Features Tuesday, April 07, 2015 - 05:30
By Munish K Raizada Follow @DrMunishRaizada When a report featuring Norway’s growing need for trash surfaced in the International media close to a year ago, there were diverse reactions to it. While some people laughed at it assuming it to be a joke, others were in the awe of Norway and its methods of producing energy from garbage. Come 15th of November, USA would be celebrating the ‘America Recycles Day’. In India, there is no formal system of recycling and hence it would be a fair prediction to say that this day would go as usual with politicians asking their aids to sprinkle some garbage in the otherwise clean premises of a Government office so that they can pose with a broom and mark their presence in the ongoing Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (Clean India Drive).  With human habitation and activity, production of solid waste is a natural occurrence. And we call it garbage or trash. In planned urban locations, municipalities typically are entrusted with the task of dealing with it. Over the century, sanitation and waste management have evolved as a science. However, whether the needs are simple or complex, the town is poor or rich, a municipality cannot deal with the solid waste unless the basic apparatus of waste management is in place. The solid waste comes from residential dwellings, businesses and places like hospitals and educational institutions. And the chain for solid waste management is simple: reliable places for residents and users to dump the garbage. The municipality collects the trash and sends to either landfills or incinerators (or treated by other means).  Recycling is another component of waste management. Ever since its inception in the year 1997, America Recycles Day (ARD) is celebrated every year to create awareness about the concept. The thrust for a cleaner environment lies in the 3 Rs: Reduce (buy products with recycled material), Reuse (use things as much as possible) and Recycle.  According to Environment Protection Agency – a federal department of the U.S. government- Americans produced about 250 million tons of trash in the year 2012. That comes to 4.4 pounds of waste generation per person per day. 34 % of that was re-cycled. The science of recycling requires a well thought out support structure to be put in place. Garbage bins made up of different colours tell you the kind of garbage you can throw in the bin so that no one has to sort out the garbage before sending it to the recycling unit. Similarly, the products and items of use should have a ‘recyclable’ mark on them. For example, in Chicago, where I live, the Municipality serves about 600,000 households and collects about a million ton solid waste per year. The “Blue Cart Residential Recycling” program was launched in 2007 and today it is accessible to more than 260,000 households. In other words, residents are encouraged to dispose recyclable items in blue carts rather than conventional black garbage bins. From these blue carts, items are sorted, collected and processed in order to manufacture and sell them as new products.  Let us focus our discussion on the situation in India. The concept of cleanliness and sanitation are not new to us. The Indus civilization was known for well laid town architecture, making us believe that there must have been proper system for waste disposal also. However, the modern India is caught in the war of burgeoning population, rapid and unplanned urbanization, and poor governance ridden with corruption. The lack of civic sense adds to the woes. The result is that we are sitting on a garbage crisis. Our leaders brag about the cities like Bangaluru and Gurgaon as world class cities, but the garbage and stink all around coupled with poor infrastructure result in haphazard model of development. Forget about recycling, even the basic apparatus for waste collection and disposal are either inadequate or broken. The conditions in smaller towns and villages are no different. The tentacles of corruption, bribery and forgery spare none in India including solid waste management systems. For example, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) spent a huge budget of over 360 Crores in the year of 2013 on waste disposal (through contractual system). Majority of that money must have gone to drain! In other words, we are a colossal failure in Municipal Solid Waste Management.  India generates more than 100 million tons of solid waste per year, 4 times the size of USA. According to a World Bank report published in 2008, out of 4,378 towns and cities of India, 423, designated as Class I cities (one with population > 1 lakh), produce 72 % of total municipal solid waste (MSW) generated in urban areas. The Central Public Health and Environmental Engineering Organization (CPHEEO)- a wing of India’s Ministry of Urban Development- estimated that Indian cities and towns produce a per capita waste in the range of 0.2 to 0.6 kilograms per day. According to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the average collection of solid waste in India ranges from 50 to 94 %. And it adds that more than 94 % of the collected waste is disposed off in an unacceptable manner and not following scientific principles. In India too, the solid waste management is primarily the job of municipalities. A public interest litigation (PIL) was filed in 1996 in the Supreme Court against the government of India, state authorities and municipal authorities for their failure to adequately take care of solid waste. The Supreme Court directed the government of India to take the required steps. This led to the legislation of Solid Waste Management, with Ministry of environment and forest coming up with The Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2000. And now we are in the year 2014! The condition has only worsened! Taking cognizance of the grossly polluted cities with garbage and litter, Mr. Narendra Modi, the newly elected Prime Minister of India, announced a Swach Bharat Program on the Independence Day. The program was formally launched on Gandhi Jayanti, i.e., October 2. So what we have seen in last several weeks is mere symbolism. Garbage removed from one place will become garbage at other place, if not processed properly! Rather than all his ministers and BJP units all across India displaying cleanliness drives and shooting for photo-ops, the Indian government will do well to focus on creating a proper and efficient infrastructure for solid waste management (SWM). After all, SWM is a technology-driven science that involves several steps in a chain like manner with coordination of infra-structure, technology, adequate finances and community involvement. Lag behind in a step and the garbage starts heaping up! For a country that recently became the first nation to send a mission to Mars in its first attempt (EU also succeeded in its first attempt but it is a group of countries), dealing with its garbage should not be a rocket science! A passing remark on recycling! In the eco-system of waste management, recycling does exist in India, albeit informally. Kabbadiwallas, Raddiwallas and rag pickers make the force that drives recycling in India!  The author is a Chicago-based medical doctor (Neonatologist) and a socio-political commentator.  Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this articles are the personal opinions of the author. The News Minute is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information in this article. The information, facts or opinions appearing in this article do not reflect the views of The News Minute and The News Minute does not assume any liability on the same.