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Solutions for Converting Waste into Wealth

A fast developing country like India generates various kinds of urban and industrial waste including municipal waste, construction and demolition debris, plastic packaging waste, e-waste, and biomedical waste. These waste streams provide a unique challenge in terms of converting waste into wealth.
To address these, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) released a set of six rules in 2016, says TERI in a 2019 report. These are focused on extended producer responsibility (EPR) to make manufacturers responsible for collecting and processing the waste generated out of their products.

Institutional structure for urban waste management

Though there has been an improvement in some aspects of mandates to implementation of Solid Waste Management Rules, in case of municipal solid waste especially for collection, processing and transport, cities still have to ensure establishment of scientific waste disposal sites. Here’s what can be done:
Setting up a Technical Cell at the national level, preferably with Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs to assist State Urban Development Department and Local Bodies to implement SWM Rules, 2016.
Forming similar type of cell at the State level to support local bodies, and the state governments may evolve plans and policy to provide technical and financial assistance to them.

Generating data for converting waste into wealth

One of the key challenges in management of urban waste streams is to generate reliable data on waste inventory and to assure that there is a structured flow of data on collection and processing to various stakeholders for informed decision making. For instance, analysis of MSW (municipal solid waste) management data in annual reports of CPCB for the last few years reveals that the waste generated, instead of increasing owing to a rising urban population, actually shows decline as the total number of cities reporting the data is unchanged each year. This makes trend assessment and hence long-term planning difficult.

To overcome this, the following areas need to be focused on:

Developing uniform data collection formats for cities and towns, which can be transmitted to CPCB for analysis. The format should include information on daily waste generation, collection, processing, recycling, and waste diverted from landfills. The information collected should flow from say, sanitary inspectors to higher officials via suitably designed Management Information System.
Similarly, in the case of e-waste, one can estimate the quantity generated through data collected on the quantum of electronic items made available in the market and the consumer behaviour. It is therefore necessary that for each of these waste streams, real time data collection is carried out regularly by involving all stakeholders including urban local bodies. The manufacturers have to arrive at an identified trend and do long-term planning for waste management.
The infrastructure for collection and processing has to be designed based on capture rate for these waste streams at present as well as in future.

Addressing plastic packaging

Demand for plastics has outpaced all other bulk materials such as steel, aluminium and cement, nearly doubling since 2000. Packaging constitutes of around one third of the global plastic demand. In India, it forms around 43% of plastic demand, with annual recycling of only 60% of the waste collected.

However, the concern here is the plastic waste that remains uncollected. Most of this is single use that is unattractive to waste collectors. These reach either landfills or water bodies, entering the waters of India’s large coastline, contributing to marine litter. Here are 2 ways of tackling this:

Incentivising collection of single use, low value plastics by improving collection rates;
Ensuring that the material not recycled is either processed from waste to energy including pyrolysis or co-processed in
cement kilns as alternate fuel. This will not only have national impact but also globally influence regulators to address the issue of marine litter.