India faces waste management crisis

Image Credit : NDTV

 

While India boasts of being a developing nation, it also bears the burden of skewed development, overpopulation, and large-scale mismanagement. As the entire world, today, is gripped by serious concerns about the rapidly increasing levels of pollution and climate change issues, it is high time that India starts to take its waste disposal and management system seriously, lest it should add to further depreciation of the natural resources.

India, being an overpopulated country, has always faced large-scale problems related to the proper allocation of resources and quality education of all citizens. Moreover, certain cultural practices have always kept the society from engaging in eco-friendly methods of waste disposal. The problem becomes more severe when the local administrative bodies, state governments, and the central government do not take effective measures to ensure improvements in these methods.

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In order to maintain an effective waste disposal method, the segregation of waste materials at the very source is mandatory. Most of the large cities in India lack the facilities that enable waste management right from the source. India is one of the highest waste material-producing countries in the world, mostly owing the large number of inhabitants and widespread homelessness. Contrary to popular belief, homelessness is not as widespread in the rural areas or remote villages as it is in the large cities. Majority of the metropolitan cities host massive numbers of homeless people who resort to open defecation on a regular basis. Apart from that, due to the middle-class and upper-class people caving in to popular culture and corporate greed, there is a massive quantity of landfill that is left unattended.

According to a publication by Down-to-earth in May 2019, it was reported that more than 377 million people inhabit approximately 7,935 cities and towns, generating about 62 million tonnes of solid waste every year. Out of this, only 43 million tonnes are collected and 11.9 million tonnes are treated. About 31 million tonnes of waste materials are dumped at the outskirts of the towns, in the landfill sites. The municipal corporations of most of the large cities, these days, claim that solid waste management is being conducted in order to manage pollution. However, ironically, most of the solid waste is callously dumped in large open areas outside the cities, which culminate into enormous dump yards that lead to unhygienic conditions and spread deadly diseases through air pollution.

Isher Judge Ahluwalia, in an article published in November 2016, mentioned that recycling is a process that must begin at home. Effective segregation of municipal solid waste at home can enable an overall organic recycling system, thereby reducing the amount of untreated waste and pollution. She emphasised on the practice of waste-to-energy, which helps in recycling waste materials and producing energy from them. The appropriate technology that can be used to convert waste into energy is dependent on the category of the waste (whether is it biodegradable or non-biodegradable) and the calorific value it possesses.

Another pivotal problem that India faces is the erroneous disposal of menstrual waste. Due to the lack of knowledge and the conservative nature of the Indian society, menstrual waste is disposed of along with regular solid waste. As discussions surrounding menstrual health and practices are considered to be blasphemous, most women are not aware of the proper methods of disposal. Nearly 9,000 tonnes of untreated sanitary waste is produced every year, resulting from the disorganised disposal of menstrual products. The total waste produced is said to be approximately 90% as heavy as the Eiffel Tower! According to a recent study, nearly 45% of the menstrual waste is dumped along with routine municipal solid waste products. Out of this, about 25% comes from the rural areas, 16% from the urban areas, and 3% from the slum areas. Menstrual waste, if left unattended, can give rise to acute air pollution and transfer airborne diseases that can be life-threatening. There is an urgent requirement for an organised method of disposing of menstrual waste, along with awareness campaigns that help women shun the societal taboos.

Even among the few waste disposal systems that exist in the country, in most cases, there is a sheer mismanagement of funds. It has been observed that maximum funds are allocated to the transportation of waste materials, which leaves very little for the most important steps – processing and recovery.

Most of the large cities, like Mumbai, Hyderabad, New Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai, Ahmedabad, and many others, have flawed waste disposal/management and drainage systems. This has been observed for the past few decades, yet the municipal corporations have not been able to present better and effective methods of treating and managing the waste materials. Every year during the monsoons, the dwellers of Mumbai and Hyderabad bear the brunt of extremely poor drainage systems. The residents of New Delhi and Ahmedabad bear the brunt of extremely high levels of air pollution. Similarly, most of the other large cities face issues related to faulty drainage systems, lack of waste disposal methods, and excessively high levels of atmospheric emissions.

Most of the large cities, like Mumbai, Hyderabad, New Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai, Ahmedabad, and many others, have flawed waste disposal/management and drainage systems. This has been observed for the past few decades, yet the municipal corporations have not been able to present better and effective methods of treating and managing the waste materials. Every year during the monsoons, the dwellers of Mumbai and Hyderabad bear the brunt of extremely poor drainage systems. The residents of New Delhi and Ahmedabad bear the brunt of extremely high levels of air pollution. Similarly, most of the other large cities face issues related to faulty drainage systems, lack of waste disposal methods, and excessively high levels of atmospheric emissions.

Open garbage dumps and drains can be seen within the cities, which pose serious hazards to public health as they emit methane gas. This gas is formed due to the decomposition of biodegradable waste, under anaerobic conditions. The formation of excessive methane can also lead to fires and explosions. Moreover, it is a major contributor to global warming as it increases the level of carbon footprint.

Apart from the lack of awareness and a faulty belief system, another reason that largely contributes to this widespread menace of fallacious waste disposal methods is the rapid growth of corporate entities across the urban areas. Most of the industrial waste is dumped into the large water bodies or at the landfill sites. These waste materials are usually not treated or recycled, further leading to environmental hazards that affect humans as well as other animals. Another vital point to be noted, which is responsible for environmental degradation to a large extent, is religious protocol. Many a time, environmentalists have opposed numerous religious practices that are not eco-friendly. The Ganga (Ganges), which is one of the most prominent rivers of India, is one of the most polluted water bodies in the world. This is because, the remains of the religious rituals are ceremoniously dumped into the river. Over the years, due to a rapid growth in the population, the rate at which the water bodies are being polluted has also increased drastically. The local administrative bodies and the government must take these facts into account and enforce regulations, instead of fuelling the religion- or culture-based emotional desires of the masses and giving way to the large corporates.

The entire world’s waste production is expected to reach approximately 27 billion tonnes per day, by 2050. It is also estimated that about one-third of the total waste will be produced by Asia, of which China and India will be the major contributors.

Taking these factors into account, India requires a serious transformation in its overall waste disposal and management system. The production and usage of plastic must be reduced as much as possible, along with the active adoption of cleaner waste management methods like recycling, reusing, and switching to natural or renewable energy sources.

With the rapid increase in the number of environmentalists across the world, it is evident that we are destroying the environment that we live in. Even though it is too late, there still some time left before we reach the point of no return. We must stimulate our minds to adapt to cleaner and healthier practices, which emanate from practical concerns. It is high time that we save our home.

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Orpheus Sen

Author: Orpheus Sen

Orpheus Sen is an editor, writer, and an ardent reader. Having completed three formal degrees in social sciences, she is looking forward to make a positive change in the larger society.
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