The post-modern day life is all about updates, not only in our technology but also our physical material belongings need constant updates as better, more convenient products are made available to us at a nerve wrecking pace by the machinery of capitalism. In a world like this, there is little time left to reflect on where our possessions go once we have found new ones. We have been so used to neglecting our waste that the adverse effect of it on the environment and natural resources do not make us flinch anymore as they have been safely assigned as only the duty of the government to take care of the environment and waste management.
The country is facing the ill effects of urbanization, generating about a 62 million tonnes of municipal solid waste per annum. However of this waste, about 31 million tonnes are said to be dumped in landfills haphazardly. According to the report of Ministry of New and Renewable Energy 2018, 531 lakh MT of waste was generated in the country. This could be blamed on the poor management skills of the participating municipal organisations, but on a closer look it is apparent that the contribution of the community and non-profit or non-governmental organizations in this aspect is significantly below expectations.
LAWS TO DEAL WITH THE WASTE
The Environment Protection Act, 1986
Enacted in the wake of the Bhopal Gas Leak (considered as the country’s most dangerous disaster), the Act aims to establish an effective system for the protection of the environment through responsible management of waste. The Act imposes restrictions on various parts of the country including Aravalli Ranges, Doon Valley, Coastal and Ecologically sensitive zones. The Act embodies the imperative ‘polluter pays principle’ which states that if you’re responsible for degradation of the environment in any way, you would be responsible for its restoration. The Act provides for the appointment of officers to prohibit and regulate the pollution by industries. It also states that if any department of the government or by a company, then the chief officer in charge or the head of the department shall be held responsible for the offence. It spells out the penalties for contravention of all the provisions in the Act and the Rules.
In 2016, the government by notification, amended the solid waste management rules of 2000. The rules encourage the segregation of waste at its source in order to ease the process of recycling and reusing. The segregation would have to be done in the three categories of biodegrades, dry waste and hazardous domestic waste before it is handed over to the person collecting it. The brand owners that sell their products that are packed in non biodegradable packages, should ensure the recollection of those packages.it provided for the setting up of waste processing facilities by local bodies having a population of 1 million or more.
The rules were established with a vision to help achieve the Prime Minister’s goal of Swachha Bharat in the essence of health and sanitation. The rules aimed to increase minimum thickness of plastic bags from 40 microns to 50 microns. And to promote the use of plastic waste in the construction of roads in order to address the waste disposal issue and also for gainful utilization of waste. It also encouraged the generation of a multi layered, non-recyclable plastic phased out in two years time. The responsibility of setting up, operating and coordinating waste management systems is handed to the local government bodies and Gram Panchayats. However, there are no provisions on responsibility of the waste generators. The implementation of these rules is considered ineffective as it does not cover the rural areas where a significant amount of plastic is dumped.
Biomedical waste comprises of human and animal anatomical waste, treatment apparatus including needles and other materials used in healthcare facilities in the process of both treatment and research. The hospitals, nursing homes, pathological laboratories, blood bank, etc. are required to put in place effective mechanisms for waste disposal. The ambit of the rules was extended to include vaccination camps, blood donation camps, surgical camps and all other healthcare activities. It mandates the pre-treatment of laboratory and microbiological waste through disinfection or sterilization. The categorization of biomedical waste was reduced to 4 categories from the earlier 10 to assist in the process of segregation. It authorizes state governments to provide land for waste treatment and disposal facility.
Hazardous and other Wastes(Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016
The rules were established to ensure resource recovery and disposal of hazardous waste and other waste. The other waste includes metal scraps, electronic items, waste tyres, etc. these rules were amended on March 1, 2019 by the Union Environment Ministry, through a notification in order to strengthen the implementation of environmentally effective management of hazardous waste in the country. These amendments include the prohibition of solid plastic waste from being imported in the country including in Special Economic Zones. Exemption of silk waste exporters from requiring permission of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. These amendments aim to boost ‘Make in India’ initiative by simplifying the procedures under the Rules, while also upholding the principles of sustainable development and ensuring minimal impact on the environment.
OBSTACLES IN WASTE MANAGEMENT
India being the second most populated country in the world faces several waste management crisis arising primarily due to poor implementation of the waste management laws. The current system of management involves collecting garbage from a community collective bin which is then transported and dumped into a low lying landfill, this open dumping leads to various problems like pollution, contamination of groundwater and a variety of health hazards.
Despite the existence of adequate laws and legal forums like National Green Tribunal, their implementation remains hopelessly inadequate. This is due to the meager penalties and lack of awareness. The recognition of informal sector in the waste disposal remains crucial. The rag pickers remain socially, politically and economically marginalized and now are facing job threats as private companies have entered the waste management sector.
The Supreme Court, in August last year heavily criticized several states and union territories for “pathetic” attitude towards framing waste management policies. While delivering its order in Re: Outrage as Parents End Life After Childs Dengue, ordered cessation of construction activities in various states, also levied a fine of INR 5,00,000 on the state of Andhra Pradesh and INR 3,00,000 each on the states of Maharashtra, Odisha, Uttarakhand and the Union territory of Chandigarh on account of their failure to submit their respective state/union territory solid waste management policy in furtherance to the Rules. The issue of waste management had cropped up in taking cognizance of the death of a seven year old boy due to Dengue in Delhi. The victim was allegedly denied treatment by five hospitals and his distraught parents had subsequently committed suicide. The apex court had taken a strong note on on-implementation of waste management rules in the country, stating that “India will one day go down under the garbage.”
Civic bodies dealing with waste management have to revise their long term vision and rework strategies as per the continuing change in lifestyles. More than three-fourth of solid waste management budget is allocated to collection and transportation, leaving very little for processing or resource recovery or disposal. There has been significant technological advances in processing and treatment of waste, of which ‘Energy from Waste’ is a crucial element. It reduces the volume of waste and helps converting it into renewable energy and organic manure. Installation of waste-to-compost and bio methanation would significantly reduce the load in Indian landfills. In order to achieve this, households and institutions must segregate the waste and source so that it can be managed at the source.
It is clear that the process must begin at the community level. Households must face penalties for not segregating their waste. The widespread implementation of polluter pays should be seen as the saving grace, which will keep our cities from being giant garbage fields.There is tremendous potential in group housing societies to reduce the burden on civic agencies by segregating waste at household level. The organic waste, which is in majority, can be composted at site or if feasible, there can be a common composting site for a few housing societies. The manure produced can either be used for gardens in the housing societies or for public parks. Manure can even be sold to earn some revenue for sustaining the system. Only when every citizen takes an active part in the process of waste management will we be able to sustain a sense of cleanliness and proper sanitation even in the most rural of settlements.