The recently enacted MSW Rules, 2016 are found to embrace the same old paradigm of segregation and treatment so as to avoid landfilling, as was the case with their precursor MSW (Handling and Management) Rules, 2000. As a matter of fact the new Rules incorporate more complexities in terms of segregation in multiple streams; decentralised treatment down to each habitation and institution; virtually prohibiting disposal of organics in landfills but mandate installation of LFG collection and utilisation system, and thereby make implementation more difficult. In their zest to promote decentralised treatment and resource recovery, the Rules also appear to be fully waste centric and do not take into account norms for town planning, land-use zoning, urban aesthetics, sensitivities and sensibilities of urban residents and potential adverse impacts on account of inevitable malfunction of such facilities. Over the last two decades and more while a large number of treatment plants have become dysfunctional, the Rules have still shown strong preference for technology prescription, however no outcomes are defined in terms of environment and public health; likewise while compost is positioned as one of the most desired outputs, the associated adverse impacts during its production on adjoining communities and on food chain upon its application on edible crops are not being recognised. Interestingly the Rules attempt to embrace the 'zero waste' paradigm which is an alien concept coming from highly evolved European society and which is impractical in the Indian setting. Apparently no lessons have been drawn from the experience of last 16 years and therefore the revised Rules are characterised by a fairly wide range of inconsistencies. Evidently there is a need for embracing objectivity and incorporating several amendments on an urgent basis, if environment and public health are to be protected on priority. Otherwise, one can conveniently call the new Rules as Municipal Solid Waste (Promotion of Treatment Plants and Prevention of Sanitary Landfill) Rules, 2016.
1. After sixteen long years of living with some kind of regulatory system, we now have the revised regulation system called Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016. It is widely known that the precursor system entitled ‘Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handing) Rules, 2000’ could not be implemented even by a single urban local body (ULBs) across the country. The MSW Rules, 2000 attempted to introduce, among others, the paradigm of source segregation and diversion of organics from landfills by way of elaborate treatment of waste; they virtually prohibited provision of sanitary landfill and mandated construction of inherently unviable treatment plants from the points of view of resource recovery and minimizing use of land for waste disposal. However, out of around 8000 odd ULBs (urban local bodies) across the country, one can count on fingers those which have been successful in complying with only few aspects of the Rules but not in entirety. It is not surprising, because the MSW Rules, 2000 envisioned a Utopian setting, and as a result there was significant disconnect with the ground realities in terms of urban citizens’ concern and commitment towards environment on one hand; and lack of expertise, capacity and resources on the part of ULBs on the other hand.
2. Notwithstanding the dismal experience of last 16 years, the revised MSW Management Rules, 2016 are embracing even higher degree of complexities which will make them more difficult to implement. Although the revised Rules have incorporated number of positive aspects e.g., broad applicability/ coverage over almost all types of urban settlements, delineation of diverse stakeholders at central and state levels and defining their responsibilities, recommendation for formation of state level advisory body, mandating submission of annual reports by ULBs and treatment plant operators, proposing home composting as an option for waste management, etc.; this paper brings out a set of complexities which make the task of effectively managing municipal solid waste and safeguarding public health more challenging; and therefore argues for modification of the Rules by adopting objectivity and incorporating experience of last couple of decades.
THE CHALLENGE OF SEGREGATION AT SOURCE
3. Under Section 4, clause 1(a) of the revised Rules, 2016 it has been made mandatory for every household to segregate waste in multiple streams – viz., biodegradable, non-biodegradable, hazardous and now even sanitary waste. However, given the significant socio-economic diversity in the Indian society, the significant disparity of education, and the deficit in awareness, concern and commitment towards environment in particular and public health in general, segregation of domestic waste uniformly all across a urban settlement into biodegradable and non-biodegradable streams is an extremely challenging proposition. In most middle and upper income households it is the domestic servants who handle waste and they are least concerned because of, among others, lack of education. Typically one could find over 300 different types of materials in domestic solid waste and it is simply not possible to educate domestic workers all across a town, let alone in one household to consistently segregate into multiple streams. Over the last sixteen years - post MSW Rules, 2000, we do not have even a single community in any of the urban centres across the country which can claim to have achieved and sustained this practice over an extended period of time.
4. It is to be recognised that Indian society is already doing a significant level of segregation and recovery in the form of newspapers, glass and plastic bottles, metal items, etc. Typically every housewife in middle and lower income households takes out all such items which have some residual economic value and she is well supported by a vast network of Kabariwallas (itinerant waste collectors) across the country. Likewise, unlike US or Europe, Indian households do not discard their white goods, electronic items, car tyres, etc. along with their domestic waste. Instead such waste items are again sold to Kabariwallas who in turn dismantle and extract each and every reusable or recyclable component.
5. In the West from where the concept has come, segregation is primarily for paper and bottles, (besides of course domestic hazardous waste), etc. Further, over there the concept of segregation of bio- and non-biodegradable waste as it is practiced, it is primarily for bulk waste/generators, e.g., grass cuttings from lawn mowing operations, dry leaves in fall season, department stores, hotels and restaurants, etc. and not for post-consumer food waste i.e., meat (biodegradable) and bones (non-biodegradables) from individual households as is being attempted by the revised MSW Rules, 2016.
6. Therefore over and above the existing segregation practice of the Indian society, laying further emphasis on source segregation of biodegradable and non-biodegradable fractions amounts to significant costs for municipal authorities in terms of publicity for awareness creation and behaviour change; provision of separate containers and vehicles for collection and transport; multiple vehicle trips, etc. From logistics point of view this does not turn out to be a practicable and feasible proposition and therefore over the last 16 years no community, ULB or service provider has been able to achieve such a paradigm in the country.
7. As if the challenge of segregation of biodegradables from non-biodegradables was not enough, under Section 4, clause 1(b) the revised MSW Rules, 2016 have ambitiously introduced further complexity by mandating segregation of ‘sanitary waste’ i.e., sanitary napkins, tampons, nappies, baby and adult diapers, etc. It appears that the Rules consider compost (and accordingly, the so called biodegradable fraction of waste outof which compost is made) to be rather sacred and therefore mandate sanitary waste to be kept separate. It will be far too challenging to keep sanitary waste separated all through its journey from household to the landfill site. Interestingly the Rules permit mixing of sanitary waste with ‘dry waste’, which is again intriguing as it will expose the eventual dealers/ handlers/ recyclers of dry waste to pathogens.
8. Evidently the whole paradigm of waste segregation is simply impractical and Utopian for a highly disorganized society like ours. Where a large number of urban residents are practicing open defecation; where a professor of Delhi University carelessly disposes of radioactive waste with general solid waste; where a large number of small hospitals and nursing homes dispose of hazardous hospital waste indiscriminately; where a large number of municipalities burn horticulture waste (dry leaves and branches which the Mother Nature gives in by and large segregated form) indiscriminately and with impunity; where leaking and poor quality ammunition is not removed and stored separately (the case of Pulgaon disaster of June 2016 - they intended to either 'recycle' or 'reuse it' !); where people have no regard for traffic rules and civic sense, expecting families from low and middle income sections of the society to segregate their waste on a day in and day out basis is simply Utopian (let alone the high income group where the priorities are different, any way). This is also a highly impractical proposition as it does not consider challenges of implementation and monitoring at households level on the part of a typical ULB.
9. In this respect it is to be recognised that the first inviolable rule in effective solid waste management is collection efficiency. Before residents are asked to go for source segregation of solid waste, ULBs must show effectively that they have reliable and efficient collection programmes, else they stand to lose credibility. Further, it is virtually impossible to have an efficient collection programme until ULBs have a well-organised and designated site for delivery of the collected waste. Worldwide, every successful solid waste management system has a fixed delivery site – a landfill and a treatment site. On the contrary, on one hand the MSW Rules, 2016 are not allowing construction of landfill sites but on the other hand they are mandating waste segregation.
Segregation of waste generated during large events
10. Under Section 4, Clause 4 the Rules mandate organizers of large events (> 100 invitees) to take care of segregation of the generated waste. In the case of a marriage party, it appears that the Rules expect father of an India bride to be busy in segregation instead of ensuring her smooth Bidai ! Or expect guests to be mindful of what goes where!! This is an impractical proposition as it expects the society to become waste centric but does not consider challenges of implementation and monitoring on the part of ULBs.
Storage of segregated horticulture waste
11. Under Section 4, Clause 1(d), the Rules mandate storage of horticulture waste at source. However, in dry form this kind of waste is prone to catch fire and therefore poses risk to households and community/ estate, unless it is stored in a closed container and/or quickly processed. Therefore such a provision is not conducive for safety and well-being of residents of a household with garden and the community. In absence of proper in-situ storage and treatment, households will resort to putting the waste on fire which will cause localised air pollution.
SCOPE OF BURNING THE WASTE INSIDE ONE’S PREMISES
12. Under Section 4, Clause 2 while disposal, burning or burying outside premises is prohibited; but it appears that this leaves scope for burying and burning within one’s premises. Apparently this is exactly what is happening in Kerala where the State Government has amended Municipal Act whereby all households/ properties/ establishments are required to retain waste within their premises and ensure appropriate treatment. As a result, burning of waste in backyards of homesteads is now a common sight in several towns of Kerala.
THE CHALLENGES OF DECENTRALISED TREATMENT
13. Under Section 4, Clause 6, 7 and 8, the Rules mandate all residential colonies, gated communities, market associations, institutions, hotels and restaurants to arrange for treatment of biodegradable waste within their premises. This is an extremely short-sighted proposition which is assuming the society/ respective players to become waste centric at the cost of performing their main Dharma (it is not their job or responsibility and they do not have time, energy, resources and expertise to do so). This proposition is fraught with several challenges:
a. This amounts to dereliction of duty on the part of ULBs as they are the ones who are responsible for lifting/collection, transport, treatment and safe disposal of waste and thereby safeguard environment and public health.
b. This amounts to violation of town planning and land-use policies and norms as incompatible activity of waste treatment is being recommended in residential, commercial and institutional areas. As if this is not enough, sewage management agencies on the same lines are recommending decentralised sewage treatment while unreliable power supply has anyway compelled people to install decentralized private generators. This policy and fascination of decentralisation of essential municipal infrastructure carries the risk of undermining aesthetics, quality of life, property valuations and public health. This is so because at the gross level solid waste treatment plants (and likewise sewage treatment plants) have the inherent characteristics of causing odour and fly nuisance while spilling of waste brought by all the vehicles along the approach roads will be a bonus. At micro level such plants are known to release bioaerosol (short for biological aerosol - a suspension of airborne particles that contain living organisms. These are very light and small – ranging from less than one micrometre to one hundred micrometres which are released from, among others, rotting waste piles and sewage ponds/ tanks under the effect of wind. On account of their fine size, bioaerosols can easily enter and infect lungs) into the environment which carry the risk of severely affecting health of residents (lung and skin infection, asthma, etc.) in surrounding areas. Unfortunately as of now there are no guidelines or air quality norms in India on bioaerolos as apparently this has not be recognised to be an issue.
c. Experience of last 16 years shows that decentralized treatment initiatives come to a naught within a short span of time because of, among others (a) paucity of resources, expertise, interest and commitment on the part of residents in colonies or gated communities; and (b) odour nuisance as a result of inevitable malfunction and consequent demolition/ vandalism by affected parties.
THERE IS NO ENERGY, IT IS MAINLY INCINERATION
14. Under Section 6, Clause 1(b) the Rules mandate formulation of a policy on, among others, ‘waste-to-energy’ (WtE). And under Section 10, the Rules mandate Ministry of New and Renewable Energy to facilitate infrastructure creation and provision of subsidy for setting up of WtE plants. However, the Rules do not seem to be drawing lessons from the experience of last 20 years where a number of treatment plants (cutting across all technologies viz., WtE, RDF, biogas and composting) have closed down despite having availed considerable subsidies.
15. When it comes to WtE, it is not really the energy which is the main output of an incineration plant. This is especially so in a warm climate country like ours where the overall energy utilisation efficiency for any feedstock in a WtE plant is as low as 22-25%; while in a cold climatic setting due to the benefit of the feasibility of cogeneration (combined heat and power system), typically the energy utilisation efficiency is in excess of 65%. Therefore, in a warm climate country the WtE paradigm is only notional as it essentially corresponds to simple incineration rather than gainful energy generation on commercially viable terms. As a result, fundamentally such plants need to be viewed as incinerators where the main benefits are intangibles – i.e., waste volume reduction to the extent of 90%, saving of area required for eventual safe disposal, and safeguarding of public health.
16. Secondly, it has to be recognised that there is no energy in the Indian MSW – it has lots of moisture, wet organics, sand, dust, stones, construction debris, etc. and the calorific value is seldom more than 1100 kCal/kg (way below the desirable limit of 1600 kCal/kg for self-sustaining combustion).
17. As long as the Rules and the policy perceive WtE plants to be ‘standalone power plants’ and do not place premium on the intangibles (by way of user charges/ tipping fee/ gate fee), they will continue to close down due to financial unviability.
PROVISION OF FINANCES TO MEET UNREALISTIC TIMELINES
18. Under Section 6, Clause 1(f), the Rules mandate provision of project finances to ULBs to meet strict timelines (1-3 years for around 8000 ULBs) for setting up, among others, treatment plants. It is noteworthy that as in the case of MSW Rules 2000, here also the time lines, are unrealistic and unfeasible. Mandating compliance with such unrealistic timelines and accordingly providing finances will again lead to wasteful expenditure as has been the case in the past and not deriving the desired outcomes in terms of improved environment and public health. It has to be recognised that there is not that much of capacity (i.e., consultants, contractors and equipment suppliers) in the country to develop and implement projects.
NO AGENCY FOR MONITOIRNG QUALITY OF COMPOST AND ITS IMPACTS
19. Under Section 7 and 8, while defining duties of the Department of Fertiliser (Min. of Chemicals and Fertilisers), and Ministry of Agriculture, the Rules do not specify which agencies across the country shall be responsible for ensuring quality of compost derived from municipal solid waste; its suitability or otherwise for application on food crops; monitoring impact on soil and food crops; monitoring impact on public health, etc. Compost derived from MSW invariably contains comparatively high levels of heavy metals, antibiotics, weed seeds, pathogens and contraries such as glass, etc. Heavy metals in particular pose the rick of cancer among consumers of crops grown using such compost and therefore in several advanced economies it is not recommended for food crop application. The Rules do not make it clear as to which agency will be responsible for monitoring how compost is being used, how much is getting sold and for what applications it is being sold, etc.
OVERLOOKING BURNING OF WASTE AT DUMP SITES
20. Under Section 14 while defining duties of the Central Pollution Control Board, apparently the Rules do not take into account serious issue of rampant and indiscriminate burning of waste on open dumps sites. In this respect the Rules do not define what action should be taken, by whom and against whom such actions should be taken? Evidently, the urban local bodies have a lot to answer as they do not set up properly designed sanitary landfills, but continue to dispose of waste in open dumps and allow it to burn on its own (due to release of landfill gas) or to be burnt by rag pickers (due to unrestricted access).
DECENTRLISED TREATMENT IMPAIRS QUALITY OF LIFE
21. Under Section 11, Clause 1(h), the Rules mandate State Urban Departments and their Town and Country Planning Organisations to make provisions in land use plans for decentralised treatment. However, as described earlier this provision carries severe risk of undermining public health and quality of life.
22. Under Section 11, Clause 1(l), in the zest for implementing decentralised treatment paradigm the Rules apparently do not recommend (or rather waive off) buffer zone for smaller treatment units/ plants (with capacity < 5 MT/day). Evidently every time there will be a malfunction (and there are too many and too frequent in the case of a typical waste treatment plant), they will make lives of nearby residents miserable on account of odour, flies, etc. The accumulated waste (approximately 5 MT/day x 60 days x 0.75 = 225 MT) and the resultant odour nuisance will invariably lead to adverse psychosomatic impacts (viz., nausea, headache, loss of appetite), general decline in health and skin infection, etc.
23. Under Section 15, Clause (m) and (q), the Rules again mandate local authorities of urban agglomerations and village panchayats of census towns to set up decentralised or on-site treatment facilities (either composting or biomethanation) in market areas. These recommendations are completely impractical as they call for creating infrastructure with inherent potential for odour nuisance in dense commercial and residential areas. Secondly, small ULBs have neither the resources nor the expertise to sustain operations of such facilities, let alone take environmental and social safeguards. It is therefore not surprising that several such small plants in the past have malfunctioned and closed down; and eventually they were either vandalised, demolished or abandoned.
24. Under Section 15, Clause (p), the Rules prescribe ‘processing’ of horticulture waste in public parks and gardens again on decentralised basis. This provision carries the risk of spoiling aesthetics of public parks and runs contrary to the concept of offering amenities to the general public for recreation. It appears that the people who have framed these rules are heavily focused on the objective of getting rid of waste without any regard to public sensibilities, sensitivities, aesthetics, etc.
25. Lastly, decentralised paradigm does not allow economy of scale; instead, it requires multiple teams of skilled operators and maintenance staff which is a costly proposition.
PROHIBITION ON LAND FILLING OF MIXED WASTE
26. Under Section 15 Clause (w) and Schedule-II Section A, Clause (d), only residual waste/ process rejects is allowed to be disposed of into landfills. Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules, 2000 had also mandated that mixed MSW shall not be disposed of in sanitary landfills, and it should perforce be treated. Ideally the intent is to reduce volume of waste and thereby reduce the land area that would be required for sanitary landfilling (but unfortunately, the moment a ‘processing’ plant is installed, it is perceived to be standalone profit centre like an industry). In this context, provision of a ‘treatment’ plant is understood to be compulsory as interpreted by state and central regulatory authorities – notwithstanding the technical-commercial unviability or affordability on the part of ULBs.
27. In this respect it is noteworthy that in 2005-06 the Surat Municipal Corporation was not allowed to commission its well designed and constructed sanitary landfill site for several years because it did not have a ‘treatment plant’ in place; As a result the landfill was kept empty while the mixed municipal waste was disposed of openly on an adjoining plot of land - in the process the landfill experienced degradation due to climatic factors; the public did not have the benefit of improved environment and health; and the investment of over Rs. 4 Crore did not yield desired results. There are several such cases across the country.
28. Further, this clause imposes unrealistic conditions on service providers/ plant operators/ municipal authorities to reduce treatment plant rejects and residuals. Drawing from this, typically municipal authorities stipulate a limit of as low as 20% residuals post treatment in their contract documents, which entail significant capital investments for multiple stages of treatment. However, from technical and scientific point of views it is extremely challenging to reduce rejects below a certain level (in reality it comes down to only around 50%) without defying the laws of nature and the law of diminishing returns. On this aspect it is also noteworthy that some technology providers create confusion by promising zero rejects and residuals and unjustly attempt to influence bidding process in their favour (e.g., take the case of Gurgaon-Faridabad waste treatment plant under JNNURM).
29. Imposition of significant restrictions on the nature of the material that can be disposed of into landfills is counterproductive as that fraction which is not allowed to be disposed of either piles up in open dumps sites (most often right in front of the engineered SLF), or disposed of in rivers/sea or remains in unorganised heaps all across the city which undermine environment, public health and safety. While the concern and intent of ‘reducing the burden on landfill’ are noble, but they should not be at the cost of the environment and public health.
30. In this context it is pertinent to present proven hierarchy of technical options practiced worldwide, as shown in Exhibit 1, wherein the option of landfill represents bedrock of a robust, integrated and effective solid waste management system. As against this proven hierarchy, as shown in Exhibit 2, the MSW Rules, 2016 embrace an inverted hierarchy wherein landfill is given the least priority while bulk of the problem is presumed to be addressed through the intractable 3R or 4R measures, viz., reduce, reuse, recycle and recover. However, with recent implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations, the economy in general will witness more consumption rather than reduction. Moreover, looking at the changing lifestyles, and rising aspirations to achieve increasingly higher standard of living (American Dream), the 3R paradigm is only a rhetoric; and municipalities and waste managers cannot take recourse to that.
31. Further, the Rules appear to prescribe a series of options for reuse of inerts (e.g., making bricks and pavement blocks, etc.) which shows that prima facie the intent and priority of the Rules is not safeguarding public health at least cost but pursuing the paradigm of resource recovery at any cost. However, as mentioned earlier, every incremental processing of the waste material comes at a significant cost which does not necessarily translate into commensurate value addition and price realisation. Evidently as shown in Exhibit 3, most of the so called processing facilities face severe financial challenges and irrespective of technology or geographical location close down in short- to medium-term. For a detailed analysis of multitude of risk factors associated with MSW treatment plants and reasons for closing down of such large number of plants across the country please refer to my paper titled ‘Risk factors associated with treatment of mixed municipal solid waste treatment in the Indian context’, Waste Management and Research (Official Journal of the International Solid Waste Management Association), Volume 27, Issue 10 December 2009, (doi : 10.1177/0734242X09102637; http://wmr.sagepub.com/content/27/10/996.abstract).
EXHIBIT 1: HIERARCHY OF OPTIONS FOR SUSTAINABLE AND EFFECTIVE WASTE MANAGEMENT
EXHIBIT 2: INVERTED AND IMPRACTICAL HIERARCHY OF OPTIONS EMBRACED BY THE MSW RULES, 2016
EXHIBIT 3: CLOSED TREATMENT PLANTS ACROSS THE COUNTRY
Location of closed plants
- Trivendrum, Vijaywada, Bangalore (2)
- Kolkata, Asansol, Durgapur, Jagganathpuri
- Mumbai (3), Thane, Ahmadabad
- Delhi (2), Gwalior, Bhopal, Faridabad-Gurgaon
- Shimla, Shillong
- All Air Field Stn. (6)
- Kanpur, Barielly
- Mumbai (400 MT/d)
- Suryapet, Ramagundam
- Chalisgaon, Phaltan
- Chennai, Vijaywada
- Timarpur @ Delhi
Refuse Derived Fuel
- Baroda, Mumbai, Jaipur
- Bangalore, Hyderabad, Guntur-Vijaywada
- Nagpur (Hazardous industrial waste)
32. By imposing such restrictions, on one hand the Rules apparently do not recognise sanitary landfill as the most robust, flexible, forgiving and least cost option of waste management; prevent adoption of the option of ‘bioreactor’ landfill (which allows combined treatment and disposal of organic waste without investment in a plant, but maximise capture of landfill gas – methane, for possible conversion into energy - ftp://ftp.solutionexchange-un.net.in/public/wes/cr/res-15120803.pdf), and on the other hand make it virtually compulsory to set up capital intensive treatment plants which are prone to high wear and tear, corrosion, break down and represent depreciating assets. It is therefore to be recognised that this is one of the most contentious and unfeasible clauses of the MSW Rules which must be objectively reappraised and removed.
OVERWHELMING CHALLENGES IN TREATMENT OF MSW
33. Under Section 15, Clause (m) and Clause (v), it is noteworthy that the Rules are prescriptive in terms of technology, instead of focusing on public health outcomes. For instance, under the referred clauses, the Rules prescribe construction of, among others, compost, biogas or vermicompost plants with the underlying intent ‘for optimum utilisation of various components of solid waste’. Secondly, under the same clauses the Rules recommend decentralised treatment to ‘reduce transportation costs’.
34. However, we would like to emphasise here that the main objective of a MSW treatment plant is basically to reduce the volume of waste (which is putrefying, pathogenic, offensive and at times contains hazardous material) as well as to render it as innocuous as possible for eventual safe disposal but not to make use of it for production of any value added products and generate profit therefrom; or to reduce transportation cost. Setting up decentralised treatment plants with the objective of reducing transport costs is also running contrary to safeguarding urban aesthetics and public health.
35. Some of the common challenges faced by all solid waste treatment plants comprise (a) severe wear and tear and corrosion of equipment and as result, very high breakdown and need for replacement, (b) lack of any guarantee on quality and quantity of feedstock and as result severe shocks on sensitive biological processes, (c) very adverse environmental and social impacts, and as a result the affected communities virtually get ostracised and take recourse to litigation. On top of these, there are is very wide range of technology specific challenges which are described in the paragraphs that follow.
The challenges of earthworms
36. As regards vermicomposting as an option for MSW treatment, we would like to submit that this is not an option for addressing city level challenge where waste quantities are very large. Earthworms are very sensitive to climatic factors (temperature variation), predators, feedstock quality/toxins, moisture content, etc. and are typically characterised by very high die-off rate. Further, it has been found that indigenous species are not effective and instead one needs to procure exotic species (from Germany and Italy) at fairly high prices. Therefore, suggesting this as an option for scaled up facilities is not pragmatic.
The challenges of composting
37. Compost made out of MSW invariably contains heavy metals, toxins, antibiotics, weed seeds, pathogens, glass, sharps, etc. therefore it is not suitable for food crop application. Secondly, compost has very low nutrient value and very low shelf life therefore farmers are not very motivated to use it. Thirdly, while compost production is 365 days, its demand is only three times a year coinciding with sowing seasons; and as a result the plant operator has very poor cash flow.
The challenges of biomethanation
38. The bacteria in the biogas reactor are highly sensitive to (a) fluctuation in temperature (they cannot tolerate more that ± 2⁰C and therefore addition of large quantity of cold water in winter severely affects their performance); (b) fluctuations in feedstock quality, consistency and feeding rate; and (c) toxicity due to heavy metals, etc. As a result performance of the technology is very unreliable, i.e., over the seasons there is high fluctuation in gas production. Next, the gas is highly corrosive which adversely affects plant and equipment and reduces their effective lifespan. The gas engines required for conversion of biogas into energy have to be imported - they turn out to be very expensive, and their spare parts are either not easily available or they are too expensive to procure. Lastly, in absence of the possibility of cogeneration (combined heat and power) the net energy utilisation efficiency is as low as 22% which makes the whole proposition commercially unviable.
The challenges of refuse derived fuel/ incineration
39. Typically Indian MSW contains fairly high moisture and non-combustible (viz., sand, stones, dust, silt of road side drains, construction debris, etc.) and as a result its calorific value is low. It does not burn on its own, instead it requires auxiliary fuel which entails additional cost for the operator. Secondly, the boiler of a WtE plant experiences severe damage to its tubes due to the higher presence of inerts. Thirdly, an RDF/incineration/WtE plant requires skilled manpower to operate the plant. Fourthly, it requires robust emission control system. Lastly, as mentioned earlier, in this case also the net energy utilisation efficiency is as low as 22%.
40. As a result of the above described technological challenges, any entrepreneur operating a MSW treatment plant based on any technology without any financial incentives finds it next to impossible to sustain operations beyond 3-4 years. Therefore it is necessary that the whole issue of waste treatment be looked objectively and after taking into consideration the experience of a large number of failed plants across the country over the last one and a half decade. It appears that the revised Rules have not drawn lessons from the experiments of last 16 years where the results have been most unfavourable.
41. In view of the above, instead of going down to the level of specifying treatment technologies, the Rules should ideally restrict themselves to specification of performance standards in terms of, among others, environment and public health.
UNREALISTIC TIMEFRAME FOR IMPLEMENTATION
42. Under Section 22, the recommended timeframe of 1, 2 and 3 years is ambitious and absolutely unrealistic. MSW Rules, 2000 had also adopted the same timeframe and we know that even after 16 years there is not a single ULB which can claim to comply with the said Rules in entirety. Evidently the people involved in drafting of the MSW Rules 2016 do not appear to be drawing lessons from the experience of the last 16 years. It needs to be recognised that there are around 8000 large, medium and small ULBs all across the country and there is not enough capacity in the country to implement envisioned works (planning, designing, getting environmental and social clearances, preparing contract documents, inviting bids and awarding contracts, financial closures, construction, etc.) within such a short time frame for such large number of cities and towns. Showing unnecessary haste carries the risk of wasteful expenditure and poor implementation.
WHAT IF THERE IS NO COMPLIANCE?
43. Over the last 16 years, while not a single ULB could achieve compliance with MSW Rules, 2000, we do not have a case of any one of them being taken to court for any punitive action. It is so because the Rules did not have any clauses to that effect. Likewise, it is found that in their new version the MSW Rules, 2016 also do not have any specific mention of punitive action that can be initiated against any ULB in case of either non-compliance with the strict and ambitious timeline; with collection and safe disposal of waste; or due to adverse socio-environmental and public health impacts.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS TEMPORARY STORAGE
44. Under Schedule-I, Section (A) Clause (xi) and Schedule-II Section A Clause (c), the Rules variously mandate provision of ‘temporary storage’ / ‘temporary processing site’/ ‘temporary landfill site’ at each landfill site. This is with the objectives of (a) storing the incoming waste for the duration over which treatment plant may not be operational, and (b) saving landfill volume. However, this provision runs contrary to the basic premise of a sanitary landfill which is provided to take care of, among others, such emergencies e.g., shut down or closure of treatment plants, arrival of excess or incompatible waste loads, inclement weather, etc. By insisting on ‘temporary storage’ (which will be nothing but open stocking and open burning) of a large quantity of putrefying waste (say @300 MT/day x 30 days of plant closure = 9000 MT) the Rules do not seem to take into account (a) the potential adverse impacts on the environment and public health and (b) the associated cost of multiple handling of waste. Actually when it comes to proper operations of sanitary landfills, there is nothing called ‘temporary storage’ of municipal waste.
THERE IS NO SEWER LINE NEXT TO LANDFILL
45. Under Schedule-I, Section D, Clause (iii), regarding management of leachate, interestingly the Rules suggest, among others, disposal of treated leachate into sewer lines. This recommendation assumes as if a landfill is located within a city and a sewer line is passing nearby.
46. Under the same clause the Rules recommend ‘recycling of treated leachate’; however international best practice is the other way round - to recycle untreated leachate with the objective of, among others, getting it treated during its passage through the landfill and also enhance landfill gas production for gainful use. This shows that the Rules are rather idealistic and do not align with established best practices.
THERE IS NO SCOPE FOR LANDFILL GAS HERE
47. Under Schedule-I, Section (F), Clause (i) and Clause (iii), amazingly and intriguingly the Rules recommend enhanced recovery of landfill gas (LFG) by way of installation of, among others, collection system and gas wells; and its utilisation for power generation. This is amazing because on one hand the Rules prohibit disposal of organic material in the landfill which is the singular factor which contributes in generation of landfill; and on the other hand the same set of Rules recommend installation of infrastructure for collection, treatment and utilisation (a turbine or a generator system) which is capital intensive. In absence of organics, there is no scope of ‘enhanced recovery’ of LFG and power generation on commercial terms and the operator will not be able to recover the investment. Evidently, and as in previous several instances, this provision of the Rules is purely theoretical.
HOW CAN THERE BE HUMAN SETTLEMENTS ON LANDFILLS
48. Under Schedule-I, Section (H), Clause 2, the Rules allow use of closed landfill sites for human settlement after 15 years of closure. Apparently the Rules do not take into account the risks of release of poisonous LFG over an extended period of time, subsidence due to degradation and compaction of waste; and the risks of indiscriminate drilling of bore wells by residents in search of groundwater and withdrawal of possibly contaminated water therefrom.
THERE CAN BE NO COMPOSTING SANS AIR POLLUTION CONTROL
49. Under Schedule-II, Section A, Clause f, the Rules recommend monitoring of air quality to determine odour nuisance, however they do not specify the appropriate composting technology of ‘aerated static pile‘ (ASP) which is followed worldwide to minimise odour nuisance. An ASP system ensures regular supply of air into rotting pile of waste and thereby does not allow formation of anaerobic conditions which essentially lead to odour nuisance. It will be pragmatic if the Rules made this recommendation which will save many compost plants from closure.
50. Based on a rigorous analysis it is evident that on the whole the revised MSW Rules, 2016 are not very different from the original MSW (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000. The revised Rules have embraced the same old paradigm and have not drawn lessons from the experience of last 16 years and more where it is known that none of the municipalities - large, medium or small alike across the country was able to comply with them.
51. It is also evident that the Rules are heavily inclined towards waste ‘processing’ - converting waste into wealth and energy, and least towards safe disposal of waste into sanitary landfills which represent a least cost and most robust and dependable option. Based on this analysis we are therefore constrained to feel that, it would be perhaps not inappropriate to call the revised rules as Municipal Solid Waste (Promotion of Treatment Plants and Prevention of Sanitary Landfill) Rules, 2016.
52. In view of the above, it is our considered view that unless the policy of MSW management in the country adopts an objective and practical approach, we will continue to witness the same level of poor solid waste management what we have been experiencing over the last several decades and environment and public health will continue to suffer. Therefore in the interest of the People of India it is urgent and necessary that the MSW Rules, 2016 be suitably modified.