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March 28, 2019

Talking about trash

It's time for a better business case in waste management

Solid waste generated by Indian cities is set for a quantum leap in decades to come, given rapid growth in population and consumer spend. 


Urbanisation and economic growth have been adding more and more people to our cities by the year. The World Economic Forum has estimated that consumer spending will increase by more than 2.5 times in the coming decade, to $5.4 trillion from $1.4 trillion today. 


Efforts to establish sustainable waste management have increased manifold in the last two decades. 


The Supreme Court had drawn focus to the issue way back in 2000 when it directed the Ministry of Environment and Forest to frame the rules for managing municipal solid waste and ensure implementation. This was followed by the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission in 2005 and the Swachh Bharat Mission in 2014. 


However, even today, our cities are dumping more than 60% of waste without any treatment whatsoever. This pollutes the most precious resource -  land on which the waste is dumped without any treatment - with repercussions on the environment and general public health.


World over, waste-to-energy is seen as an option for processing solid waste and reducing the quantity of residual waste going to the landfill, so as to save the amount of land required for disposal of waste. 


In India, too, cities have attempted various waste-to-energy projects. However, success has been elusive. 


Addressing the challenge, therefore, requires coordinated efforts at all levels of government - central, state and local - with guided support for preparing long-term strategies, and short-term and implementable action plans, along with capacity building. 


This paper makes an effort to understand the on-ground issues and attempts to suggest steps towards addressing the challenge.