AK Gupta, Additional Director, Regional Centre for Urban & Environmental Studies (RCUES), Lucknow, who has previous on-ground experience as Executive Engineer, Chief Engineer and Chief Architect Planner in municipal corporations and development authority of Uttar Pradesh over a 28 year career, spoke to Mohana M, Editor, Clean India Journal, about the paucity of urban waste management facilities, how they need to be improved and how the government plans to support them.
How have solid waste management challenges evolved over the years?
Throughout our country’s history, waste management has been a neglected subject. However, until the introduction of plastic and development of the packaging industry in the mid-80s, the plastic component of solid waste was relatively small. The majority was organic waste, which was dumped, turned into manure over time, and then used in fields.
Since packaging first grew in Metro cities, it is they that first saw the accumulation of plastic waste, earlier than other cities, in the 70s. Their dumping grounds began to fill up at an accelerated rate. Plastic that didn’t make it to the dump site entered the drainage system and created problems.
For the last two decades or so, the biggest challenge has been the segregation of waste at the household level. Collection and transportation challenges followed.
In many places, waste was dumped in low-lying areas on the sides of roads for decades. This legacy waste contaminated ground water as well as air quality; treatment of legacy waste is critical to improve ground water quality and air quality.
In the present day, what challenges remain and what is needed to overcome them?
We have always known that waste should not be ‘lifted’ more than once. However, even after the advent of mechanised equipment, the challenges of collecting waste and increasing its density – so that fewer trips are required to transport a given amount of waste – remain.
The larger the city, the greater is the need for a decentralised waste management system. How fast can organic waste be converted into manure? For this, a lot of equipment is needed at the household level, ward level and zone level. By accelerating this process in a decentralised manner, transport and processing costs can be curtailed; the value of the compost will make it a financially viable process as well.
Waste can also be converted into energy, either through Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) or directly. The challenge is to maximise the energy that is generated by increasing the efficiency of the process, making it viable. Twenty years ago, 100 metric tonnes of waste needed to be processed to generate 1 MW of electricity; today, technology can generate the same amount from just one metric tonne of waste.
What is the status of solid waste management in Uttar Pradesh?
With reference to Uttar Pradesh, there are two steps that are required for solid waste management. Whatever waste is generated needs to be first segregated; the dry waste sent for further processing, recycling and reuse in material recovery facilities and the wet waste for conversion into manure.
Waste input for processing cannot be mixed waste; wet and dry waste need to be processed separately and differently.
At the moment, most ULBs in the country, including in Uttar Pradesh, do not have the required waste management capacity. The demand-supply gap is huge. We have already prepared a solid waste management plan for 102 cities; most cities have almost zero capacity. Those that do have a processing facility can manage only one type of waste.
What financial support is available from the government for cities to manage their own waste?
Funding is available under Swachh Bharat 2.0, which was launched in October 2021. According to the 15th Finance Commission, there will be two types of grants: tied and untied. Tied grants are for work related to sanitation and maintenance of open defecation free (ODF) status, and supply of drinking water, rainwater harvesting and water recycling. Basic grants are untied and can be used by the local bodies for location-specific felt needs except for salary or other establishment expenditure.
The first stipulation of SBM 2.0 is that a city-wise solid waste action plan needs to be drafted. This process will identify the gaps between the amounts of wet and dry waste generated, and how much of it is processed at present. Only then can various technologies be proposed to bridge the gap, which is followed by budgeting. Costs have already been evaluated by ULBs with the help of RCUES.
Under SBM 2.0, for cities that have a population of more than 10 lakhs, Central funding will be 25%, around 67% will be from ULBs and 12-12.5% from the state government. Funds are readily available.