“To waste, to destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed,” – Theodore Roosevelt, Seventh Annual Message, December 3, 1907 (Roosevelt, 1907)
In our everyday life, we dispense a range of products which are considered useless; products like rotten vegetable, plastic/paper/cardboard packaging, tin, glass or anything else are often thrown in the garbage regardless of their properties and possible outcomes. These are initially collected at a cluster level and then taken to a centralized waste collection centre of the city or in common terms the landfill landfill which monstrously starts engulfing the city starting with valuable land and then health, pride and environment. As per a study, the municipal waste collected in the year 2010-11 averaged to tonnes per day was found to be 6800T/d for Delhi, 4200T/d for Hyderabad and 2300T/d for Ahmedabad. Moreover, as a country we generate a solid waste of around 127485.107 MT/d (Central Pollution Control Board, 2013) These figures place us among the world’s most affluent countries in an indicator of urban growth which is Garbage production. (Gandhi, 2013)
‘Waste is not Waste till Wasted!’ Our cities and us completely fail to recognize this fact of life. A large amount of the waste generated at every level can be effortlessly reused, recycled and reduced and that level itself. However, there is a lack of consciousness among us which withdraw us from stress-free interventions such as composting, reusing plastic, glass bottles, recycling paper or producing biogas. The waste if is segregated at root itself becomes quite easy to be managed and also saves it from getting toxic.
We fail to realise the outcome of the collected garbage of our house thrown in the dustbins of cluster in polybags. The municipal van comes, collects the waste from there and takes it to the landfill. The cattle and stray animals eat the toxic collection there and the poisonousness enters our entire food chain. The rag pickers who collect waste there catch diseases and allergies owing to combined toxicity of the waste. It is then partially burned which creates obnoxious gases and leads to significant air pollution and the remaining, stays there and decays. The decomposition process becomes anaerobic owing to the piling heap. It releases Methane gas which is 20 times more powerful than Carbon dioxide in trapping heat and causing a more powerful greenhouse effect. (United States Environment Protection Agency, 2013) The unsegregated waste all mixed up leaks into the land in the form of the leachate or the toxic soup at the bottom which contaminates ground water and causes land pollution. (Safaa M. Raghab, 2013)The waste that was being burned produces particulate matters which are solid compounds and remain suspended in the air we breathe. The exposure to this air increases the ris k of developing heart diseases, respiratory diseases, asthma and emphysema apart from many allergic reactions. (Manas Ranjan Ray, 2011)
When we stand here and face such problems, there are examples worldwide where this waste has been converted into a valuable resource. Boras is a city in Sweden which proudly proclaims itself as the Zero waste city and this feat has been achieved in a very prudent manner. In the city, waste is segregated a household level itself and from then on it is segregated in all the practical forms. All the biodegradable waste in sent for centralised biogas production after the required amount of compost consumption has been taken out. The segregated metal is then further segregated on the basis of their melting points and then recycled. The energy generated in the process is passed through the roads which melt the snow and the water then move the micro-turbines. The city aims to be self-sufficient in energy owing to the efficient waste management system. (Bjork, 2012) San Francisco in California, US claims the highest rate of landfill diversion in their country where the city has been able to divert more than 75% of its garbage, which is either being recycled or composted now. The city aims to be among net zero waste cities by the year 2020. (SF Environment)
When we waste a single ton of products and materials, typically 71 tonnes of waste is already generated in terms of manufacturing, mining, oil and gas exploration, agricultural, coal combustion and other discards. In addition to it, between 10 to 50% of the municipal budget is allocated for handling of this waste which remains a waste even after that. As per the analysis, of these funds, up to 70% are spent on collection, 20% on transportation and only 5% on disposal.(ERAG, 2013)
Thus, in order to improve our life and lifestyles we need a major action, an action to handle our solid waste, an action towards a better solid waste management. As individuals, we should at the outset commence waste segregation at our level. If the waste is segregated at sources itself, it becomes a money generating alternative. This will not only help us save precious land which is otherwise being converted into monstrous landfills engulfing the city and its health but would also help us in combatting the critical problem of climate change which entire world is facing.
The segregated waste becomes an important resource and can be utilized in multiple ways from energy production to revenue generation. I conclude quoting Mr. Bill Clinton, “If you want to fight climate change, improve public health, find new sources of wealth for poor people and create new entrepreneurs, the closest thing to a silver bullet in the world in most countries is closing all the landfills in all the cities.” CGI 2010.
The possible alternatives of waste reduction, utilization for individual and cities would be talked in detail in later posts.
Bjork, H. (2012). Zero Waste Society in Borås City. Borås: University of Borås.
Central Pollution Control Board. (2013). Status Report on Municipal Solid Waste Management. Delhi: Ministry of Environment & Forests.
ERAG. (2013). Waste Tales. Delhi: Chintan.
Gandhi, D. (2013, October 31). Colossal waste for India. The Hindu.
Manas Ranjan Ray, T. L. (2011). Air pollution and its Effects on Health. Kolkata: Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute.
Roosevelt, T. (1907). Seventh Annual Message. The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29548.
Safaa M. Raghab, A. M. (2013). Treatment of leachate from municipal solid waste landfill. HBRC Journal, 187-192.
SF Environment. (n.d.). Zero Waste. Retrieved January 4, 2015, from SF Environment: http://www.sfenvironment.org/zero-waste
United States Environment Protection Agency. (2013). Overview of Greenhouse Gases. Washington DC: Environment Protection Agency.