India, with a population of more than a billion people has moved to generating never before seen quantities of post consumption waste as consumerism fueled by economic progress is growing. The additional trend of rapid urbanization brings with it challenges for the urban local bodies to manage waste in a legally compliant and environmentally friendly manner. With most of the waste currently not being processed, but only collected and transported as mixed waste to landfills or being dumped within the city where convenient is putting a strain on communities living around these dumps both in terms of health and ecological balance. With most of the population gravitating towards cities, like Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta etc, the associated burden on the local governing bodies such as the local municipal corporations have reached a tipping point. This has been witnessed in numerous cities and towns across India in forms of glaring and large scale environmental disasters. The toxic foaming lake in Bellandur, Bangalore or the fire in the Deonar, Mumbai landfill or the Mandur- Karnataka villagers forcing the shutdown of landfills in Bangalore are some recent examples of the environmental disasters that we are witnessing across India.
The city of Bangalore which witnessed an unprecedented boom in its economy due to the growth of the IT industry is now fighting increasing mounds of garbage. Bangalore today, generates upwards of 3500 tonnes of garbage a day. Of this, only 40% is sent to processing units to get treated and the rest is dumped at landfills. The local protests at Mandur landfill site led to the closure of most dumps which resulted in a garbage crisis that the city continues to witness even today. In response to public interest litigation filed by SWMRT, the Karnataka high court on 17th of Dec’15 ruled that, all waste had to be segregated at source completely into three processable waste streams using the “two bin, one bag method” at source1.
Biodegradable or wet waste had to be handed over to collectors in a green-colored bin or container, while hazardous waste had to be given in a red-colored bin, and reusable bags had to be used for handing over dry waste to collectors. The court also ruled that plastic liners or plastic bags could not be used inside the bins while storing wet waste. Instead, recyclable papers or old newspapers could be used. Despite a court order, the local municipal body (BBMP) has been unable to uniformly implement and effectively enforce the new directives of the court. Most people are unwilling to bear the costs associated with disposal of waste generated by them. There is a need to completely alter the mindset of people to accomplish a radical change in the waste management systems in our cities. We may need to rethink the paradigms that have been traditionally used to bring about large-scale socio-economic transformations.
There is a need to rethink our approach to the waste management systems. Post consumption, municipal solid waste management has traditionally been about disposal away from the points of generation, and if material recovery is possible (limited at most) then it is attempted either manually or through some automation. The focus has largely been on visual cleanliness of the surroundings we live in, rather than waste processing and material recovery from waste. There is also very little attention paid to the needs of the service provider- aka the “garbage collector, waste picker” who are the backbone of the entire waste management industry in our country.
A move towards creating viable market opportunities through the promise of a circular economy may be the way forward. A circular economy has the ability to boost global competitiveness, foster sustainable economic growth and generate new jobs. The circular economy is a form of an industrial economy that promotes greater resource productivity by aiming to reduce waste and avoid pollution by design or intention. The only way India can manage its growing cities is by moving towards such an economy. Waste stream management is one such method of waste management that would allow for a circular economy that not only benefits all stakeholders in question, but would also lead to greater long term positive impact. “The true cost of waste is not simply the cost of discarded materials - it encompasses inefficient use of raw materials, unnecessary use of energy and water, faulty products, waste disposal of by -products, waste treatment and wasted labor.2
The cornerstone of waste stream management is segregation at source by the waste generators themselves and collection by service providers by categories of waste. The foundation for it is the setting up of single stream waste processing centres. The underpinning of making it viable is, through the "polluter pays" principle for waste stream management. The high court order which made segregation at source mandatory into three categories - organic wet (primarily biodegradable), inorganic dry (non-biodegradable, recyclable or non-recyclable), and domestic hazardous waste (sanitary/diaper/medical waste, inerts) has in effect created a route towards waste stream management. The local municipal body (BBMP) has set up centralized wet waste processing plants through aerobic composting or anaerobic bio-methanization. It has also set up Dry Waste Collection Centres (DWCC) in each ward to handle to receive and sort recyclables and non-recyclables. To reduce the amount of waste that has to be managed by the municipal corporation, there is a rule that bulk waste generators i (BWG) who generate an estimated 40% of the city's waste have to manage their own waste through empanelled service providers or through their own resources; example: in-situ (on premises) composting.
One such BWG Service provider, Hasiru Dala Innovations (www.hdinnovations.in), has taken waste stream management further to what it calls micro-stream management. They constantly look for how to viably process micro-streams of waste in an environmentally friendly and legally compliant way. Micro stream examples are Multi-layered plastic and aluminum packaging (like chip/snack packets), used vegetable cooking oil, tender coconuts, varying grades of paper and plastic, temple flowers, used footwear, garden waste as distinct from kitchen waste, eWaste (hazardous and recyclable), glass etc.
Micro-stream processing also enables the eco-system of waste processing to go back to the manufacturers to redesign their products to reduce non-processable waste like Nike did with its Flyknit technology through its Sustainability mandate.
Examples of micro waste stream management
Organic kitchen and food waste is composted to manure or bio-methanized to bio-gas for use in generation of electricity or cooking. Paper, plastic and glass are recycled for similar uses. These are traditional examples of waste processing. But with new materials coming into the waste ecosystem, new technologies and uses have been found for them. A few examples include:
• Dry coconut shells are being aggregated and used as co-processing fuel in furnaces
• Tender coconuts are being shredded and dried to make coco-pith (aka cocopeat) used as compost accelerator, manure filler, alternative to soil, soil conditioner etc.
• Non-recyclable multi-layered plastic (eg. Kurkere, Frito lay packaging) is being converted into low grade diesel fuel or used as co-processing fuel in cement kilns.
• Garden waste is composted using vermiculture or the layered bio-dynamic method.
• Tetrapak is recycled into roofing sheets and shopping bags.
• Sanitary and diaper waste are being recycled to plastic pellets and reusable fibre. (www.knowaste.com)
• Used shoes are being refurbished and donated to village school children or resold. (www.greensole.com)
• Used vegetable cooking oil is being transformed into bio-diesel and glycerine as a by-product. (www.ecogreenfuels.in)
• Flowers from temples are being vermin-composted to European organic fertilizer standards and fragrance extracted for use in incense sticks. (www.helpusgreen.com)
Using such a stratified method of segregating and dealing with waste essentially creates new avenues for economic activities. This in turn has the ability to transform livelihoods of people and create an environment where stakeholders have a lot to lose if they fail to truly implement the requirements of the system in question. There is a need to refocus our waste management systems towards Reduce, Refurbish, Reuse, Repair, or Recycle with the absolute minimum going unprocessed. Out of sight, out of mind is no longer an option. Every responsible citizen must be aware of what happens to the waste that is disposed off and must take personal action towards managing the waste. Urban local bodies should re-evaluate their policies, systems and procedures on how waste is managed and use circular economy principles to guide those decisions. The more we move towards a circular economy in the true sense, the more positive impact we will see on the ground and on the lives of people across all strata’s of society. Waste stream management is one such avenue to introduce the socio-economic benefits of circular economy to our country.
[This article has been reproduced with permission from Welingkar Institute of Management Development and Research (WeSchool)]