At the rate at which Kochi is expanding, city residents face the threat of being buried under their own garbage. Every unoccupied plot of land, deserted way side and water body dotting the city is a sitting target for unscrupulous waste dumping. It is clear from this state of affairs that waste management in the city is in complete disarray.
Towards the end of 2018, the Kochi Corporation faced censure at the hands of National Green Tribunal Bench in the matter of Jith Kumar, Muthedath v. State of Kerala & others with the imposition of a fine of one crore for delaying the construction of waste treatment plant at Brahmapuram. In the meantime, there was also a major fire outbreak at the proposed site, caused by massive piles of unsegregated plastic waste. Given the enormity of this issue, stray dog menace, growing cases of skin ailments and water borne diseases, depleting soil and groundwater quality and an all pervasive stench through the waste infested areas, can come as no surprise!
It is obvious that this city’s aspirations come at a cost but can something be done to regulate the waste management woes? This is where the waste management rules under the Environment Protection Act (1986) become handy, provided they are implemented properly. The public needs to be aware of these rules, which cover all manner of waste generated in the course of urban living. For example, regarding the safe disposal of used batteries, the Battery (Management and Handling) Rules, 2001 are relevant, and with respect to discarding hazardous electric components and electronic products, E-Waste Management Rules, 2016 come into play. As we all know, plastic products, which began out as means of convenient packaging, are drowning us. The Plastic Waste Management Rules were promulgated in 2016 as many started to realise that plastic use must be carried out in a sustainable manner. Additionally, responsibilities have been imposed on dealers, recyclers, bulk consumers, brand owners, retailors and even street vendors.
With the spread of rampant consumerism and proliferation of manufacturing industries, there is also the threat of uncontrolled release of hazardous waste. Such wastes and their safe disposal are covered under the Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016. In order to improve the collection, segregation, processing and disposal of bio-medical wastes in an environmentally sound manner, the Bio-Medical Waste Management Rules, 2016 came about. Similarly, disposal of construction and demolition wastes are covered separately within the Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules, 2016.
These above-mentioned rules are significant as they dictate duties for every entity in the supply chain of such wastes. Waste generators like you and me have an equal amount of obligation to dispose the waste we generate in our daily lives. These rules have also detailed provisions imposing liabilities on manufacturers and intermediary service providers to either take back the materials (in the case of discarded electricals, used batteries, packaging materials, etc.) or else to provide for financial assistance to local authorities for establishing a waste management mechanism and educate the masses on its disposal.
Urban growth generates huge amounts of solid waste from a wide array of entities ranging from residential communities and pilgrim centres to government offices and commercial establishments. Segregation of waste at source is another head scratcher. It is often seen that garbage reaching dump sites are a mish-mash of domestic bio-degradables combined with dangerous objects of all kinds, rolled into one plastic bag. Such wastes are proposed to be segregated, handled and managed under the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, yet no concern shown for the poor municipal worker who continues to separate these items with huge risk to health and personal safety.
In spite of such descriptive rules, the provisions remain on paper. In fact, the Apex Bench expressed displeasure with several states, including Kerala along with imposition of fine, for not filing the status on implementation of solid waste management rules, despite court directions in its suo moto case titled In Re: Outrage as Parents End Life after Childs Dengue. In between this muddle, the 2018 floods in Kerala resulted in mountains of waste, which have now found their way into dump sites and illegal landfills; illegal since landfill site should technically be at a prescribed distance from rivers, water bodies, highways, habitations, public parks and water supply wells. This is certainly not the case with landfills in Kochi. While state entities and volunteer organisations are doing their best to manage waste, the state’s limited recycling facilities and opposition from local residents leaves very little choice.
It is time for each one of us to take responsibility for the waste we generate. It is obvious that there cannot be a one-dimensional approach to this problem wherein citizens are forced into observing the law. The current state of affairs calls for implementation of waste management rules combined with public-led movements and innovative practices through massive awareness campaigns. To this end, ideas such as zero waste stores, return of the weekly markets, common waste composting facilities, public fridges for leftover food, ‘flea markets’ for used goods throw a guiding light. There are also best practice examples of civic participation from metros such as Bengaluru, wherein residential associations have created Whatsapp groups to keep abreast of civic issues such as illegal waste dumping. The mantra that ‘nothing is waste, until it is wasted’ holds true and we are only limited by our imagination on efficient resource use.
Views expressed are the author's own.