Turning to Technology: Solid waste management practices in India

Solid waste management practices in India

Solid waste management (SWM) has em­er­ged as one of the most significant development challenges across India. Accor­d­ing to reports, India generates 48 million tonnes of solid waste every year, of which 51 per cent is compostable organic waste and 18 per cent is recyclable materials from which a significant am­ount of revenue can be generated. As per the World Bank’s estimates, India’s urban population is ex­pected to increase by 3.5 per cent each year. Ra­pid population growth and urbanisation will signifi­can­tly change the quantity and quality of solid waste.

Key developments

Technolo­gical disruptions in the form of internet of things (IoT), information and communications technology solutions and other online platforms are becoming key enablers of change in the country. Management information systems such as ra­dio frequency identification (RFID), global positioning system (GPS), geographic information system and general packet radio services are be­ing deployed by urban local bodies (ULBs) for effective waste management. ULBs in Chen­n­ai, Bengaluru, Rajkot, Surat, Patna and Coim­batore have been particularly active in deploying smart waste technologies. All the primary and secondary transportation vehicles in Bengaluru are installed with RFID tags to ensure that only authorised vehicles enter the designated destinations. The Surat Municipal Corpo­ration has introduced live tracking of door-to-door garbage collection vehicles using GPS. 3D sensor scanning technology has been deployed in the Delhi-National Capital Region to quantify the mass of illegally dumped waste. It not only estimates the amount of waste that has piled up, but also the type of waste dumped. Also, there is a renewed focus on the recovery and recycling of waste. A growing number of cities in India are switching to a system of smart bins in which garbage bins at public places are enabled with sensors to tra­ck the quantity of garbage being dumped in them. The installed sensors transmit data about the status of bins in real time through wireless networks. Chennai and Bengaluru are increasingly deploying smart bins for waste collection. Further, utilities are deploying advanced systems such as smart landfill solutions, mobile applications and IoT-based SWM systems. Scientific disposal of waste is slowly gaining traction along with waste-to-energy initiatives.

Recently, the Ministry of Tourism, Maharashtra along with the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai inaugurated the fourth Swachhta Kendra in Worli (G-South ward), Mumbai, in part­nership with the United Nations Develop­ment Program-me and Hindustan Unilever Limi­ted. The Swach­hta-kendras are a part of the material recovery facility, where dry waste is collected, segregated and recovered before it is sent to recyclers. The technology-powered wa­s­te material recovery model will enhance segregation, collection and recycling of all kin­ds of plastic waste along the value chain, creating resource efficiency and su­pp­orting a cir­cu­lar economy. Three similar Swa­c­hhta Kend­ras are already operational and have benefited more than 50,000 households across three wards of Mumbai – K-East (Andheri East), H-West (Bandra West) and R-North (Dahisar).

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented a unique challenge before the country in which it currently has to deal with an unprecedented amount of biomedical waste exclusively from dedicated Covid-19 hospitals, quarantine centres and home quarantine centres. Due to limited waste treatment capacity available in the country, the states are coming up with new Common Bio­me­dical Waste Treatment Facilities. This has reiterated the need to set up more such facilities to efficiently and scientifically dispose of the toxic waste. This is expected to drive growth in the waste management sector as the increase in the amount of biomedical waste generation has be­co­me a major challenge for the country. Anta­rik­sh Waste Ventures, a Madras-incubated start-up, has developed a smart bin system enabled by IoT to prevent the spread of Covid-19 through waste generated at contagion-vulnerable points. The smart bin enables remote monitoring of waste accumulation levels and clearance throu­gh IoT systems. States such as Tripura, Raja­s­than, Uttarakhand, Naga­land, Maharashtra, Lak­sh­a­dweep, Jammu & Kas-hmir, Himachal Pra­de­sh, Goa, Assam and Aruna­chal Pradesh have resorted to deep burial pits for waste disposal. The operators of sewage and effluent treatment plants attached to healthcare facilities need to adopt basic hygiene precautions and wear personal protective equipment to avoid the risk of coronavirus transmission.

Key challenges

At present, India’s solid waste collection efficiency is around 70 per cent, while it is almost 100 per cent in many developed countries. The country’s inability to segregate waste at source has resulted in even existing waste processing plants working below capacity, according to an analysis by the Centre for Science and Environ­ment. Therefore, it becomes important to spread awareness about proper segregation of waste at source, which makes the possibility of its recycling and treatment achievable. Many cities have limited capacity for sustainably funding infrastructure or operations. Local governments often lack the expertise needed to evaluate technologies or solutions in order to identify the most appropriate ones for their situation. In addition, there is a lack of sufficient staff dedicated to ad­d­ressing SWM issues. Changes in government can result in projects being shut down or radically altered by incoming officials and key staff reassignments on large capital projects, including SWM projects. Often, there is limited or lack of vertical and horizontal government coordination, which negatively affects the success of the SWM system.

The way forward

With a large amount of untreated waste being du­m­ped irregularly on the outskirts of towns and cities, causing groundwater contamination and air pollution, there is a growing need to detect blind spots in the collection and transportation of waste so that the operation can be made more efficient. The need for digitalisation in waste collection and disposal operations goes beyond information technology and SWM needs to create improved data quality and better insights into wa­s­te streams during operations. A smart, integrated waste management system will ensure real-time monitoring of collection and transportation. The outbreak of Covid-19 has led to the implementation of smart initiatives at an increased pa­ce as efficient disposal of hazardous biomedical waste is becoming the need of the hour.