India's 62 million tons per year (and growing) garbage problem

Posted by Global technology interface on June 15, 2017


Can we recycle waste into opportunity?

         A recent survey by the Central Pollution Control Board, claims that out of the 62 million tons of municipal solid waste generated per annum in India, only 43 million tons (MT) is collected, of which 12 MT is treated and managed and 31 MT[1] is dumped in landfill sites, or ends up as untreated waste in lakes and wetlands.

The amount of waste created in urban sectors in India is approximately 170 000 tons per day, and this figure is predicted to rise by 5% per year, due to an ever-increasing population and lifestyle changes[2]. In 2001 urban sectors in India generated 31.6 million tons of waste per year and by 2041, waste generation is predicted to be at 161 million tons, which is a fivefold increase in four decades[3].

        Mumbai generates 9400 tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) per day, and only one out of its three landfills has a waste-processing unit – unsegregated waste is simply dumped at the other landfills resulting in fires and unhygienic conditions for nearby populations[4]. Mumbai’s Deonar dumping ground saw three major fires last year, one which was set on purpose by scrap dealers, so they could collect metal waste more easily. The fires caused serious health issues to nearby residents from toxic emissions[5].

       Bangalore, India’s IT hub, generates about 3500 tons of waste everyday. According to Professor T.V Ramachandra, coordinator of Energy and Wetlands Research Group, IISc., approximately “72 per cent is wet waste which can easily be composted. Around 15 to 18 per cent is plastic, which can be recycled, leaving small percentage of inert material for the landfills[6]”. Bangalore’s garbage problem has become such an issue that the once dubbed “garden city” is now popularly referred to as the “garbage city” by mainstream media.

       Fortunately some startups and companies are attempting to tackle India’s mounting waste problem through innovative methods. According to a survey by business research organization NOVONOUS, the waste management market is expected to be worth $13.62 billion by 2025, with an annual growth rate of 7.17%[7]. Netherlands-based company, Sweep-Smart was commissioned last year to convert a dry-waste management center in Electronic-City, Bangalore to match European waste-management standards. Sweep-Smart co-founder Niels van den Hoek says the aim of his company is to “turn waste into happiness”, while obtaining efficiency and safety standards. This facility boasts clean floors, creative spaces and workers using masks and gloves. Hoek claims, “Just because we are working with waste doesn’t mean the space has to be untidy[8]”.

       Similarly, several Indian startups have realized this massive opportunity in the waste-management sector in India. Any waste-management report will state that the way to manage waste is to segregate at source, then process as much of the waste as possible by converting biodegradable waste into either compost or biofuels, and sort the remainder of the solid waste into recyclable materials, thereby greatly limiting the waste that is dumped in landfills. Indian startups have begun to tap into various steps in the waste management process, by creating innovative, waste to compost converters, or efficient systems making use of India’s many waste-pickers and formally putting them to work collecting recyclable material (such as e-waste, plastics etc.). A few examples of such startups are VermiGold, a wet-waste management company that sells equipment to companies like Infosys, HUL. Mumbai-based SampurnEarth offers end-to-end waste management solutions by collecting waste, and using waste-pickers in their process, thereby formally integrating them into society to sort solid, recyclable waste.

        While there are clearly many issues in solving India’s waste problem, owing to an ever-growing population, and increased demands for luxury products in a developing economy, it appears that there is also much demand for innovative technologies and methods to convert waste into an opportunity.

[1] http://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/india-s-challenges-in-waste-management-56753

[2] http://planningcommission.nic.in/reports/genrep/rep_wte1205.pdf

[3] http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/4/3/160764#ref-21

[4] http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/dirty-mumbai-6400-tonnes-of-solid-waste-40-pc-sewage-go-untreated/

[5] http://www.ndtv.com/mumbai-news/deonar-dumping-yard-fire-4-more-arrested-9-detained-1396536

[6] http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/garbage-issue-scientists-gather-to-discuss-solutions/article8273558.ece

[7] https://www.forbes.com/sites/suparnadutt/2016/08/24/mumbais-13b-waste-management-market-and-the-startup-thats-tapping-into-it/#ea28bbd64380

[8] http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/waste-management-goes-hi-tech-in-bangalore/articleshow/57370046.cms

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