Opinion » Lead

Updated: May 18, 2013 00:46 IST

Time to put garbage on the table

Ranjith Annepu
Comment (22)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
The Hindu

With no long-term planning and policy reforms, the country’s burgeoning waste management problem is set to become a health and environmental crisis

In 2012, for the first time in its history, India saw nationwide public protests from the northernmost Jammu and Kashmir to southernmost Tamil Nadu against improper waste management. A fight for the right to a clean environment and for environmental justice led people to large-scale agitations, which resulted in remedial responses by government authorities. However, the waste management problems lay unsolved and might lead to a crisis if the status quo persists without long-term planning and policy reforms.

Hunger strike

Since Thiruvananthapuram started transporting its waste to Vilappilsala village in July 2000, respiratory illnesses there have increased tenfold, from an average of 450 cases a month to 5,000. People who regularly swim in the village aquifer have begun contracting infections while swarms of flies have become pervasive. Currently, there is not a single household that has not suffered respiratory illnesses because of the waste processing plant and the adjoining dumpsite.

In August 2012, about 500 police personnel had to accompany trucks to the waste facilities against which the president of the village went on a hunger strike and the villagers blocked the vehicles by lying on the road. As the facilities could not be forced open, following the Vilappilsalaprotests, Thiruvananthapuram’s residents had to sneak out at night with plastic bags full of trash to dispose it of behind bushes, on streets or in waterbodies. For months, they had to burn heaps of trash every morning. In response to a similar situation in Bangalore, where piles of garbage were rotting in the streets for months, a landfill had to be reopened soon after its closure against the will of local residents because the city could not find a new landfill site.

Public health

Improper waste management causes public health and environmental hazards like climate change, air and water pollution, soil contamination, spreads odours and disease, and breeds vermin including flies, mosquitoes, rats, dogs and monkeys.

Municipal waste on streets and at dumpsites is a significant source of food for stray dogs. Rabies due to stray dog bites is responsible for more than 20,000 deaths in India every year. In Srinagar, 54,000 people were bitten by stray dogs in the last three-and-a-half years.

Kolkata recently experienced an outbreak of a dengue fever with 550 confirmed cases and 60 deaths. This outbreak coincides with a 600 per cent increase in dengue cases in India and a 71 per cent increase in malaria cases in Mumbai in the last five years. Transmission of mosquito-related diseases is caused by non-biodegradable litter, which causes rainwater to stagnate, or clog drains, which in turn create breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Open burning of waste is one of the largest sources of air pollution in Indian cities. In Mumbai, it is the cause of about 20 per cent of air pollution (particulate matter, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons.) Trash fires also emit 10,000 gram TEQ (toxic equivalents) of carcinogenic dioxins/furans every year in Mumbai alone. (In comparison, France’s 127 waste-to-energy facilities together emit only four gram TEQ of dioxins from combustion of 16 million tonnes a year.)

More than a dozen years after the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management & Handling) Rules 2000 was issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, no city complies with it. Open dumping, open burning, landfill/dumpsite fires, and open human and animal exposure to waste are common.

Local governments, which are responsible for waste management, will not be able to provide immediate solutions. Finding new landfill sites around cities is nearly impossible because of the sheer lack of space for locally unwanted land uses due to population density and the scale of India’s increasing urban sprawl.

This is also due to the track record of the operation and maintenance of municipal waste facilities in India, coupled with the “not in my backyard” phenomenon.

There are 71 cities that generate more waste than Thiruvananthapuram does. As these cities grapple with increasing quantities of waste with limited infrastructure, the public health of Indians will continue to be jeopardised, the quality of life will degrade, and environmental resources will be polluted. This will lead to a waste management crisis if government authorities fail to leverage the current public awareness to bring about long-term reforms.

Response and planning

In 2005, the government of India responded to the challenge of solid waste management by investing Rs.2,500 crore in public-private partnerships initiated by local governments under its Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM). In his 2013 Union budget speech, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, announced support to municipalities that will build waste-to-energy projects. Even though JnNURM was phenomenal in stimulating industry and local governments, it was inadequate in addressing the scale and extent of the problem. Financing of waste management projects is not accompanied by adequate education and training of human resources. Importantly, new initiatives undertaken by various municipal officials often fail because of frequent transfers.

Waste picker cooperatives which provide healthy working conditions are already recycling waste in various cities and have the potential to expand further.

Thiruvananthapuram started penalising institutions that dump waste openly. It has also increased subsidies for decentralised waste management options. Bangalore started initiatives to encourage separating garbage at source, the results of which will be seen only after years of consistent efforts.

In response to the dengue outbreak in Kolkata, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee went door-to-door to create awareness of waste management. For good or bad, many cities have already started or initiated steps to ban certain types of plastics.

What’s next?

In order to provide immediate and much-needed relief to communities impacted by improper waste management and to buy themselves time to plan better, corporations can, and should, take measures: to reduce open burning and landfill fires, cut pollution due to leachate and reduce odours, and divert waste from dumpsites by increasing the informal recycling sector’s role.

In addition to discussing what should be done and the ideal state of waste management for our country, we should examine achievable goals and the incremental steps that can be taken to achieve those goals. We should not let the perfect be the enemy of good. National and local governments should work with their partners to promote source separation, achieve higher recycling rates and produce high-quality compost from organic waste. While this is being achieved, provisions should be made to handle non-recyclable wastes that are being generated and will continue to be generated. We should not be lost in ideological debates while the health, quality of life and the environment of fellow Indians are at stake.

The impending waste management crisis should be approached holistically. While formulating integrated solutions, it is important that we consider the time period associated with various technologies and methods, and their applicability. Planning at the national and local levels to deliver long-term solutions should maintain focus on addressing the immediate problems.

(Ranjith Annepu is Waste to Energy Research and Technology Council–India coordinator, Global WTERT Council. E-mail:


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More In: Lead | Opinion

I felt ashamed after witnessing the cleanliness levels and trash management in United States. Had I been empowered,I would have censured the Prime Minister and Chief Ministers, Municipal and Panchayat administrators in India for their complacency & utter failure to address this basic problem and to improve the health standards of 1.30 billion people. The nation should atonce concentrate on this menace on war footing by copying the practices (which we can easily do)adopted in developed countries.If necessary municipal corporators who are thwarting these efforts must be jailed. Public must be warned as to what to do and not to do through media.

from:  Vyas K Susarla
Posted on: May 19, 2013 at 18:09 IST

Waste is Treasure

We can burn for energy, compost for gardens and use processed garbage
for many applications.

Like Dubai we can build islands in the seas and oceans around us and
fill the structures with garbage. This way we get rid of garbage and
we make valuable real estate.

Best way is to make people pay for their garbage.

from:  Mahesh Kuthuru
Posted on: May 19, 2013 at 05:25 IST

Is there anywhere in the world, an ethical and viable waste management
system? Shipping garbage to poor countries is the usual practice of the
rich Euro-American countries.Reduction of garbage by reducing the
production of consumer goods is the only solution. But our aim is to
increase the production,to increase the consumption,to increase the
profit.It is the very basis of our economy.Then how can we deal with the
waste fruitfully?

from:  Padmanabhan
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 23:31 IST

Apart from Solid Waste,open defecation and sullage water management are huge problems
to Civic Bodies.
Due to Urbanisation,a Civic Body is unable to tackle these problems with meger funds at it's
disposal.Unless,funds are provided by the Government of India at National level as a
Centrally Sponsered Scheme,It is difficult for Municipalities to carry on these urgent
problems effectively and urgently.

from:  NPS Naidu
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 22:18 IST

Present predicament of Indian cities due to waste mismanagement calls for immediate
measures from the concerned local authorities and the centre to cleanse this muck.
Additionally, waste management industies set up have multiple direct and indirect benefits
which are of paramount important to citizens of country like from having the ability to not only
manage the waste thereby hugely reducing health hazards posed by the waste
mismanagement and saving thousands of crores of rupees in the process to the Indian
economy which can be invested in needy sectors like education and Medicare, and recycling
waste to fresh reusable products which can be sold in the market again to creating an
environment for employment for the skilled officials who have background of waste
management which flourishes the course as well and for the unskilled workers without
education at the time of flagging Indian economic conditions.

from:  Santhosh k
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 21:59 IST

as the quantity of waste increases drastically and health problems
start showing its symptoms,it is essential to address this crisis with
long term vision and a sustainable method need to be brought out.i
feel that adequate education regarding the importance of keeping
environment neat and tidy definitely starts from school level,then the
facilities that provide places or system of waste management strictly
be introduced in all places,which must be cost effective and practical
solution .further more,people need to be trained to separate plastic
and organic waste at its source itself before transporting to the
waste dumbing and recycling area.for it people can be given separate
bags in cities and villages, local governments can find solution
feasibly according their circumstances.finally business group need to
be asked to reduce plastic bags and bottles to pack products.if these
steps would be taken in an organised way with determined
intention,waste management can make effective .

from:  krishnan nayar
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 21:21 IST

Unless a Plasma reactor based waste incinerator is installed the pollutants such as particles
, carbon monoxide etc cannot be avoided. The Plasma reactor technology converts even
plastics waste to synthesis gas which is used in a gas turbine to generate power. This is the
most environmentally friendly process and I can not understand why this is not pursued in

from:  R.Sundararaman
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 20:30 IST

It is very easy to dump garbage from every household to the external
environment, where you like to dump and finally blame it on the
government for not picking it up. First of all, we must think as
responsible citizens of this country, whether we can do our part to
clean up this mess and leave a better place to live for many
generations to come. Every household must segregate the wastes at
source as Bio-degradable and Non-degradable. This is our first
responsibility. Secondly those who own their own individual property
with land, can think of using the bio-degradable waste like Food and
veg waste as manure. They can just dig a pit, dump the biodegradable
waste and close the pit once in a while. We will have to recycle the
non-biodegradable like plastics etc. If the segregation happens at
source, it is easy for the govt to take the non-biodegradable waste
and recycle as much as possible and dump it safely. We can give it to
recycling agencies and get money for the Non-biodegradable.

from:  Varadan Swamy
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 20:05 IST

"Idiocracy", a Hollywood sci-fi film, is a satirical take on Human
stupidity.. a couple of folks from the present who sleep their way 500
years into the future wake up in the middle of garbage pile-ups that
are as tall as sky scrappers.
Going by the present recklessness and lack of resolve to manage solid
waste in India, we don't have to wait for even 50 years for such

from:  Murali V
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 18:46 IST

garbage can grow plants waste need not be thrown to street.this is the future.garbage gives, O2, reduces CO2( in too high levels for 3 million years)gives free vegetables too.This is a new Indian need for composting too.Ecopots can eliminate garbage in all towns too.a low cost garden is now possible for all homes.

from:  ananthan
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 18:10 IST

On the flip side of India's urbanization lies the mismanagement of
garbage in the urban areas.Organic waste has to be seperated from the
garbage and can be used for production of biogas. The leftover garbage
can be sent for recyling recoverable items in the garbage and the rest
after recycling can be dumped in dump site. If we follow this, amount
of garbage reaching the dumpsites will be reducing by more than 50%.
The idea looks fine but what stopped us in doing so?? Lack of
commitment and partly financial crisis have been blockade for the
solution. Firstly, it requires investment from the government which
will be worthy in the future, but why does our babus care about
future?? Secondly, recycling companies have to be established whose
recycled products can be sold in the market. Another solution would be
buying the wastage technology from sweden which produce electricity
from the garbage waste.

from:  ranjithp
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 17:40 IST

The sudden rise of mosquitoes in many parts of B'lore where they
were uncommon until recently, is a wake up call. Every year, along
with the nuisance of the mosquito, the dengue cases are
rising....but the common Indian is too distracted to spare some
attention to the garbage dumps.

from:  venkat
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 16:54 IST

Nice and well articulated article on Waste Management. It’s an area which requires urgent attention to preserve environment and health of common people. Government, local bodies and people have to work together for the better management of waste. Most of the garbage comes from the household, so people should work on reducing their household wastage. Government should create awareness among masses about the wastage like bio degradable and non bio degradable. Recycling of the waste and converting them into energy could solve the problem to some extent.

from:  Abhimanyu
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 16:41 IST

Indian citizens are very good at blaming and claiming but they fail
to stand up to their responsibilities. In this national stream of
waste management citizens have a large role to play. Segregation of
waste at home in first place that is being responsible for the waste
that goes out of the home will exhilarate the movement and every
citizen will then,truly uphold the slogan:" Bharat ke is nirman me
haq hai mera".

from:  snigdha
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 16:27 IST

The gravity of the waste management issue is much. Especially, the plastic waste which is being disposed is proving detrimental not only for human health but also for livestock.
It has become a common sight to see cows consuming the plastic waste which is being disposed openly on the roads. As the analysis states, this has caused many health problems related to the milching capacity of the cows. Much attention is needed to tackle this issue.

from:  Nikita
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 15:28 IST

good article. one way to reduce the problem is to change the way diapers
of kids are thrown into garbage without cleaning. simply disposing of
the waste into the toilet before throwing will help a lot. also the use
of diapers should be heavily reduced. diapers for kids are o.k.for
overworked, working mothers. not otherwise.

from:  vidyadhar date
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 14:44 IST

Waste to energy is a well-established source of energy in Sweden and
it does a good job in recycling and turning its waste to energy that
it has started importing trash from its neighbours.Sweden’s waste
incineration program,which began in 1940s,treats over 2 million tons
of waste each year,heats 810000 homes and provides electricity for
250000 homes,all from burning trash.Sweden has large capacity of
incineration capacity and not enough garbage to fill it.As urban India
grapples with the challenge of handling municipal solid waste, GIREM
(Global Initiative for Restructuring Environment and Management)an
industrial body,has come out with an exhaustive report which
recommends setting up of waste-to-energy plants at the Assembly
constituency level. It is estimated that at current rates of dumping
or land-filling,by 2050,India may require approximately 1400 of
land or the equivalent of three Mumbai cities. Stringent law to be
enacted on packaged materials contributing to garbage.

Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 14:36 IST

It is time to take step to decrease creation of waste, especially non degradable waste like plastic by panning production instead of monitoring usage..When big organisations like hotels take measure to arrange their own facility for water by having their own lorries etc, they just throw waste on street and think govt should take care of it..It is high time we introduce creative management of waste management

from:  ramesh
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 13:24 IST

Excellent Article regarding the waste management. Statistics reveals the importance of safe garbage dumping methods to preserve the enviromment and save our health. It is well and good if the local authorities impart education to the masses on the part of protecting the environment. The awareness should start from the masses even though it is vested with the responsibility of the local authorities. People should not conclude that local authorities means only elected members, but they should feel themselves as local authorities.

from:  Jegathiesh
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 10:19 IST

A substantial portion of garbage, and sewerage, can be profitably utilized for producing cooking gas.

from:  Jaspal Singh
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 09:52 IST

(1) Our bureaucracy, particularly the officials of our Municipal
Corporations and Councils who are entrusted with task of waste
management, are slowly waking up to the dimensions of the issue of
waste management. Unfortunately, however, the citizens do not show
enough awareness and hence we need to educate the citizens so that
they too become part of the machinery and processes of waste disposal
and management. (2) In metro cities garbage has to be transferred over
long distances to dumping sites and it has become increasingly
difficult to find land for dumping. Hence, measures to manage waste
mentioned in the article are crucial. (3) In cities like Mumbai
transportation of waste is a huge business and elected corporators and
municipal officials have huge stake in contracts of transportation.
Opposition to any proposal for localized treatment of waste comes from
these vested interests. We cannot overlook this bitter reality.

from:  Narendra M Apte
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 09:15 IST

This is absurd - people need to pay to get rid of the waste they produce
- much of India is turning into a waste dump - litter spread across
railway lines, roads, outskirts of towns and villages - the solution is
to build waste to energy plants that will convert the waste into useful
heat and electricity.

from:  Venk
Posted on: May 18, 2013 at 05:13 IST
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