Beat Plastic Pollution”, the theme for World Environment Day 2018, is a call for action and invites us all to consider how we can make changes in our everyday lives to reduce the heavy burden of plastic pollution on our cities, water bodies, forests and our own health. Studies show that plastic is produced more than any other human-made material, except cement and steel. The total plastic production in 2015 was 380 million tonnes. Out of the 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic produced so far, only around nine per cent was recycled, 12 per cent was incinerated, while the remaining 79 per cent was discarded in landfills or dumped in open spaces across the country. Every year the world uses 500 billion plastic bags. Plastic bottles are the biggest contributor in waste piling up as one million bottles are bought every minute throughout the world. 50 percent of the plastic, we use is single-use or disposable. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (2015), an average of 25,940 tonnes of plastic waste is generated every day by the Tier-I and Tier-II cities in India.
Consider the cost of disposal. Getting rid of large quantities of waste is often beyond the financial capacities of urban local bodies. There is also poor institutional capacity and low political will to address the problem. Many cities lack the facilities for safe disposal of municipal solid waste. The most common disposal practice across the country is uncontrolled dumping. Achieving the objectives of the Swachchh Bharat Abhiyan is therefore practicable only if the country works towards reducing the generation of waste by inculcating simple habits like reduce, reuse and recycle, in tandem with proper segregation and treatment practices. Organic and biodegradable waste, which constitutes 50-60 per cent of the country’s urban waste, can be converted into compost, thereby solving half of India’s waste problems. The market for compost has enormous potential in India, which is predominantly a agriculture-based country and many states moving towards organic farming.
Consider the tale of two cities from Kerala. The Thiruvananthapuram Municipal Corporation (TMC) is known for its innovation to improve its services… and one of the latest examples is its new approach to dispose of its municipal solid waste. The corporation launched a campaign called “Ente Nagaram, Sundara Nagaram”, which means “My City. Beautiful City”, in 2014, after its failure over centralised solid waste management. As a result of the mass awareness campaign, Thiruvananthapuram city’s residents were sensitised to treat the bio-degradable waste or kitchen waste at the source itself. At present, there is no collection of bio-degradable waste within the corporation limits. This is to encourage the public to take responsibility of the garbage they generate. The TMC supplied required number of waste disposal and treatment systems like three-layered bucket-sized kitchen bins and pipe bins free of cost or at nominal cost to its residents. The TMC also installed community biogas plants, community-owned aerobic bins, for those households who do not have the space to keep kitchen bins or fix pipe bins, in each and every ward of the city. So far more than 1.5 lakh households are processing the bio-degradable waste at source and around 50 biogas plants have been constructed. Strict penalty with fines ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 are levied on those who dump their waste in public.
The TMC has an agreement with Clean Kerala Co Ltd for treating the plastic and e-waste. There is a separate provision for collecting the plastic waste from households and institutions for further treatment at the rate of Rs 60 per month. Only dry and clean plastic covers, packets and other materials are collected and received at the designated counters. These are further taken to respective shredding units and handed over to Clean Kerala Co for further use. The decentralised waste management is successfully implemented in the city of Alappuzha in Kerala as well. The Alappuzha municipality took efforts to decentralise the waste management rather than continuing with the usual collect-and-dump type model in open landfills. The Alappuzha municipality earned a few national awards and the UNEP recently recognised it as one of the five top clean cities in the world. The experiments by Thiruvananthapu-ram and Alappuzha with decentralised waste management thus have inspired other municipalities to successfully replicate the same models within the state. To give the required thrust, a state policy has been developed to bring a thousand village panchayats to instal aerobic bins to process organic waste.
The Solid Waste Management Rules of 2016 and the Plastic Waste Management Rules of 2016 are a welcome move. But a greater push and clarity is needed to ensure its effective implementation. While the rules place liabilities on the producers of plastic waste to contribute to its collection and disposal, this is practically unworkable as most producers are small and informal. Likewise, the mandatory door-to-door collection of segregated waste is hardly followed in most cities. Only a coordinated effort of all stakeholders can help reduce the cost of waste management rather than thrusting the responsibility solely on the shoulders of the municipal authorities. Public consultation and participation of citizens from the very beginning coupled, with information campaigns across all sectors, is therefore vital for the successful enforcement of the rules. While India is hosting this year’s World Environment Day, it’s the right time for our cities to learn and replicate some of these successful models and contribute positively towards addressing the menace of plastic.
The writers work for CUTS International...