Why Is Waste Management A Challenge in India?

The problem of waste management in India is as vast as it is tricky. The country generates more than 960 million tonnes of waste each year which is inclusive of organic waste, recyclable waste, and hazardous waste. However, the collection of waste remains inadequate with less than 60% of the waste being collected, of which a mere 15% is processed. With the increase in urban population, the shortcomings owing to collection transport, and disposal of waste have been on the rise. 

There has been an increasing attempt to incorporate waste management systems that retain resources from the utilization of specialized waste processing facilities. Myriad opportunities like thermal treatment or methane extraction from landfills are yet to be discovered to facilitate effective and enhanced waste management in India. 

To understand the barriers and challenges to waste management in India, let us study waste generation, characterization, and current waste management in India. 

Waste Generation in India 

Waste generated in India grows at an average of 4% as per a study conducted in 2016. One of the major contributors to the management of solid wastes in India is the increasing population. Enhancing urbanization and geographical, climatic, and linguistic diversity are some of the other causes of waste management in India. 

The waste generated annually is a by-product of mining, industrial, agricultural, municipal, and other processes. Out of the 960 million tonnes of solid waste generated in India, 350 million tonnes are agricultural waste and 290 million tonnes of waste is inorganic, generated by the industrial sectors. Moreover, as a conclusion to a study, the annual waste generation would reach as high as 19 billion by the year 2025. Owing to the constraints with regards to effective waste management, there are various qualitative guidelines recommended by the United States Environmental Protection Agency for the treatment and transportation of both hazardous and non-hazardous waste. 

Characterization of Waste 

The quantity of municipal solid waste generated depends on various factors like living conditions, type and extent of commercial activities, season, and eating habits. Waste generation also depends on the city and region and therefore, we can categorize various cities based on municipal solid waste generation. For instance, Maharashtra tops the list of states with the maximum MSW generation, measured in MT per day. Maharashtra is followed by West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, and Uttar Pradesh. Stats like Andhra Pradesh and Kerala generate fewer wastes MT per day as compared to the list of the state above them. The remaining states generate as much as 7682 MT of waste per day. 

Waste generated can be characterized differently between high-income groups, and lower-income groups. Due to the high standard of living of the high-income groups, they generate more inorganic waste including plastic, textiles, glass, and metals. Such wastes are particularly non-hazardous. However, hazardous wastes like paints, medicines, are also a part of municipal solid waste generated in urban spaces. In cities with well-developed healthcare infrastructure, biomedical waste like syringes, bandages, and sanitary material is another major contributor to MSW. 

The MSW (Management and Handling) Rules 2000 has mentioned a set of rules to be implemented for collection, segregation, and transportation and processing of MSW. Chandigarh has incorporated the infrastructure for the treatment of MSW effectively in a way that it has improved the management of sorganic and inorganic wastes as compared to other cities. 

Challenges in Collection of Urban Waste 

The process of waste collection in urban areas begins with the door-to-door collection of waste by the contractors employed by the government. The waste is then dumped into the landfills, following which the recyclables are segregated from the heap of mixed waste. In the process, there are various shortcomings. Some of these are listed in the points below: 

  • The contractor often dumps the waste illegally into vacant plots just to save the cost of transportation of the waste across the city. 
  • Since the contractor’s revenues depend on the MT of wastes dumped, he is incentivized to dump more waste in the landfills. This might result in the landfill having an unmanageable amount of waste which leads to the burning of waste to create more space in the landfill. 

Impact of Ineffective Waste Management 

Challenges in the collection and transportation of waste adversely affect human health. The burning of garbage is one of the root causes of asthma, emphysema, and heart attack. Decomposed garbage, when unmanaged, also attracts myriad rodents and leads to the spread of various diseases like malaria and dengue. Dump yards are also prone to accidental fires which release hazardous smoke into the air, detrimental to the cardiovascular and respiratory health of city dwellers. 

The Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 specifies the guideline for effective management of waste. Waste generators have been mandated to segregate waste and bulk generators of waste are instructed to manage their waste. However, in both cases, there is no penalty for non-compliance. The set of rules also provide the directive to set up Waste to Energy Plants and levy fees on waste generators by the local bodies.