What India needs for effective Waste Management during and post coronavirus pandemic?

Simi Mehta, Amita Bhaduri

The world has changed a lot in terms of education, perspectives, and technology. But there are some parts of the globe still finding it difficult to find a way ahead to protect the people and environment. It has been a few months since the coronavirus has taken a toll on people’s lives worldwide. The people are adapting to a new world where wearing masks and gloves becomes a part of life for a few years.

It is important to know the significance of the disposal of wastes in our day to day lives. The global pandemic has altered the world’s activities, including that of industries where the waste generation had been very significant in many countries for years. When one perspective shows the right side of waste generation, the other side shows us the different modes of its generation. The demand for various online products has increased tremendously in the past 9 months. Therefore, more waste, mainly packaging waste made of plastics, papers, cardboard, etc; has been produced, which needs to be minimized or prevented.

As per reports, the world generates 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste per year and may rise to 3.4 billion tonnes by 2050 if the waste is inadequately treated. Municipal Solid Waste Rules of 2016 insist on the segregation of waste. Food wastes and other organic wastes should be kept separate from non-biodegradable waste, including plastics, glass, metals, etc. However, many countries, including India, face difficulty treating waste since it is a mostly mixed waste.

Though our country has a lot of technical potential in waste treatment, the implementation of the waste management rules fail. There are many engineered landfills and material recovery facilities in our country. But its requirement and the numbers depend on the quality of data collected, and therefore waste audit is an inevitable part of waste management. The waste audit gives an idea about the type and amount of waste generated from industries, households, institutions etc; Also, these wastes may transform one state into another in the form of energy, compost etc, depending on its characteristics.

According to the Press Information Bureau report of 2015, out of 70% of collected waste, only around 25% of it is treated; the rest is dumped. Even compost and vermi compost units, bio-methanation plants, refuse-derived fuel plants, and waste to energy plants find it difficult to treat the waste since most the garbage reaching the plants is composed of both wet and dry together. Thus, the importance of segregation lies at the source.

Though the government has recommended smart solutions for waste management, but the real problem lies in implementation. However, cities like Vizag, Alappey, and Kolkata have proposed smart solutions for waste management where bio-degradable waste is sent to composting units and bio-methanation plants and which are non-biodegradable are sent to waste to energy plants.

The waste management system involves various stages- identifying waste, its properties, reviewing existing systems, modification of existing systems if required, identifying potential waste treatment components, and its implementation. Whenever a product is manufactured, its effect on the environment needs to be analyzed by Life Cycle Analysis. This gives an idea about its environmental footprint based on its performance till it finishes its life span—this need to be addressed to society. Therefore, educating the public about waste segregation is essential for better treatment of waste at the facilities. The type of treatment varies in different locations based on the type of waste generated.

In the waste to energy sector, almost the same capacity of treatment plants are non-functional compared with those currently operational. The reason being mixed waste requires additional manpower to segregate the tonnes of wastes into wet and dry coming from the cities. Treatment facilities may not treat one type of waste since it would create environmental and aesthetic problems.

Recent research explains the idea of circular economy where a combination of organic wastes like yard wastes and food wastes using Hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) reactor resulting in the formation of fuel pellets that can be used as a substitute of coal and activated carbon. This can be a revolutionary move in the world of modern technology. Also, once the water is extracted from the food waste while treating it inside the HTC reactor, it can be taken to anaerobic digester, which produces gas, which can be considered a fuel source.

The covid-19 pandemic has changed the lifestyle of people globally. Mandatory to wear masks, gloves, and panic buying instances and online shopping has resulted in more plastic wastes than before and plastic recycling facilities had not been open during these months, which aggravated the problem.

Waste Management
Waste Management

It is well known that coronavirus can stay on plastic kits for around 72 hours, still people prefer to use it because of convenience. However, recycling of such masks is feared. Irresponsible disposal of such masks and gloves is hazardous to both humans and the environment. Hospitals are required to follow the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) guidelines for biomedical wastes. The wastes that cannot be recycled are to be burned in a controlled environment, and therefore incineration technique suits best for the purpose. The recyclable waste is sterilized using autoclave, thereby reducing its harmful effects.

The wastes from hospitals and quarantine centers need to be managed separately as per the provisions adhering to the bio-medical waste management. However, plastic usage may increase in the future since there could be an increased use for personal care equipment. Organic farming can be highly appreciated in rural and urban areas to reduce panic buying of edible products in case of any future pandemic. This can indirectly reduce the generation of non-biodegradable wastes to some extent.

It is always possible to have a sustainable waste management policy and its implementation if each citizen can take the initiative to save the environment by practicing segregation of waste at the source. While conducting a waste audit, it will help the engineers know the type of waste, thereby deciding on the type of treatment required for each type of manure. Entrepreneurs may consider this an opportunity to come forward with initiatives to tackle the waste management problem. Moreover, educating people about waste management lays the foundation for its success.

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