Monday, February 25, 2013

Romanticizing with municipal solid waste

Recognising the potential threat to the environment and public health, the HonorableSupreme Court of India intervened and effected enactment of  Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000 in the year 2000. At that point of time the Court directed 40 Class-I cities to clean up in 3 years. However in 2013, after 13 years of introducing the Rules and after having spent considerable resources in setting up solid waste treatment plants, we are no where close to the desired state. Officially we do not know how many Class-I cities are in a position to  claim compliance with the MSW Rules, 2000 and how many treatment plants are working effectively. The fact is that not a single municipality is in position to claim full compliance with the Rules and not a single treatment plant across the country is working satisfactorily. Another fact is that across the length and breadth of the country we do not have a single well designed and operating sanitary landfill site in place. Apparently a considerable investment has been made in potentially risky treatment plants but no significant efforts have been put in place to create landfill infrastructure.

It appears that we have been romanticising with the waste for far too long. Instead of recognising the threat to public health and that of the animals (please watch this gut wrenching video to find out what happens to our holy cows and how the society is indifferent and apathetic to the plight of the docile and sacred animal) we have been aiming to convert our garbage into gold - 'waste to wealth' or 'waste to energy' and not realising that it does not happen on its own. We have been using these beautiful phrases like 'Waste is not a waste, but a resource at the wrong place';  'Reduce, Reuse and Recycle'; 'Source segregation'; 'Resource Recovery', etc....But we have not been able to show that by use of these polemics we have even a single city in the country which can claim to have achieved full compliance with the Rules. It appears that we are Romanticising with the Waste for far too long and using these beautiful phrases as excuses for not taking the serious measures of creating most reliable infrastructure of sanitary landfills or mass burn plants.

We must remember that "Waste is something which has lost its purpose, use and value to the owner" (Mataki 2010) and once something has reached its end of life it deserves only two measures - either a dignified cremation or a dignified burial. In the context of solid waste management dignified cremation means mass burn with state of the art emission control system and dignified burial means sanitary landfilling. Municipalities have to take the responsibility of creating and effectively operating these infrastructures at their own costs without expecting private players to give a Mida's touch and convert their garbage into gold. Waste loads are rising rapidly in line with the living standards of the urban population and it is not possible to address the challenges with these nice sounding business as usual approaches.