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Municipal Solid Waste: Solid initiative needed

Municipal Solid Waste: Solid initiative needed

The municipal solid waste management (SWM) industry has huge opportunities to grow healthily under PPP mode, but most of our cities are not aware of how. Approaching it tentatively and piecemeal will defeat the purpose, writes Shashidhar Nanjundaiah.

Approximately one per cent of Bangalore’s 5,000 tonnes of waste is plastic, and a local M Tech student is trying to translate into action what most Indian urban dwellers hope for: that waste would just melt away into oblivion. If the research paper by RV College of Engineering’s AN Ashwin, which will look at ways to reuse plastics is applied, it will add a significant dimension to waste reuse—one of the five processes in solid waste management (collection, processing, recycling and disposal are the others), and perhaps the most important. The study is a first-of-its-kind in India. When plastic is used in semi-dense materials for laying roads, the road’s durability increases. It doesn’t get damaged easily and prevents seepage of water. Recycled plastic is already being used in making of roads and is used to mix with the aggregates.

Citizens, the industry and the media are holding their breath—for more reasons than one—to see whether yet another invention will remain at an experimental stage and puzzlingly with little reason fail to find the light of day through widespread, commercial and development use. The innovation only follows others in its category, and media research will tell us that such inventions are not as uncommon as their potential harnessers would lead us to believe. Scientists do not have an associated voice to impress upon policymakers into making their research socially useful. The “invention chain” of solid waste management (SWM) is finally finding its bearings through rather nascent and tentative applications from private companies that are partnering with the local governments on SWM, but the wait-and-watch method is far more prevalent among our cities than a more visionary outlook. Political expediency is convenient as well. That is why the 423 cities and thousands of towns should be closely watching and learning from a handful of our cities that are in the process of implementing SWM in its scientific form. Only three cities in India—Bangalore, Coimbatore and Pimpri-Chinchwad—have taken steps to fully implement the essence of Municipal SWM—from collection, processing, reuse, recycle and disposal. About 30 others—including Delhi and New Delhi, Hyderabad, Belgaum, Shimoga, Kanpur—are on the right path in that they have reached the concession stage. About 30-40 of the remaining cities that are considering SWM are only doing so in piecemeal ways, and Ramky Director Gautham Reddy says that this approach will not help at all. Unless process units are sanctioned at the landfill sites and the entire SWM cycle is taken care of, it would be a wasted effort.

Although the business model is fairly simple in a PPP mode of Muncipal SWM—the city provides the waste, the company processes it and supplies its reusable and recyclable matter to industries—cities are typically not used to, and therefore not willing to, pay for waste disposal. The most viable industry, though, is recycling. With huge potential in paper recycling and composting, there is surely no reason why our cities are not taking action. Waste-to-energy treatment and other forms of utilisation have not yet taken off in the true sense, and our cities are already quite late in reacting to the most obvious problem in our cities.

Way forward

Opening up Municipal SWM to international players and taking SWM seriously are value-added solutions to a very clear set of actionables for our cities:

• Use PPP as the readily available mode
• Ensure waste is lucrative to private players by paying for waste
• Ensure the entire waste management cycle is concessioned, not in piecemeal

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