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IWM Plan for Clean India

Recent initiatives by the central government lead by none other than PM Narendra Modi brought the issue of cleanliness into the drawing rooms and dinner table discussions of Indian middle class and created a euphoria for electronic, print and social media over the last few weeks. “But, the core issue at hand is to develop an Integrated Waste
Management (TWM) Plan to make the entire Abhiyan, a success in the long run,” says Brajesh Kumar Dubey, PhD-Environmental Engineering, School of Engineering, University of Guelph.

For most part, as reported in media, the major focus of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is on building toilets for rural India to prevent open defecation. This which is similar to the initiative taken by the previous government under Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan. In addition, the urban India is getting attention through the involvement of several celebrities picking up the Jhadoo, participating in sweeping of litter, getting the garbage off the roads and streets and leading the anti-litter campaign. These are good initiatives and follow-ups to previous programmes in this area, but what is the critical need of the day is to have a comprehensive programme covering all aspects of solid and liquid waste management and sanitation activities. This will include elimination of open defecation, treating all liquid waste (municipal and industrial discharges) prior to discharge to any surface water and managing the hazardous, industrial and municipal solid waste within a framework of an integrated waste management for every city, town, region and state of the country.

Although there has been some focus on surface water clean-up as part of Ganga cleanup mission along with sanitation initiatives, not much has been spelt out on the plans on achieving a working sustainable solid waste management system in the country. Let us tackle this piece of the entire puzzle whis is critical in achieving a real and sustainable Swachh Bharat Campaign.

Municipal Solid Waste is a combination of solid waste from residential, commercial, institutional non-process and non-hazardous wastes. Solid waste is an important issue in India. Municipal solid waste management is an essential public service that benefits all urban residents. These are defined to include refuse from households, non-hazardous solid (not sludge or semisolid) waste from industrial and commercial establishments, refuse from institutions) including non-pathogenic waste from hospitals), market waste, yard waste and street sweepings. Sometimes, construction and demolition debris is also included. Recently, electrical, and electronic waste has been noticed to constitute a significant proportion of municipal waste in the country and is becoming a major environmental issue.

Comprehensive Integrated Solid Waste Management Planning Process (Source: USEPA, 2002)

Comprehensive Integrated Solid Waste Management Planning Process (Source: USEPA, 2002)

In India, the scale of urban consumption and waste generation and the negative impacts associated with them vary dramatically from city to city, depending on a large part on a city’s wealth and size. Perhaps the greatest environmental nuisance and threat facing the ever growing urban agglomeration in India today is the collection, transportation and disposal of both municipal and industrial waste.

Given the littering and piling of trash along city streets and medians in most urban centres, it appears – that the existing framework does not seem to work and there is no clear and effective framework for waste management. In many of the Indian communities waste disposal is often seen as simply removing waste from their surroundings/ settlements. This approach is out of sync, and lately waste is seen as a resource which benefits the society in general and communities generating it in particular.

Sustainable waste management requires a robust integrated waste management system and government policies that encourage waste prevention, reuse, both materials and thermal recycling recovery and proper disposal options. Eventually, landfills will only be used for stabilised materials. To achieve all this, what is needed is a development of an integrated solid waste management programme for each town, city and state in the country with active stakeholder’s involvement and participation in the decision making process. This helps the user of these systems take ownership of the programme and participate in it to make it successful. Unfortunately, most of the recent government programme including the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan has not been able to achieve much success due to the lack of stakeholder ownership of it.

Developing a Plan for Integrated Solid Waste Management

A well-articulated detailed planning is the first critical step in designing or improving a waste management system. This needs to be done by taking into consideration institutional, social, financial, economic, technical, and environmental factors. These factors vary from place to place. Based on these factors, each community has the challenge of selecting the combination of waste management activities that best suits its needs. Critical elements of success will be in getting the local stakeholders involved in decision making. Things should be allowed to come from the bottom, not impressed upon from the top. Of course timelines and firm deadlines is needed to get the ball rolling but for greater success we need to get the stakeholders involved in this planning process.

Integrated solid waste management (ISWM) involves both short and long-term choices, it is critical to set achievable goals. While developing ISWM plan, one should identify goals or objectives (e.g., protect human health, protect water supplies, reduce pollutants from open burning of trash, increase recycling or composting).

As illustrated in the figure above, this is an iterative process starting with the identification of the need of the municipality/city for its waste management objectives, and this changes depending on where you are in the country. The weather (e.g., yearly rainfall in the area) will impact the choices made. Next step would be to review what we have, “can something good done with existing infrastructure and system in place including review of existing regulations and by laws?” Once these activities are completed, we will have a through idea of what is the actual problem with the limitations with it for the solution choices. This may seem a lengthy process but it delivers a sustainable solution.

Once the problem is identified, options in terms of resource recovery and disposal can be evaluated for its suitability for the city/region and also its acceptability with the local stakeholders. After comparing the different options on scientific and practicality basis the same can be implemented for a long term sustainable solution. Again, the emphasis has to be the public participation which can be done through ward commissioners, mayors and other citizen groups and NGOs. As illustrated in the figure too, education, public participation and outreach is the key for the success of any municipal system where the end users are the general population.

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