Dr Suneel Pandey and his team discussed opportunities in waste recycling sector and the challenges of implementing the waste processing technologies in the India@70 seminar on Concerns and Opportunities in Waste Recycling In India held at TERI. The focus was on waste to energy projects and the potential markets in developing countries.
Dr Pandey opened his presentation with the current waste generation trends in India. He said that the municipalities generate about 62 million tonnes (MT) of waste per annum. This includes the waste from construction and demolition, which is estimated between 500 and 700 million tonnes a year, hazardous (toxic) and non-hazardous industrial wastes (estimated at 7.90 million tonnes and 200 million tonnes per annum respectively, as per government estimates). However, Senior Fellow, Dr Shiv Kumar Dube pointed out that the fly ash alone constitutes about 200 million tonnes. So the quantity of non-hazardous industrial wastes can safely be estimated at 400 million tonnes, Dr Pandey said.
Further, the biomedical wastes generated were estimated at 1.5 lakh tonnes a year and electronic wastes estimated at 8 lakh tonnes a year. Dr Pandey then spoke about CPCB’s study of 59 Indian cities that described the characteristics of municipal solid waste (MSW).
Of the waste composition, inert waste, including construction and demolition waste, comprised of the maximum composition (between 40 and 55 per cent). The calorific value of the waste was anywhere between 520 and 3766 kcal/kg. While this might be a wide range, the average calorific value is about 800 kcal/kg. Dr Pandey said this was not high enough to meet the requirements of the energy to waste projects.
Speaking of the key features of MSW management, Dr Pandey elaborated on land requirement for managing dumping the growing waste quantities which, he said, would require around 1750 acres of land annually. Over the last few decades, the waste composition has significantly changed due to increase in incomes and changing consumer behaviour. The organic waste composition has gone down and packaging waste, electronic waste, plastic waste, domestic hazardous waste (SN, diapers) The change in waste composition was due to the decrease in organic waste (estimated currently at 40 to 50 per cent in the waste stream) and increasing quantities of packaging waste. He also spoke about the recyclable content of the MSW that is collected by rag pickers and sent for recycling, and India boasting of a high recycling rate at 60 per cent.
However, most of it is in the informal sector, he added. "High moisture content and low calorific value of organic fraction of Indian MSW makes it more amendable to biochemical conversion. The construction and demolition waste is right now disposed on land. However, it has a great potential to be recycled," he said.
Dr Pandey then touched upon the myriad issues of MSW ranging from the overall apathy of local bodies and public to deal with the issues related to management of MSW to the lack of waste segregation at source.
"The issues include inefficient collection, inadequate transportation facilities in more than 70 per cent of the cities, inadequate disposal owing to very few sanitary landfills, landfill gas (LFG) emissions and biomedical waste, slaughter house waste, industrial waste often reaching the MSW dumpsites posing potential hazard to sanitary workers and waste pickers," he said.
Dr Pandey then showed a diagram of the varied impacts of waste disposal at unsanitary dumpsite. It was to indicate the extent of contamination of water and soil due to leachate, air and surface water. While the dumpsite in Delhi and Mumbai were prone to catching fire owing to LFG emissions, Chennai was a key example of how ground water is contaminated due to leachate from dumpsite.
Speaking of how waste management has evolved over the years, Dr Pandey pointed out that up to 1980s, solid waste was confined to MSW and hazardous and non-hazardous industrial wastes, the liquid discharged was municipal sewage and industrial wastewater and the gaseous emissions were confined to air pollution from stacks.
In 1990s, the construction and demolition debris, plastic and hospital waste formed a key part of solid wastes; contamination of sewage from household industries was a major part of liquid waste and the gaseous wastes was emission from incinerators However, the present scenario shows the evolving lifestyle through the waste generated. Solid waste today comprises of e-waste, packaging and solar PV waste. The liquid waste is the discharge of residual pharmacy products (including those excreted by humans) and nutraceuticals. Gaseous waste today includes emissions from automobile exhaust and of dioxins and furans.
"Public and Environmental Health Protection was the driver for waste management few decades ago, and it still is for some developing countries. Owing to this, the end-of-pipe technology to manage waste after it has been generated became the most practiced course of action. Then came the 3Rs (Reduce Reuse and Recycle) of waste and now, waste management is revolutionizing as tools for attaining sustainability and circular economy," said Dr Pandey.
Speaking of waste recycling and the conflicts it entails, Dr Pandey said that the fewer landfills are a direct product of higher extent of recycling. Incentivising recycling in the economy, he further elaborated that recycling generates more jobs (at higher income levels) than other forms of waste management.
"While dumping 10,000 tons of waste in a landfill would create as many as six jobs, recycling the same amount of waste would create 36 jobs," he said. However, even recycling has a limit.
"Countries and cities are now paying attention to the source reduction and reuse. Countries are opting waste import (as a result, exporter countries have ‘an easy way out’ and invest less on Reduce and Reuse). Similarly, there seems a clash between materials recycling facility versus waste to energy, where ‘Waste to Energy’ facilities are losing out on high calorific waste like plastics, to recycling," he explained. Then there is the issue of post-recycling requisites - The Market for Recycled Products.
"After recycling, the ultimate requisite is to find or create the ‘market’ to absorb those recycled products. According to a report commissioned by Veolia, the world market for waste (from collection to recycling) is worth around 300 billion Euros or US $410 billion," Dr Pandey stated.
A case study that emerged was that of Mumbai’s Dharavi slum, also known as the Recycling Centre of India. Dharavi employs around a quarter of a million people with a turnover of a staggering £700 million (US $1 billion) each year. Over 80 per cent of Mumbai’s waste is given a new lease of life by recyclers and the wages in Dhavari as compared to other recyclers in India, are relatively better. The salaries range between Rs 3,000 and Rs 15,000 per month. Dr Pandey stressed on the need for regulatory convergence of waste.
The High Level Committee at Government of India (GoI) says that for pollution control purposes, environment needs to be treated as single, inter-related system. "Legislation is presently targeted towards the medium – air, water and land - in isolated manner yet sources of pollution are inter-related and often inter-changeable. Present pollution control strategies often transfer pollution from one medium to another like from air to water or solid phase, or from water to solid phase.
The Committee proposes integrating air, water and solid waste acts and rules in proposed Environment Law (Management) Acts and Rules." It was also suggested that TERI conducts training programmes and rate Municipalities based on the waste management. It was then suggested that with TERI into the sector of urban planning, gas extraction units should be mandated as a part of landfills in cities. The larger the landfill, the more economical it gets - for procuring land or for producing gas.