Tackling Trash: Some progress made but a long way to go

Some progress made but a long way to go

The management of municipal solid waste (MSW) has received greater attention in the past three to four years. In 2016, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) revised the solid waste management (SWM) rules after 16 years. The new rules are applicable beyond municipal areas and extend to urban agglomerations, industrial townships, special economic zones, etc. Further, they also lay greater emphasis on door-to-door collection, waste segregation at source, integration of waste pickers in the formal system and setting up of waste-to-energy (WtE) plants. In the same year, the MoEFCC also notified plastic, e-waste, biomedical, hazardous and construction and demolition waste management rules.

As per the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs’ (MoHUA) latest estimates (December 2019), close to 60 per cent of the total MSW generated in the country (54.4 million tonnes per annum) is being processed. This is a significant improvement from 2015-16 when only 20 per cent of the waste was treated. Further, as of November 2019, out of 84,427 wards, 79,196 have a door-to-door collection system and 57,810 wards have a source segregation system. Some cities such as Indore, Visakhapatnam, Pune and, Bhopal are segregating waste in all the wards.

Government initiatives such as the Swachh Bharat Mission, the Smart Cities Mission and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation have also created an environment for improving waste management practices. These initiatives have led to an increase in the number of SWM projects being undertaken in the country, rising adoption of technologies and increased funding. Moreover, for combating the menace of plastic waste, the government is working with various ministries and cities to recycle plastic and use it for purposes such as road construction. In addition, cities have been asked to set up adequate material recovery facilities to handle segregation, processing and recycling of plastic waste. The government also aims to phase out single-use plastics by 2022.

Apart from the increasing government focus, the MSW segment also continues to witness increased private sector participation across the entire value chain. Notably, the entry of the private sector in waste management is not just limited to metropolitan cities but is also being seen in smaller towns and cities such as Kanpur, Ranchi and Mathura. The private sector is playing the important role in supporting urban local bodies (ULBs) in managing their waste through increased operational efficiency and deployment of advanced technologies.

Another key trend has been the growing focus on setting up of WtE plants. As of June 2019, there are 186 WtE plants with a cumulative capacity of 317 MW. Of the 186 projects, five projects involve solid waste treatment along with energy generation. The total energy generation capacity to be installed as part of these projects is 66.5 MW. In a first-of-its-kind initiative, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation started receiving 2 MW of power from a 12 MW WtE plant in Ghazipur in 2019 to meet the operational requirements of its Pink Line.

Further, the concept of a circular economy, an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources, is also catching up in the country. Significant progress has been made in recycling of plastic and electronic items. There has also been a rise in the adoption of innovative technologies for various aspects of waste management including collection, transportation, treatment, disposal, etc. Some of the key digital solutions that are being increasingly deployed are installation of smart bins, sorting machines, GPS-based tracking systems and management information systems for controlling and monitoring purposes. Further, several small-and mid-sized cities such as Indore, Ambikapur, Alappuzha, etc., are managing their waste efficiently through practices such as investments in decentralised systems and segregation at source.

While considerable improvements have been made for waste management in the country, progress is far from satisfactory. The MSW segment continues to be mired in issues such as absence of segregation, inadequate treatment capacity, lack of proper planning on the part of the authorities, poor enforcement of rules and low awareness among citizens. In most of the cities, around 60 per cent of the municipal spending goes towards collection and transportation, leaving a minuscule portion for processing, treatment and scientific disposal of waste. Further, many of the WtE plants in the country are not operating at their full potential. Besides, the non-segregation of waste leads to high-moisture and low-calorific-value waste, which in turn leads to inefficient power generation in the plants and also creates pollutants.

A growing economy, soaring urban population and rising living standards are expected to result in a rapid surge in waste volumes in the country. In fact, municipal waste generation is expected to double by 2030. In such a scenario, ensuring source segregation, creating decentralised waste management systems and increasing citizen participation and engagement will be crucial to ensuring efficient waste management. Further, given the financial constraints of ULBs, the private sector is expected to play a larger role in the creation of waste management infrastructure.