Much to learn: How the world watches its waste

  • Sanjana Bhalerao and Poorvi Kulkarni, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Dec 26, 2014 16:34 IST

Only 2.4% of Singapore’s daily waste generation of 8,289 tonnes is dumped in landfills and 34% of this is used to produce electricity.

Now, compare this with Mumbai. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) dumps 91% of the 10,060 tonnes of waste the city generates at its dumping grounds in Deonar and Mulund where it receives no treatment.

In New York, which generates more than 25,000 tonnes of waste – more than twice that of Mumbai – the New York City Department of Sanitation has set up more than a hundred drop-off sites where compost bins are operated. Most of these are operated by the department itself.

In Mumbai, the BMC has no official data on the number of composting plants operational at the local level. Advanced locality managements, non-government organisations and independent housing societies have been running compost pits with no or little assistance from the civic administration.

Most of the countries in the world, including Australia and Norway, have drastically reduced their dependence on landfills and increased recycling and localised composting practices.

So what should we do to catch up with these countries?

“Decentralisation of waste is the way ahead. Composting needs to be done at the ward level. If the BMC does not have the resources, monetary and administrative incentives should be given to private organisations that are willing to do it,” said Gautam Kirtane, senior research fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank.

However, public-private partnerships that were attempted by the BMC in the past have failed to take off. For example, an organisation that was successfully converting construction debris at Kharghar into paver blocks and bricks could not be adopted in Mumbai because the BMC failed to provide land for the project.

“YUVA was running such a plant in Kharghar. However, when it approached the BMC to implement it in the city, land could not be made available for the purpose,” said Rishi Aggarwal, an environmentalist.

Aping the West by penalising offenders who litter public places, the BMC, in 2007, launched the clean-up-marshal scheme with much fanfare with an aim to fine litterbugs. However, seven years down the line, the scheme has clearly failed and has run into numerous controversies of extortion and harassment by the marshals.

Experts contended the civic body did not set up supporting infrastructure such as the construction of toilets, provision of litter bins and raising awareness about waste segregation.

In another show of a flawed approach, the BMC spends a majority of its solid waste management budget of around Rs 2,000 crore on transportation and disposal at the dumping grounds. Instead, many have suggested this expenditure be diverted towards segregation and localised composting.

While the BMC recently laid focus on decentralised processing of waste and announced several steps encouraging segregation among citizens, there are no tangible measures taken to enforce this practice.

“The BMC needs to hire a dedicated team to support segregation. One manager and ten specialists should be appointed in every ward to ensure segregation takes place,” said Aggarwal.

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