The Crisis of Waste
India’s rapidly growing towns and cities are contributing to an unprecedented rise in waste. It is not only affecting the environment but also is leading to major health issues. This Environment Day each of us should pledge to be conscious to the problem of waste, contribute through recycling, segregation and educating others
-Anupama Harish
The world has slowly but surely woken up to the horrific consequences of plastic pollution. Every day we see pictures and read articles of animals and sea creatures dying due to plastic ingestion. We, humans, have generated a staggering one trillion tonnes of plastic waste from the time plastic was invented.
The irony of plastic is that though its a versatile material which has helped in so many aspects of human life, it leaves a devastating trail for being one of the most indestructible materials and Earth is literally groaning under the weight of plastic waste... plastic takes hundreds to thousands of years to decompose. Realistically, the first toothbrush used by man is still intact! So we can imagine what’s lying in our landfills and seas! There’s no place in the world now which isn’t grappling with plastic waste issues and this is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s paper waste which is relatively easy to manage, metal waste which mostly can be recycled, reject waste that broadly consists of medical waste, sanitary waste and e-waste which is proving to be a big headache as we seem to be generating tons of them every minute.
Eminent artists and officials of the Forest Ministry at the launch of the Theme song 
This year the theme of the World Environment Day is ‘Air Pollution’. Keeping with the tradition, the main function of the Environment Day will be held at Vigyan Bhavan on June 5. The event will include the launch of film competition on environment, release of several books and three thematic sessions on Air Pollution, Waste Management and Forests: The Green Lungs of Cities. As part of the communication strategy to engage with the community, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, in collaboration with Bhamla Foundation, Mumbai has produced a theme song on the subject. The song, #HawaAanede, with celebrities and influences is intended to carry out the message of Air Pollution. It is a call to action for all to come together to combat the environment challenges of our time, urging to explore green technologies and measures to improve the quality of air and make the country and our cities less polluted. The theme song has been written by Shri Swanand Kirkire and has been sung by Shri Shantanu Mukherjee, Kapil Sharma, Sunidhi Chauhan and Shankar Mahadevan. The film has been directed by Shri Romanchak Arora. The theme song was presented for publicity and circulation on May 29 in MoEFCC in the presence of Shri CK Mishra, Secretary, MoEFCC.
Waste Generation in India
In India, the waste crisis is in our face due to the sheer size and population of our country. Where is the space for garbage generated by 1.3 billion people? Though it’s immensely heartening to see development and connectivity on the rise, it’s scary to see what it brings along with it. Even though India generates relatively lesser plastic and e-waste compared to the western countries, we still need urgent measures to combat this massive problem of waste.
Segregation of waste is one thing which will help alleviate the problem though not eliminate it completely. We need to understand what segregation of waste means. Waste can be broadly segregated into wet, dry and reject.
Wet waste is all organic waste that decomposes naturally, dry waste is all waste that is dry which consists of Plastics, paper, metal, e-waste, glass, cloth and everything else that is dry, reject waste broadly contains biomedical waste, sanitary waste and other hazardous waste which cannot be disposed without incinerating or proper treatment. Only the most basic waste is being discussed here as each type of waste can be researched thoroughly as each kind comes with its own set of challenges. The wastes mentioned are just the ones we generate in everyday life! Industrial effluents and chemical cleaners are another horror story entirely!
Role of Common Man
How can we help our civic agencies manage the waste a little more efficiently? The answer is segregation! Many fully developed countries have mastered the art of segregation. They manage waste by segregating them according to the type of waste. They keep different bins for different waste. Non-compliance in this regard is heavily penalised. Wet and dry waste is never mixed. Further, more plastic, paper, bottles, cans, e-waste, sanitary waste and medical waste are all segregated and bagged according to local specifications. This type of segregation helps in routing waste to recycle centres or facilities that deal with the particular kind of waste. Logistically, it’s easy to manage waste when it is segregated at source. It’s exactly like segregating and storing groceries in separate containers. Does it make any sense to mix everything in one? NO! The same logic has to be applied while throwing waste. Different waste needs to be trashed differently.
Paper and plastic waste can be re-purposed, recycled, reused and some are even up cycled. Since the amount of waste generated is so high, it’s humanly impossible to manage if they aren’t segregated at source. Unsegregated/mixed waste criminally ends up in landfills, seas and oceans which pollute land, air and water causing havoc to all lives around.
Reject waste is usually incinerated in a way that toxins released during the process cause minimum damage as there’s no other option for eliminating this kind of waste. E-waste is further broken down into several kinds like metal, glass, plastic and other components before disposal.
Another advantage in segregating is that organic waste like kitchen waste, dry leaves, garden waste that can break down naturally can be composted and used as a natural fertiliser for growing safe and chemical free food. A lot of people have realised this and are composting their organic waste and having kitchen gardens which yield them organic food. The world is waking up to the dangers of chemical-laden food and steadily switching to organic.
Intervention from Government
Unfortunately, in India, segregation hasn’t caught up due to various reasons. Though many policies are made, implementation is very poor. A massive amount of mixed waste ends up in unscientific landfills causing severe distress on humans and other important resources. Landfills occupy a large amount of space. They render the surrounding area barren due to the high levels of pollution. Nothing can grow here, no one can breathe here and water bodies around are completely destroyed due to the toxic leachate of mixed waste.
MSW (municipal solid waste) in India has low calorific value and high moisture content. As most wastes sent to the WTE (waste to energy) plants are unsegregated, they also have high inert content. As per the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, MSW generation will reach 4.5 lakh TPD (tons per day) by 2031 and 11.9 lakh TPD by 2050. Feb 14, 2019. That’s one of the scariest statistics which needs to be dealt with now!
Waste to energy plants come with their own set of challenges which we also need to look into. Many environmentalists believe that WTE plants are not the best way to manage waste but most developed countries are managing waste through WTE plants. Segregation of waste at source can minimise problems to a large extent along with a conscious effort from everybody to adopt more sustainable lifestyle choices. The effects of the choices we have been making are there for all to see and it’s not pretty.
A lot of great work has been done in India under the Swach Bharath Abhiyan. Each and every citizen of our country needs to take this initiative seriously and do their bit. Only then we will be able to make headway towards a cleaner and a healthier world.
Segregation of waste is a great way to move forward in this direction. It would be great to see policymakers take this up on a war footing and set up working systems and implement them seriously. Not segregating waste should be treated as a crime. Yes, it is an uphill task which may sometimes feel like scaling the Mount Everest, but where there is a will, there is a way.
There’s no running away from the garbage crisis which is looming as the next biggest disaster. Sometimes it feels like we may already be too late. If stringent measures aren’t taken up, we will be the first intelligent and evolved species on earth which destroyed itself due to its own irresponsible complacence.