22 May 2024 : Daily Answer Writing

Q1) What are the primary challenges faced in managing Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) in India? Evaluate the role of Waste-to-Energy (WtE) plants in creating a more effective solid waste management paradigm.

(250 Words/15 Marks)

Municipal solid waste (MSW) refers to the waste generated by households and non-industrial activities in urban areas. Although, not as hazardous as industrial waste, unscientific handling of MSW undermines sustainable development, while harming human life and environment. India is estimated to generates 62-million-ton MSW annually, of which only 11.9 MT is treated and 31 MT is dumped in landfill sites.

Following factors are responsible for poor MSW management in India:

  1. Waste-disposal Practices: Segregation of waste into organic, recyclable and hazardous categories is not done at source. Resulting mixed waste is difficult to treat and is largely (~50% MSW) dumped into landfills or left at dump-yards.
  2. Financial resources: Municipalities lack enough financial resources for effective SW treatment. Along with the issue of lack of financial devolution to municipalities by states, Economic Survey (2017-18) had highlighted that municipalities are not collecting tax revenues even to the available potential.
  3. Corruption: Contractors dump waste at unauthorized sites instead of treating them to save costs. Misappropriation of financial resources in municipalities due to nexus of contractors and officials reduces available fund for waste management.
  4. Poor Implementation of Rules: Despite rules in place for solid waste management, these are not being adopted in practice. For example, most of the landfill sites are not designed as per specifications mentioned in the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016.
  5. Technological Capabilities: Municipalities do not use modern technology for solid waste management. Even if technology is available, they are not skilled enough to operate it. For example, many of the waste-to-energy plants in India, are lying under-utilized or remain closed despite abundance of waste in urban areas.

Waste to Energy (WtE) incinerator plants use a waste treatment process that creates energy in the form of electricity, heat or fuel from a waste source, by burning MSW which produces steam in a boiler which is in turn used to generate electricity.

WtE incinerator plants offer an answer to problems of poor management of MSW in following ways:

  1. WtE increase economic incentives for waste management through recovery of energy from waste by converting it into steam and electricity.
  2. Use of WtE, does away with methane emissions from landfills which has more than twice the global warming potential of CO2.
  3. WtE is useful in reducing the volume of waste for landfilling.
  4. Closer location of WtE facilities to waste generating localities, simplifies collection and transportation of waste. Complex transportation and far off location of landfill sites creates problem of mounting heaps of waste in urban areas or on roads.

Despite the proved benefits of WtE incineration plants, and their promising potential in solving India’s

MSW problem, its adoption is limited by:

  1. Complex operations disincentivising the adoption of the process.
  2. Costly technology creates entry barriers for new approaches.

E.g., carbon capture and storage.

  1. Health hazards leading to opposition by locals.
  2. Mixed nature of MSW in India, also limits its potential for conversion into energy due to low calorific value.

The problem of poor management of MSW in India requires a mix of innovative approaches, technological inputs and local solutions. Apart from WtE, Alleypey model of decentralized waste management with residents segregating and treating waste at source, and alternative technologies such as bio-methanation and bio-gasification can be explored, to make way for zero-waste cities.

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