Nearly half of India’s waste-to-energy (WTE) plants, meant to convert non-biodegradable waste, are defunct. Further, the country’s inability to segregate waste has resulted in even the existing plants working below capacity, says an analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment.
Since 1987, 15 WTE plants have been set up across the country. However, seven of these plants have since shut down.
Apart from Delhi, these include plants at Kanpur, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Vijayawada and Karimnagar.
The key reasons for closure are the plants’ inability to handle mixed solid waste and the high cost of electricity generated by them that renders it unattractive to power companies.
This track record, however, has not stopped the government from betting big on WTE. The NITI Aayog, as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission, envisages 800 megawatt from WTE plants by 2018-19, which is 10 times the capacity of all the existing WTE plants put together.
It also proposes setting up a Waste-to-Energy Corporation of India, which would construct incineration plants through PPP models. Currently, there are 40-odd WTE plants at various stages of construction.
“The fundamental reason (for the inefficiency of these plants) is the quality and composition of waste. MSW (municipal solid waste) in India has low calorific value and high moisture content. As most wastes sent to the WTE plants are unsegregated, they also have high inert content. These wastes are just not suitable for burning in these plants. To burn them, additional fuel is required which makes these plants expensive to run,” said Swati Singh Sambyal, author of the report and researcher on waste management, at the CSE.
About 1.43 lakh tonnes per day of (TPD) municipal solid waste (MSW) is generated across the country. Of this, 1.11 lakh TPD (77.6%) is collected and 35,602 TPD (24.8%) processed.
In addition India generates close to 25,940 TPD of plastic waste of which 15,342 remains uncollected, according to the Central Pollution Control Board.
As per the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, MSW generation will reach 4.5 lakh TPD by 2031 and 11.9 lakh TPD by 2050.
The WTEs have also triggered widespread opprobrium among citizens. For instance, there has been a continuous protest against the Okhla WTE plant for polluting the environment.
In 2016, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) slapped environmental compensation fine of ₹25 lakh on the plant.
Moreover, the plants are expensive because they produce power at nearly ₹7 per unit, which is more than the ₹3-5 offered by thermal as well as solar sources.