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A country precariously perched on waste mounds

Hemant Joshi & Anu Peisker
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Nowhere to go: Urban India, which generates nearly 42 million tonnes of solid waste a year, lacks adequate facilities for their safe disposal. Ritu Raj Konwar
Nowhere to go: Urban India, which generates nearly 42 million tonnes of solid waste a year, lacks adequate facilities for their safe disposal. Ritu Raj Konwar

“A dream city should have a population of not more than five million, generate its own power through green sources, be a vibrant economy using clean energy, use bio-fuel and insist on rainwater harvesting.” — Former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Natural capital includes all the familiar resources used by humankind: Water, minerals, oil, trees, fish, soil, and air. While many of these resources are recyclable in Nature, new manufacturing technologies are disrupting this natural cycle. Although the world’s industrial capital is accumulating at an unprecedented rate, natural capital is reducing disproportionally. Our economic wealth is increasing at the same rate as the loss in natural ecosystem.

According to a report by the Indian Council for Agricultural Research, about 70 per cent of land under cultivation cannot support farming in the future.

Globally, one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die each year because they become entangled in, or swallow plastic products.

According to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, less than 5 per cent of the country’s electronic waste (e-waste) gets recycled as there is no infrastructure, legislation or framework in place.

Urban India generates 42 million tonnes of solid waste annually — that is, 115,000 tonnes a day. Metros and big cities collect 70-90 per cent of municipal solid waste, while smaller cities and towns collect less than 50 per cent. Compare this with the 100 per cent waste collection in most cities in China, Mauritius, and Western Europe.

Public awareness and concentrated efforts by municipalities and the Government could change the face of the country. Surat, where unsanitary conditions and poor waste management led to an outbreak of plague in 1994, has today transformed into the third cleanest city in India. Floods in Mumbai in 2006 spurred the enactment of a State legislation regulating the collection, transport and disposal of urban solid waste.

On the positive front, there are efforts by responsible citizens such as the Marigold Society, in Kalyaninagar, Pune — a housing project that treats and recycles nearly one lakh litres of wastewater a day. The treated water helps recharge the groundwater level. Orange County, again in Pune, is a self-sufficient green housing project at Pashan. The 100 per cent door-to-door garbage collection in Nagpur and 100 per cent rural sanitation coverage in Sikkim are some of the other noteworthy efforts. Under the Green Revolution, Gujarat has interlinked 21 rivers for conservation of water.

However, the country has miles to go before it can catch up with other countries. There is urgent need for transparent reporting of waste levels and environmental damage on one hand, and mitigation efforts and results on the other. This should be made applicable at the corporate, Government, municipality, and city level. We need to report and reduce our waste footprint.


We need to report, and reduce our waste footprint at the level of corporate, Government, municipality, and city.


(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated August 20, 2012)
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