Waste management rules in India are based on the principles of “sustainable development”, “precaution” and “polluter pays”. These principles mandate municipalities and commercial establishments to act in an environmentally accountable and responsible manner—restoring balance if their actions disrupt it. The increase in waste generation as a by-product of economic development has led to various subordinate legislations for regulating the manner of disposal and dealing with generated waste made under the Law of Environment Protection Act, 1986 (EPA). Specific forms of waste are the subject matter of separate rules and require separate compliances, mostly in the nature of authorizations, maintenance of records, and adequate disposal mechanisms.
With rapid urbanization, the country is facing a massive waste management challenge. Over 377 million urban people live in 7,935 towns and cities and generate 62 million tonnes of municipal solid waste per annum. Only 43 million tonnes (MT) of the waste is collected, 11.9 MT is treated and 31 MT is dumped in landfill sites. Solid Waste Management (SWM) is one of the basic essential services provided by municipal authorities in the country to keep urban centers clean. However, almost all municipal authorities deposit solid waste at a dump yard within or outside the city haphazardly. Experts believe that India is following a flawed system of waste disposal and management.
The key to efficient waste management is to ensure proper segregation of waste at source and to ensure that the waste goes through different streams of recycling and resource recovery. The reduced final residue is then deposited scientifically in sanitary landfills. Sanitary landfills are the ultimate means of disposal for unutilized municipal solid waste from waste processing facilities and other types of inorganic waste that cannot be reused or recycled. A major limitation of this method is the costly transportation of MSW to far-away landfill sites.
There have been technological advancement in the processing, treatment, and disposal of solid waste. Energy-from-waste is a crucial element of SWM because it reduces the volume of waste from disposal and also helps in converting the waste into renewable energy and organic manure. Ideally, it falls in the flow chart after segregation, collection, recycling, and before getting to the landfill. But many waste-to-energy plants in India is not operating to their full potential.
The installation of waste-to-compost and bio-methanation plants would reduce the load of landfill sites. The biodegradable component of India’s solid waste is currently estimated at a little over 50 percent. Bio-methanation is a solution for processing biodegradable waste which also remains underexploited. It is believed that if we segregate biodegradable waste from the rest, it could reduce the challenges by half. E-waste components contain toxic materials and are non-biodegradable which present both occupational and environmental health threats including toxic smoke from recycling processes and leaching from e-waste in landfill into local water tables.
The concept of a common waste treatment facility (ENVIS Newsletter, December 2010) is being widely promoted and accepted as it uses waste as a resource by either using it as a co-fuel or co-raw material in manufacturing processes. This has led to rising of Public Private Partnership (PPP) models in waste management which has opened doors for doing business in waste management.
Bio-medical waste (management and handling) rules, 1998 prescribe that there should be a Common Biomedical Waste Treatment Facility (CBWTF) at every 150 km in the country. CBWTFs have been set up and are functioning in cities and towns. However, the establishment of functional CBWTF throughout the country must be ensured. Integrated common hazardous waste management facilities combine secured landfill facilities, solidification/stabilization, and incineration to treat hazardous wastes generated by various industrial units. They contribute about 97.8 percent of total landfill waste and 88 percent of total incinerable hazardous waste generated in the country, as per an environment ministry report.
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