Written by : Mudit Gupta Sustainability | Circular Economy | Waste Management | KPMG
Waste management has become very crucial due to increasing waste generation (expected to increase to 3.4 million tonnes by 2050 globally) and growing environmental concerns. Though we; humans are degrading the environment for a long time but now with evident impacts more than ever has at least made us think that the conventional way is not the appropriate way to do and manage things. Changing lifestyle and diminishing connection with nature is letting us to choose simple and easily available but environmentally unfriendly options (such as plastic-wrapped veggies, plastic bags, bottled water, etc.) these days, where thinking out of the box is a new normal. We are finding solutions to extreme problems but why not ready to help in the implementation of available, simple, and identified solutions to manage waste.
There are lots of successful stories available where waste has been turned out into wealth. This should make us think about what actually the waste is? Is my leftover food is a waste or not? Is my broken mobile phone is a waste or not? Are my old clothes are waste or not? etc….. So, by definition “Wastes are unwanted or unusable objects or materials which are discarded after primary use, or declared as worthless, defective and of no use”. Again considering the former questions?
Is my leftover food is a waste? – Before deciding this, think about: Is it good and can I eat it again? Can I share it with someone else? Can I mix and match it to make something delicious with it? If not anything else, Can I throw it in the compost bin: can be used to nourish soil?
I am sure this small example can give you an idea that waste is not waste unless it can’t be reused, recycled, repurposed, or recovered.
So, I truly believe that everyone should try to manage their own generated waste at an individual level. In India at the city level, the municipalities are responsible to manage the waste. Municipalities spend so much money (i.e. INR 500- 1000/ tonne) in developing a strong waste management value chain from collection- transportation- treatment and finally disposal. In true sense, only the inert material should end up in landfills but in the real world, lots of waste which could have been turned into something useful is landing up in landfills as well. This does not bother us until we saw the sad reality of growing waste mountains (landfills) and the risks associated with it. There are several flaws in the value chain and the biggest issue is nil/ poor waste segregation (mostly it is limited to papers) .
The doubt comes that when there is a proper system placed by the municipality for managing waste then, why should I bother about segregating or something else? May be sound logical at first but understanding the need to it might be helpful to change this view. So a few drawbacks of mixed waste to support the need for segregation are:
Reduces the efficiency of treatment plants: The treatment processes are generally designed for specific waste characteristics and due to mixed waste these processes get impacted and results in inefficiency. For instance, In Europe, the average residue at mass-burn incinerator is around 10% but in India, mainly due to this mixed waste issue it is ~30%.
Difficulty in recycling: It is difficult to recycle mixed waste compared to the one segregated at the source (every tonne of recyclable material collected saves the ULB approximately INR 24500 per annum and avoided the emission of 721 kg CO2 per annum).
More waste piling up at landfills: If the waste is not segregated properly then the more quantum of waste of mixed nature will reach landfills due to its unsuitability for getting recycled or recovered. Because of its mixed nature, GHG emissions will increase, and also the leachate from landfills will contaminate land or nearby water bodies. (>60% of the total waste can be easily kept out of landfills with proper segregation)
Impacts the health of sanitation workers: Imagine the health impacts which these waste collectors, segregators, and rag-pickers, experience while segregating our mixed waste. (Around, 9 out of 10 waste workers suffer from cold, cough, fever, diarrhea on a regular basis. Also, the breathing problem is very common)
Increase contamination of waste: Mixing domestic hazardous waste with other kinds of waste increases the risk of contamination and in large quantity. This also reduces the price of recyclables.
Imagine if we segregate our waste at home all these negative impacts can be avoided/ minimized.
So, every one of us should start segregating dry and wet waste into separate bins. Make sure to rinse off/ clean the glass/ plastic/ metal/ tin containers and let them dry before throwing in the dry waste bin. Try to store sanitary waste and domestic hazardous waste separately as well. Also, make sure to handle the waste separately to the waste collector. This might sound a bit too much in beginning but it just needs willingness and a bit attention. And, soon it will become a habit.
Home composting is also a good idea to reduce our bio-degradable waste. The compost formed can be used as manure in plants at home.
I feel most of the people are not segregating their waste not because they are careless or they don’t want to but because they are not aware of it. However, the government and NGOs constantly are working to improve this by organizing awareness campaigns and workshops, etc. but yet there is so much to be done to create a great impact before it is too late.
Some suggestions to improve awareness among people are:
Mandating the education about waste segregation and 3Rs in the school
As schools are the foundation and usually whatever we learn at school age (6-14) sort of becomes a habit. Like schools teach good behavioral values to students so, why not in a similar way things like waste segregation, 3R can be taught. When we talk about changing the behavior of people towards the environment then why we do not start from the early years. This will not only help in making future generations more environmentally aware but will also reduce the budget which is spent on IEC activities (in medium to long term). However, environmental education has been infused in the NCERT but in practice, this has been restricted to planting trees, teaching about pollution, etc. It can’t be denied that these are also important subjects but do not represent complete environmental management. In numerous cases, schools don’t give value to environmental education and consider it as a formality. I feel a single-day campaign will not help; these should be conducted regularly like any other subject.
RWAs should come forward
RWAs should seek to collaborate with NGOs and governments to bring change in their societies. They should work to raise awareness and should set up decentralized waste management plants. Municipalities should encourage such initiatives by some sort of incentives.
Awareness should also be raised at the corporate level
The education system became so theoretical that even well-educated people fail to understand their responsibility towards the environment at an individual level. When it comes to waste segregation even they get confused about whether banana peels should go in the dry bin or wet bin. This might sound funny but yes it makes a difference. This is not their fault, this is a lack of awareness/ education about the subject. So, companies should start organizing such awareness campaigns as well for their employees (maybe as a part of CSR activity). This will create a big impact.
Regular capacity-building & training of ULB workers/ waste workers
There is a dire need to train people working in the sector. There is no point in asking people to segregate when the waste collector mixes the waste. They should be regularly trained well about an efficient and healthy way of running operations (using proper PPE). In India, there is a huge involvement of informal workers (>500,000 informal waste workers) in the waste sector therefore; training should be arranged for them as well.
Analysis of the current awareness strategies
Swachh Bharat Mission (Clean India Mission) brought a huge paradigm shift. People started talking about sanitation and cleanliness. Under this mission lot of improvements have been made in physical and social infrastructure. However, despite several campaigns and practices, success is still a bit far. So, there is a need for assessment of regular practices. The government should include ground workers/ NGOs so that awareness drives can be designed based on ground conditions and requirements.
Need for stringent rules and regulations
There is a need for strong waste regulations that are enforced, implemented, and then monitored properly. This can bring an innovative change. There is a dire need for accountability in the sector.
This all seems easy but it is a little difficult. We need a strong commitment. Now the time has come - We should take waste management in our hands.