Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment
From UPSC perspective, following things are important:
Prelims level: What is biodegradable waste, biomethanation, etc.
Mains level: Article gives an expert’s overview on waste management problem in India.
- The Niti Aayog, in its Draft Three Year Action Agenda, has drawn attention to the need for a sustainable plan for solid waste management in Indian cities
- However, the Aayog has taken the stand that incineration or “Waste to Energy” is the best option as a sustainable disposal solution for the solid waste of larger cities
- Issue: This reasoning is flawed(according to writer). The Niti Aayog fails to point out that when incineration plants in cities use unsegregated waste to generate electricity, they emit toxic gases as by-products and irresponsibly dispose of these “dangerous by-products” in the air.
Problem with NITI Aayog’s Proposal
- We do not have effective mechanisms for monitoring emissions
- The Niti Aayog’s Draft Action Agenda neither incorporates lessons from the experience of incineration plants, nor does it take note of the many success stories of biomethanation in a number of Indian cities, including some large cities
Requirements of Incineration technologies
- Incineration technologies require a continuous supply of waste with a sufficiently high calorific value and a low moisture content
- According to experts, Indian waste is not suitable for incineration because it has too high a moisture content, leading to low calorific value
- A 2016 study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) finds that the calorific value of Indian waste is 800-1000 kcal per kg; it needs to be at least 2000 kcal per kg to be suitable for incineration
Reason behind this low calorific value waste
- India’s old tradition of kabadiwalas and the recycling of paper, glass, plastic, etc., becomes a contributing factor to the low calorific value of our municipal waste
- A study by the United Nations Environment Program in 2009 found that India’s informal recycling sector “recovers much of the dry, high calorific material leaving a moist residue with high green waste content unsuitable for production of combustible ‘fluff’ without considerable pre-treatment (that is, drying)”
Challenges in generating energy from waste
- Generating energy from waste is only one aspect of waste management — it is by no means the most efficient or the most economical means of generating energy
- The policy focus must not sway from examining the financial and environmental costs and benefits of the different alternatives for waste management
- In Waste to Energy, technology is moving fast, regulatory challenges are enormous and the challenges of enforcing emission standards are even greater
Waste to Energy Corporation of India
- The Niti Aayog has recommended setting up a Waste to Energy Corporation of India under the Ministry of Urban Development, “which may set up world-class waste to energy plants through public-private partnerships (PPP) across the country”
- They have invoked the example of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) which organises PPP efforts in roads. But the parallel is inappropriate(according to wrtier)
- Why: the land on which highways are built is already owned by the Government of India; there are no acquisition issues. Besides, the NHAI is a well-funded agency which receives the proceeds of the cess on petrol and diesel plus toll revenues. No such revenue is available for a new Central corporation on solid waste management
Niti Aayog’s silence on the segregation of Waste
- The Niti Aayog is silent on the segregation of wet waste from dry waste at the source of generating waste.
- Incentives for segregation and a penalty for non-segregation must be the first action point of any agenda on municipal solid waste management
- Solid Waste Management Rules (2016) are a significant improvement over the Municipal Solid Waste Rules (2000) in emphasising the need for the enforcement of segregation and recommending change in municipal by-laws which allow for cost recovery in the collection of waste segregated at source and imposing a penalty for non-segregation
Why biomethanation is a better option?
- About half of the solid waste generated in Indian cities is biodegradable
- If this is segregated at source, it can be collected and delivered at a local biomethanation plant for anaerobic processing
- Unlike composting, in which biogas is released into the environment, biomethanation allows the capture of biogas which can be used for cooking or for electricity generation; it also produces liquid fertiliser
- Important Point: NISARGRUNA technology for biomethanation was developed by Sharad Kale, a professor at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre at Mumbai
The way forward
- NITI Aayog must follow up with extensive consultation with subject experts, stakeholders and practitioners in state governments and urban local governments.
A waste treatment technology, which includes the combustion of waste for recovering energy, is called as “incineration”. Incineration coupled with high temperature waste treatments are recognized as thermal treatments. During the process of incineration, the waste material that is treated is converted in to IBM, gases, particles and heat. These products are later used for generation of electricity. The gases, flue gases are first treated for eradication of pollutants before going in to atmosphere.
Bioremediation is a waste management technique that involves the use of organisms to neutralize pollutants from a contaminated site. Bioremediation is a “treatment that uses naturally occurring organisms to break down hazardous substances into less toxic or non toxic substances”.