With the State government set to unveil a comprehensive solid waste management policy, The Hindu invited a number of experts to weigh in with their views, factoring in the city’s experiences

Dharmesh Shah, India Coordinator, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives

‘Move from collection-disposal to comprehensive resource management’

It is high time the State government came up with a strong policy to tackle the challenges posed by improper waste management. I hope that the proposed policy will be bold enough to move away from the conventional collection-disposal model to a comprehensive resource management approach. A disposal-based approach will push us towards expensive technologies like landfills and incinerators which are the most wasteful management options known. Countries that have adopted such technologies have learnt the hard way that they discourage recycling, encourage more waste disposal and in the end severely pollute the environment.

With a resource management approach, we set progressive targets which are different from the conventional ones. So, for instance, instead of projecting an inevitable increase in waste generation rates along with GDP as is usually done, we project a decrease in waste which can be achieved by making appropriate interventions. Such an experiment has been successfully conducted by Taiwan where waste generation dropped from 8.7 to 7.95 million tons between 2000 and 2010 despite a 47 per cent increase in GDP during the same period. 

Tamil Nadu, like other states in the country, is on the brink of a waste management crisis. I hope this will that push our imagination and perhaps help chart a way for the rest of India.

Avni Rastogi, Researcher, Transparent Chennai

‘Acknowledge contribution of informal waste worker’

The new policy on municipal solid waste management (SWM) must acknowledge the contribution of informal waste workers, i.e. rag pickers, in promoting recycling and reducing the carbon footprint of our cities. It should, at the least, provide for the issuance of identity cards to them.

The policy must be based on an understanding of the quantity of waste being generated in our cities, the organic and recyclable components of this waste, the bulk and non-bulk generators of waste, among others, for it to be able to effectively address the issue. This understanding can only come from real and reliable data.

The policy should also provide for a citizen-centric model for implementation and monitoring of the SWM system to ensure buy-in and cooperation from residents thereby ensuring sustainability of the system.

The policy must take seriously the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility or EPR. A lot of the non-recyclable waste generated consists of ‘laminates’ (paper or aluminium packing with a layer of plastic such as chips packets) and tetrapaks. The producers of such packaging must be made responsible for their disposal in a way that is safe for the environment.

T.K. Ramkumar, Advocate, Exnora

‘Decentralise waste processing’

Zero Waste Management is not just about managing waste that is generated, but mainly about minimising waste. Essential features that should form part of a city-wide SWM policy include waste minimisation and elimination at the production and packaging stage through enforcement of EPR, home composting organic waste, encouraging citizens to buy products with long shelf lives and minimal packaging and avoiding centralised waste processing facilities due to their adverse environmental impact.

While consumers must not mix hazardous chemical waste and biomedical waste with municipal waste, the municipal body on its part must notify collection methodologies, including source segregation under the new policy. Waste processing can be decentralised at the division or ward level and Metrowater pumping stations in each division/ward which have sufficient space and bacterial sludge for composting about 10 tonnes of waste generated in each ward can be put to use. Recyclable waste must be disposed of at the ward level to recyclers and only residual and soiled waste must be transported to landfills. Methodologies must be devised for e-waste collection and disposal to recyclers. In-situ composting of organic waste by bulk generators must also be mandated. 

Rajesh Rangarajan – independent researcher and consultant on environmental policy and waste management

‘Waste generated post consumer use must be made producer’s responsibility’

Clearly defining the terminologies, building consensus on the level of decentralisation, and forging a recycling model that is EPR-centric are the three pillars of a comprehensive and progressive municipal solid waste management policy.

In general, the Municipal Solid Waste (Management & Handling) Rules, 2000, is a misunderstood document. The fundamental problem is the lack of clarity in terminologies and the ambiguity in definitions. For example, recycling, is alternatively used for downcycling, product recovery or conversion. Evolving a clear set of definitions is necessary.

Second, the policy must clearly articulate how management of various kinds of waste can be decentralised and must provide a range of appropriate scenarios to enable a holistic debate and build consensus. For example, if waste from households can be managed locally, then complex materials like household hazardous waste and construction debris can be managed in a centralised manner. Finally, waste generated post consumer use must be made the producer’s responsibility, and be put back into the manufacturing process – EPR. There are several enabling instruments to achieve this, and a combination of these can be used depending on the waste stream. This is also profitable for the producer in the long run as it reduces the cost of procuring raw materials and helps ease the pressure on environmental resources.

For a desirable policy to evolve an intensive and inclusive process is critical. While there is no denying that it is time-consuming, the benefits for environment, health and the economy are undeniably exponential.

K. Vishnu Mohan Rao, Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG)

‘Seek active support of residents, commercial units, other stakeholders’

The proposed policy, hopefully, will recognise waste generated by residents as ‘property’ that can be used sustainably to create new markets for vermi-composting and waste sorting; invigorate existing markets and formalise informal sectors such as the recycling industry.

Solid waste management should not be seen in isolation, and it should be recognised that waste has multi-dimensional implications in terms of urban planning, sanitation, health and environmental impact. The draft Solid Waste Management Rules 2013, issued by the ministry of environment and forests makes it mandatory to get environmental clearance to create new landfill while SWM plans/policy should adhere to the Urban National Sanitation Policy and Goals 2008.

The policy should not view SWM management as a centralised task undertaken by a contractor or by the Corporation and should instead actively seek the support of residents, industrial, commercial and other stakeholders, both at the ward and city levels. It is hoped that the envisaged SWM policy, therefore, will focus more on operationalisation of a sustainable solid waste institutional structure. At the waste generation level, the policy should tackle the core issue of waste segregation and collection. Appropriate guidelines should be given at the household level, using incentives and penalties to enable households to segregate waste for easy disposal. This can only occur through decentralised waste management. For example, the residents’ welfare association/industrial unit/commercial unit or municipality can enter into agreement with a self-help group to collect both reusable and recyclable waste while the association can ensure timely collection of non-reusable waste by the private operator/municipality.

The use of technology such as GPS and tracking devices to ensure timely collection of waste and disposal of it must also be considered.  The policy should also have research and development aspects which will study, for instance, the amount of waste generated, its composition and provide solutions such as technologies to prevent landfill fires. The policy must also take into consideration the uses of disposed waste for waste-to-energy projects.

M. Naga Nikhitha, Project coordinator, Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG), Chennai

‘Consumer rights and grievance redressal must be provided for’

The Municipal Solid Waste Rules 2000 (now draft 2013) is an important document with significant provisions. The upcoming policy should have features that compliment and strengthen the MSW rules.  There has to be an implementing agency for supervision of activities. There must be a decentralised system, where each zone heads its solid waste management programme to ensure better administration and association with rag pickers, ward councillors and residents. Also, a chapter on consumer rights and grievances has to be provided, and redressal must be time-bound. A third party, which will be a neutral body, should be constituted for effective monitoring of the system. The body can have representatives from government departments, a consumer organisation working in the SWM space and experts with legal background.

T. Krishnamoorthy, Senior Project Director, Solid Waste Management Projects, Hand in Hand

‘Allocate funds for awareness on waste management’

We already have detailed rules in the form of the Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules. What we need is support from all the stakeholders and a clear roadmap for implementation and enforcement. The policy must talk about involving citizens, and get them to participate in source segregation. A minimum of 5 per cent of the budget must be allocated for awareness on SWM to stakeholders. It must also look at decentralised waste management as far as possible. For instance there can be 50-60 centres for the 200 wards of the Chennai Corporation. Waste to energy – biomethanation (biogas) plants can be set up for food waste and a scientific landfill should be developed for non-compostable and non-recyclable waste.

K. Sriraman, Assistant Project Director, Hand in hand

‘Make commercial establishments manage their own waste’

The policy has to focus on commercial establishments and institutions, and ask them to manage their waste efficiently. For instance, in Bangalore, if there are over 50 houses in an apartment, they have to manage their own waste. Similarly, the policy can insist upon hotels and eateries, which are bulk generators of waste to either manage their waste or engage persons for the task.  

Sultan Ismail, Ecologist

‘Design landfills scientifically’

We should start with fixing responsibility on every citizen and make every stakeholder, be it residents or private player, responsible and accountable.

The policy must focus on sludge management, and there are many techniques for this. As the government did with rainwater harvesting, any apartment, institution or building above a particular plinth area, for instance, should handle at least its own garden waste. Even if mismanaged, garden waste will not smell bad. Penalties must be imposed for violations and cameras can be fixed at highways and intersections for monitoring. There is not a single landfill in the city. We are just filling up land. A suitable policy must be looked at to identify landfills, and design them scientifically. Any further delay will lead to contamination of air and water and cause damage to human, plant and animal health.

10) Environmentalist, Ramky Enviro Engineers

‘Make segregation, composting of wet waste mandatory’

On an average residents in Chennai produce 800 grams of waste per head, and the ownership of the waste must lie with the producer. Currently, the amount of garbage generated and the number of persons who handle collection and disposal is disproportionate. A family of four can produce enough compost to maintain 20 pots with their monthly waste. Composting at the ward level requires both time and land. We must insist that households, institutions and hotels segregate and compost their wet waste, so that only non-recyclable waste goes for collection. Similarly, debris can be reused at the construction site. Instead, each house can compost its waste.

A separate board must be set up to monitor SWM. Private contractors should not be paid in terms of weight, and must be paid proportionate to administrative costs.

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