One result of a rapid urbanisation, a slowly reducing gap between urban and rural, changing consumption patterns, and a growing population is the problem of waste. Given the current developments, the generation of municipal solid waste in India in the year 2047 has been projected to exceed 260 million tons – a number more than five times the present levels. While the quantity of solid waste generated by society is increasing, the composition of solid waste is becoming more and more diversified with increasing use of packaging materials made of both paper and plastic. At the same time, many households do not recycle their waste, but, instead, tend to dispose it outside their homes or on the streets.
Tuesday, 12 November 2013
Solid Waste in Indian Cities & its Managers
India is undoubtedly a dynamic, diverse, and complex society. The caste system, although unofficially abandoned, is prevailing, and many groups remain poor, disadvantaged, and secluded from the economic and political scenes.
According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the average Indian generates about 490 grams of waste per day. Although the per capita waste is low compared to western countries, the volume is huge. The generation of solid waste in Indian cities has been estimated to grow with 1.3 percent annually. The expected generation of waste in 2025 will therefore be around 700 grams per capita per day. Considering that the urban population of India is expected to grow to 45 percent from the prevailing 28 percent, the magnitude of the problem is likely to grow even larger unless immediate steps are taken.
Out of the total solid waste generated, 50 to 90 percent is collected, while 94 percent is disposed unscientifically. Only 70 percent of the cities have adequate waste transportation facilities. The waste is often left unattended at the disposal sites, creating a health hazard. Urban slums are likely to be the ones most neglected.
Improper handling of solid waste and indiscriminate disposal in open spaces, road margins, tank beds, and etcetera, give rise to numerous potential risks to the environment and to human health. Direct health risks mainly concern those working in the field without using proper gloves, uniforms, and etcetera; a high percentage of waste workers and individuals who live near or on disposal sites are infected with gastrointestinal parasites, worms, and related organisms.
For the public, the main risks to health are indirect and related to poor water, land, and air quality. In addition, infrequent collection of waste provides an attractive breeding ground for flies and rats. The most obvious environmental damage caused by solid waste is aesthetic, i.e. waste that litter public areas is ugly and smelly. A more serious risk is the transfer of pollution to ground water and land as well as the pollution of air from improper burning of waste. Many waste activities generate greenhouse gases; e.g., landfills generate methane and refuse fleets are significant sources of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. Open burning dumpsites produce volatilised heavy metals (e.g. mercury and lead), dioxins, and furan. Leachate from unlined and uncovered dumpsites contaminates surface and ground waters. A damaged local environment will first hit the most vulnerable groups of society, those who lack the resources needed to reduce the negative effects of a degraded environment. In addition, people living under poor circumstances are also directly dependent on their close natural environment for their daily survival.
Another problem related to waste in India, as in many societies, is that it is considered dirty and filthy, and those dealing with it are perceived as inferior, second-class citizens. Traditionally, people working with waste in India – popularly know as rag pickers – usually belong to the “untouchables” (the Dalits); e.g., the raddiwallhas collect waste and the kamatees/kamatans sweep the streets. Hence, the prevailing, informal, waste system also affects how people view waste.
The waste workers live and work under extensive health risks, and suffer severe exploitation and deprivation. Possible health hazards include raised levels of infant mortality, hand and leg injuries, intestinal and respiratory infections, eye infections, lower back pain, malnutrition, skin disorders, and exposure to hazardous waste.