Rising population and urbanisation have increased waste generation in the country manyfold. Waste generation levels are expected to more than double by 2030 with the urban population also doubling. This has made it crucial for the government to put in place effective means of solid waste management (SWM). The sector has already witnessed incredible growth in the past few years on the back of increasing focus on the environment and resource recovery. The flagship programmes of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) have shifted the concept of the economy from a linear to a circular one, with the private sector’s role becoming more important in bringing investments for innovations in waste treatment and efficient operations and maintenance (O&M) of infrastructure. Urban local bodies (ULBs) have undertaken the deployment of smart bins, tracking of garbage pickup trucks and sanitation workers, route optimisation for trucks, cross-checking of garbage weight, etc. to address the challenges of enforcement and transparency. They have incorporated management information systems in operations, including radio frequency identification (RFID), global positioning systems, geographic information systems and general packet radio services for effective solid waste management. In Vapi, a digital code called Easycity has been allotted to every house along with near field communication tags that enable the municipal corporation to integrate all government services with individual houses. In Bengaluru, all the primary collection vehicles and secondary transportation vehicles have RFID tags installed to ensure that only authorised vehicles are allowed to enter the designated destinations. Besides, private ventures have come up with internet of things (IoT)-enabled solutions to monitor the waste management process. A student at Chandigarh University has designed a Talking Smart Bin that monitors waste levels, senses motion and supports more than 100 globally accepted languages.
Update on key government programmes
The flagship programmes of the central government, the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) and the Smart Cities Mission (SCM), have successfully complemented each other by laying heavy emphasis on efficient and smart management and treatment of waste. The SBM is aimed at eliminating the practice of open defecation in the country. The mission focuses on 100 per cent door-to-door collection; construction of individual household latrines, and community and public toilets; and setting up of waste-to-energy (WtE) and waste-to-compost plants. The MoHUA has offered a 35 per cent grant or viability gap funding of the total project cost of municipal SWM projects, thus providing an impetus to waste collection, segregation, transportation and disposal, including energy recovery. In October 2019, SBM-Urban achieved its target of making urban India open defecation free (ODF). The urban areas of 34 states and union territories have been declared ODF under the mission. In all, 4,320 cities have declared themselves ODF. The government is now committed to sustaining the results achieved so far through the ODF-plus programme, which consists of four verticals, namely, biodegradable waste management, plastic waste management, greywater management and faecal sludge management. The government plans to achieve its targets for biodegradable waste management by 2023-24.
As of January 2020, about 6.16 million household toilets and 0.59 million community and public toilets have been constructed under the mission. Further, 81,535 wards have been practising 100 per cent door-to-door waste collection whereas 64,730 wards are undertaking 100 per cent source segregation. In addition, 65 per cent of the total urban waste collected is being properly treated or processed. Further, 61 MW of power and over 3 million tonnes of compost are being generated from waste through WtE and biomethanation plants respectively.
Under the SCM, the government has identified a total of 100 cities through four rounds of bidding. The mission is centrally sponsored, with the centre contributing Rs 480 billion over five years (2015-16 to 2019-20) and the states providing a similar outlay. Projects worth over Rs 2 trillion have been approved for execution under the SCM. Of these, projects worth Rs 1.64 trillion have been planned for area-based development whereas the remaining Rs 389.14 billion worth of projects are for pan-city solutions. According to the MoHUA, about 13 per cent of the total projects under the mission costing Rs 265.5 billion have been completed as of March 2020. The proposed investment on SWM projects under the SCM stands at Rs 48.57 billion. These projects involve incorporation of technologies such as smart meters, supervisory control and data acquisition systems and smart bins into day-to-day operations in order to make waste management more efficient.
The government has made concerted efforts to improve waste management practices through its flagship schemes such as the SBM and the SCM. In the past few years, there have been some visible improvements in municipal SWM at the city level, in terms of projects undertaken, capacity added, and technologies and best practices adopted. Information technology (IT) deployment and penetration in the waste management segment have grown significantly with the adoption of innovative technology solutions. The technology revolution has presented the ULBs with many new possibilities and opportunities. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, authorities at various levels are laying greater emphasis on deployment of IT solutions for effective waste management. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has created a digital tracking system to track COVID-19 waste disposal, check spillage and ensure that waste is properly segregated. The app monitors the life cycle of waste from collection, segregation and transportation to incineration. It geotags each process and stores the details on a common platform which can be monitored by state pollution control boards. The CPCB has also asked the states to deploy the digital tracking system, following which, states such as Telangana have been working on the application to monitor disposal, check spillage and ensure segregation of COVID-19-related waste.
In the backdrop of growing attention from the government, there is greater opportunity for the involvement of the private sector. Recently, the entry of the private sector in waste management has not been limited to metropolitan cities alone, but has also been witnessed in smaller towns and cities such as Kanpur, Ranchi and Mathura. However, the waste management and recycling industry remains a massive untapped space, with immense scope for technological innovations.