The latest Planning Commission report of the Task Force on Waste to Energy has revealed that, while Gujarat’s urban areas may be doing a much better job than the country as a whole in collecting municipal waste, when it comes to treating this waste it ranks the poorest, worst than all the Indian states. Data released by it have revealed that in Gujarat 8,336 tonnes of municipal waste is generated every day, out of which more than 88 per cent (or 7,378 tonnes) is “collected”. However, of the total municipal waste collected in the state, just about 116 tonnes or 1.57 per cent is treated. One has to look to the all-India comparison to know where Gujarat stands: Of the total municipal waste collected in all the Indian states’ urban areas, 28.4 per cent is treated.
What is particularly baffling in the report is that urban areas of all major states, including the poorer ones, treat a much higher percentage of municipal waste than Gujarat. Thus, the next better state in treating the municipal waste collected in the urban areas is Jharkhand (3.76 per cent), followed by Punjab (9.45 per cent), Chhattisgarh (9.85 per cent), Tamil Nadu (11.06 per cent), Haryana (16.57 per cent), and so on. The best performing state is Andhra Pradesh which treats a whopping 88.38 per cent of the municipal waste collected in the state. Delhi, with just 33.33 per cent of the municipal waste treated, is poorer performer than Andhra Pradesh, but far better than Gujarat.
The purpose of the report, to quote, “is to identify technically feasible, financially affordable and environmentally sound processing and disposal technologies for municipal solid waste (MSW) and assess, evaluate and recommend systems, processes, technological options, financial mechanisms and institutional arrangements to enhance resource recovery and promote waste to energy technologies while ensuring integrated management of MSW in India.” It provides an “an overview of the enormous management challenge that municipal solid waste presents and also offers a basis for choosing from among the various options available.”
The report regrets, “Currently, of the estimated 62 million tonnes of MSW generated annually by 377 million people in urban areas, more than 80% is disposed of indiscriminately at dump yards in an unhygienic manner by the municipal authorities leading to problems of health and environmental degradation.” It believes, “The untapped waste has a potential of generating 439 MW of power from 32,890 tonnes per day (TDP) of combustible wastes including refused derived fuel (RDF), 1.3 million cubic metre of biogas per day or 72 MW of electricity from biogas and 5.4 million metric tonnes of compost annually to support agriculture.”
The report says, “The existing policies, programmes and management structure do not adequately address the imminent challenge of managing this waste which is projected to be 165 million tonnes by 2031 and 436 million tonnes by 2050. Further, if the current 62 million tonnes annual generation of MSW continues to be dumped without treatment; it will need 3, 40,000 cubic meter of landfill space everyday (1240 hectare per year).” It predicts, “Considering the projected waste generation of 165 million tonnes by 2031, the requirement of land for setting up landfill for 20 years (considering 10 meter high waste pile) could be as high as 66 thousand hectares of precious land, which our country cannot afford to waste.”
The Task Force, chaired by Dr K Kasturirangan, has taken a serious view of the situation, and has considered it imperative to minimize the wastes going to landfill by at least 75% through processing of MSW using appropriate technologies. “The processing will not only generate revenue and new products from waste, but also improve public health and quality of life of people”, the Task Force believes, adding, “World Health Organization (WHO) has observed that 22 types of diseases can be prevented/ controlled by improving the MSW management system. This will indirectly save huge financial resources currently spent on health and medical services.”
The report says, “The thrust of the task force is to minimize the quantum of waste for disposal by optimal utilization of the potential of all components of MSW by adopting the “concept of 5-R” – Reduce, Reuse, Recover, Recycle and Remanufacture – and through integrated Municipal Solid Waste Management, derive energy and other useful products and ensure safe disposal of residual waste. The ultimate objective should be zero waste going to landfills.”
“While evaluating the technological options to treat all components of wastes, factors that have been considered by the Task Force include quantity and composition of MSW, collection, segregation and transportation capabilities of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), scale of operation (centralized vs decentralized), institutional & financial issues, conversion technology, estimation of energy, compost generation, capital and operational costs, financing options including outcome-based subsidy, levy of tipping fees and user charges and optimally exploring Public Private Partnership (PPP) and Private Sector Partnership (PSP) potential”, the report states.
The report calls upon “citizens and municipal authorities need to change their attitude towards waste, make serious efforts to reduce the waste and recover recyclable materials, return nutrients to the ecosystem as well as derive energy from waste. Waste conversion technologies in vogue include a wide array of thermal, biological, chemical and mechanical technologies capable of converting MSW into useful products like compost and energy such as steam, electricity, natural gas and diesel/ ethanol.”
This is particularly important, the report says, because “while a large number of commercial scale plants based on conversion technologies are operational worldwide, very few plants are successfully operating in the country.” It adds, “Very limited and not very encouraging experience in the waste to energy area and age old composting technologies not finding adequate acceptance in the present form with the farming sector, have resulted in a crisis like situation, necessitating immediate identification of appropriate technologies and suggest mechanism for supporting such technologies to make them affordable and viable.”
The report insists, “Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) has to be managed by technologies and methods that enable keeping our cities clean, prevent pollution and protect the environment and at the same time minimize the cost through recovery of resources and energy. As per Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report 2012-13 municipal areas in the country generate 1, 33,760 metric tonnes per day of MSW, of which only 91,152 TPD waste is collected and 25,884 TPD treated. The MSW, therefore, dumped in low lying urban areas is a whopping 1,07,876 TPD, which needs 2,12,752 cubic meter space every day and 776 hectare of precious land per year.”
The report says, “As per 2011 census, the 377 million people living in 7,935 urban centres (with 4,041 statutory municipal authorities and 3,894 town with more than 5,000 people of which 75% are male involved in non-agricultural activity), generate 1, 70,000 TPD and 62 million tonnes of MSW per year which is based on an average per capita generation of 450gm per person per day. It needs to be noted that 62 million tonnes of waste generation reported, annually, does not include wastes picked up by kabadiwalas from households and from the streets by rag pickers.”
The report laments, “As per information available for 2012, compiled by CPCB, municipal authorities have so far only set up 279 compost plants, 172 biomethanation plants, 29 RDF plants and eight waste-to-energy plants in the country.” Pointing out that this leads to unhygienic conditions, the report states, “Principal reasons for the prevailing unhygienic conditions in our cities is the casual attitude of the citizens as well as the municipal authorities towards managing solid waste, lack of priority to this essential service, inadequate and inappropriate institutional structure, lack of technical knowhow and paucity of financial resources.”