathogenic waste from hospitals, markets and streets. Some-times, construction and demolition debris is also included. Recently, electrical and electronic waste too has constituted a significant proportion of MSW and has become a major environmental issue.

(Below) Top priority is mandated for regular sweeping of streets
Top priority is mandated for regular sweeping of streets.

GREEN TECHNOLOGIES
According to Asnani, the new rules and the Swachh Bharat Mission aim at citizens’ active participation, segregation of recyclables, door-to-door waste collection, transportation and processing them into bio-degradable, non-recyclable, combustibles, construction and destruction (C&D) waste, etc, and moving towards the concept of zero waste. “Green technologies such as bio-methanation and composting are mandated to process bio-degradable matter whereas waste to energy technologies are only recommended to harness energy from non-recyclable high calorific value wastes,” said Asnani.

Under the new rules, all recyclables are to be retrieved from sources of waste generation or at material recovery facilities to conserve natural resources. C&D waste is mandated to be converted into bricks, paver blocks, building material, etc. At least 90 percent of waste is expected to be reduced through recycling and processing.

The new rules will apply to all municipalities, notified areas and urbanised panchayats which are declared as census towns and also to railways, airports, sea ports and defense establishments.

Citizens will also be made responsible for waste management. While earlier no accountability was fixed on waste generators, now citizens and all those generating waste will be held responsible. The generator will not be allowed to litter, bury or burn waste and will have to segregate at source and separately store various wastes. Generators will also have to pay user fees for the sustainability of service. If citizens don’t comply, municipalities may impose fines.

MINISTRIES’ ROLE
The expert committee also specified the duties of all the three ministries for better implementation of the rules. It specified that MoEF will monitor the implementation of rules through central and state Pollution Control Boards and have a central monitoring committee to see the progress of implementation.

The MoUD will frame a national policy on MSWM (Municipal Solid Waste Management) and a strategy for implementation of rules, guide states in framing policy and help in strategy and development in the SWM sector and help in training and capacity building of ULBs.

The Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilizers, though not directly involved with municipal administration or waste management, shall give incentives for the sale of compost and promote co-marketing of compost with chemical fertilizers.

COHESIVE APPROACH (Right) Segregation of biodegradable and recyclable wastes plays a crucial role in management
COHESIVE APPROACH Segregation of biodegradable and recyclable wastes plays a crucial role in management.

Asnani said that as municipal administration is a state subject, state governments will have to play a bigger and effective role in the success of the new rules. The rules ensure that after collection and storing domestic, institutional and market waste, it will be taken directly to the processing facility through a material recovery facility. This waste will not be mixed with street waste.

Door to door collection of segregated bio-degradable and sanitary waste on a daily basis at pre-informed timings and other wastes may be determined by the municipal authority, it said. Stress has been laid on minimizing the waste going to a landfill and setting up of sanitary landfills for residual waste.

Re-using discarded goods without reprocessing or remanufacture is given priority over recycling, he said. “Increased scarcity of natural resources and the consequent rise in commodity prices have influenced the demand for recycled products. Recycling materials such as paper, glass and plastics as well as composting and digestion of bio-waste, becomes the next preferable option.”

The world market for municipal waste is worth $410 billion a year. However, only a quarter of the four billion tons of municipal waste produced each year is recycled or recovered. If India could recycle and reuse the 1,70,000 metric tons of MSW generated daily, it could turn that into gold by producing energy. This would also provide at least one million jobs in the country.

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