According to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), at present, Indian cities generate 200-600 gm of solid waste per capita per day. Around 0.14 million tonnes per day (tpd) of solid waste was generated during 2022. There is increased efficiency in all three stages of waste management, that is, collection and transportation, treatment, and waste reduction, reuse and recycling. While the efficiency of waste collection ranges from 50 per cent to 70 per cent in Tier II and Tier III cities and 95 per cent in metro cities, only 50-60 per cent of the waste collected gets treated or processed across all cities in the country.
The adoption of smart techniques is gaining traction and smart cities are leading in implementing these techniques. These include the use of smart bins for collection, technology tools such as geographic information system (GIS), radio frequency identification (RFID), global system for mobile communication (GSM), machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and global positioning system (GPS) for monitoring transportation, and bioremediation and composting for waste treatment.
A look at the ways these advanced solutions are being deployed in various smart cities…
Waste collection and transportation
Smart city authorities are upgrading solid waste collection and transportation processes through digital and technological enablement. Installing smart sensors on waste collection bins is one of the solutions that helps achieve efficiency in waste collection. These smart bins identify overflowing or empty bins with a real-time and remote sensing mechanism. Further, GIS helps in consolidating multiple layers of data related to waste generating/collection areas, geotagged vehicles deployed for collection, their routes, movement, etc. Other solutions such as RFID, GSM, M2M and GPS allow continuous and efficient tracking and monitoring of waste transportation vehicles. Moreover, integrated command and control centres (ICCCs) are further instrumental in managing vehicular movement with coordinated communications at a centralised location.
In a related development, Varanasi Smart City has installed over 900 volume sensor-embedded dustbins across the city. Similarly, the Vijayawada Municipal Corporation has also introduced smart, semi-underground waste collection bins with ultrasonic weight sensors. They trigger an alarm once they are full through real-time monitoring. The urban local body (ULB) receives alerts upon filling of bins with the help of sensors on bins. This smart method allows operational cost savings with better decisions on routes required for collection and thereby setting coordinated timetables for the waste management staff.
Furthermore, Pune Smart City has optimised its waste collection schedules through route optimisation and operational analytics on GIS. Around 396 vehicles and 7,325 garbage collection points have been geotagged in the city. These collect and transport 1,600 metric tpd of garbage with the deployment of end-to-end automation. Vehicle movement is also monitored by an ICCC through GPS-based tracking. Similarly, Varanasi Smart City has pioneered its solid waste management through smart monitoring from the city’s ICCC, which tracks 200 GPS-fitted waste collection vehicles in the city. The ICCC guides vehicle operators on collection routes on a real-time basis, which also helps in optimising vehicles’ fuel consumption. It also monitors 130 biometric devices of on-ground waste collection staff and over 400 cameras that cover over 150 waste disposal sites in the city. Additionally, Bhopal Smart City has deployed 435 RFID-enabled vehicles for real-time assessment of waste collection and transportation.
Advanced and environment-conscious techniques are being developed for the treatment of waste. Scientific bioremediation is one such method that is increasingly being adopted in smart city projects. The process utilises living microorganisms (bacteria, plants, or fungi) to degrade waste components into less harmful by-products. This has been undertaken by the Ludhiana Smart City with the inauguration of the bioremediation plant in November 2022. Installed at a landfill site of 51.36 acres, the plant will treat 0.5 million tonnes (mt) of legacy waste in the first phase and about 2.5 mt in the second phase. It has been installed at an estimated cost of Rs 0.27 billion. The first phase has been awarded to Sagar Motors for clearing 1,440 tpd of waste with the deployment of adequate machinery. Tenders for Phase II have been floated to treat the remaining waste.
Further, decentralised waste treatment mechanisms are being promoted by the government and ULBs for their low cost and environmental benefits. One of these is composting of wet or organic waste, which is being implem-ented in smart city projects as well. In December 2022, the Coimbatore City Corporation started operating 19 of the 34 micro-composting centres that were constructed under the Smart Cities Mission. Of these, 22 centres have the capacity to process 5 tpd of waste at a time while the remaining can process 2 tpd of waste. The corporation further plans to construct five more centres with the aim of reducing the waste that goes to the Vellore landfill. In another development, Erode Corporation in Tamil Nadu has been recognised by MoHUA for efficiently implementing micro-composting projects in April 2022. A total of 24 centres are operating in Erode that segregate 80 tonnes of waste as organic and inorganic. The organic waste from this is processed through shredding and decomposing in cubical cement tanks for around 40 days before it can be used as manure.
Innovative solutions are being promoted by the government to achieve a circular economy with the 3R (reduce, reuse and recycle) principle. This has attracted the attention of smart city authorities because of its potential for growth and revenue generation. To this end, reverse vending machines are being installed by the Ludhiana Municipal Corporation for reducing plastic waste in Ludhiana. About 10 such machines have been purchased for Rs 5.1 million that will crush plastic bottles, aluminium cans and multilayered packaging items. These would then be sent for recycling to a contractor and reused for other purposes.
Furthermore, upcycling of waste is being undertaken as a method of waste reuse. Waste material is transformed into new products of utility, aesthetic and commercial value in this process. This has been materialised by Agra Smart City for the creation of a waste-to-wonder park. It is planned to be showcased during the G20 summit in India in 2023 as an example of an efficient way of waste reuse. Waste items collected door-to-door such as old tyres, street lights, iron rods, pipes, etc., are being utilised in this project.
Recycling of waste is also being practised in smart cities through biomethanation/bio-CNG projects, which generate energy from biomass (treated wet waste). Bhopal Smart City has undertaken construction of a biomethanation plant with a capacity to treat 5 tonnes of waste to generate gas and electricity at a cost of Rs 34.4 billion. Similarly, the Indore Municipal Corporation has harnessed this technique to fuel its buses with bio-CNG. The present treatment capacity of biomethanation plants in Indore is 600 tpd, which consumes wet waste generated in the city. With these concerted efforts, Indore has won the cleanest city award for the sixth time in the Swachh Survekshan Awards 2022 announced in October 2022. Meanwhile, the Vijayawada Municipal Corporation is using a biomethanation plant to process 20 tpd of biodegradable waste to produce 125 kW of energy per day. It has divided its 64 wards into 1,256 micro-pockets for optimisation of this process.
The way forward
According to MoHUA, it is expected that India will generate around 0.45 million tpd of waste by 2030, which is projected to increase further to 1.19 million tpd by 2050. Government support in facilitating smart technology adoption in all three processes of waste management is important to tackle this urban issue. Initiatives such as the Smart Innovative Technology Challenge in various cities will help increase the intervention of businesses, private companies and individuals in evolving related smart city projects. Integrated solid waste management will also be a strategic and smart approach to handling solid waste management in the future. It will further help in resource recovery, upcycling, reuse and recycling of waste, which would reduce the waste disposed of in city landfills.