Friday, September 23, 2016

Managing waste is a critical challenge for India’s cities

 India alone generates 5.6 million metric tons of plastic waste every year, according to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). 80% of this waste is ‘potentially’ recyclable but 40% of it isn’t even collected

Waste generated by modern society is one of the greatest problems of the 21st century. A 2014 Planning Commission report estimates that urban India generates around 60 million tons of waste. Most of this remains untreated and as India grows rapidly, the challenge of managing waste will only become more daunting.

Waste can be broadly classified into three varieties—synthetic, inorganic and organic. Synthetic waste, like plastics, and inorganic waste like minerals, iron or other metals are typically not biodegradable. This means that these types of waste will stay on in the environment for decades. If untreated, these can seriously harm the ecology and contaminate ground water. Organic waste like food is biodegradable, but poses a different problem. With lack of proper segregation and treatment, organic waste can turn into a breeding ground for diseases and pose a public health risk. With India’s landfills perpetually over-flowing and waste incineration requiring large amounts of energy, waste management needs an innovative and holistic intervention, and urgently so, if we want to achieve our cleanliness goals as a country.

Waste management is a complex problem. To simplify it, we can think of it as two basic challenges. The first is a scientific one—what materials constitute waste and how waste can be treated efficiently. The second challenge is infrastructural—how to create efficient systems required for collection, treatment and safe disposal of garbage.

Synthetic plastic is one of the materials that generates a significant amount of waste. In general, synthetic plastic is a very versatile product with valuable properties such as durability and leak-prevention. Hence, eliminating its use often isn’t an option. In such circumstances, a big breakthrough is to create biodegradable and even better compostable plastic that can replace the synthetic kind. These innovative new plastics have the physical properties that make plastic so useful but are made from natural and easily biodegradable materials like from any sugar generating plant (e.g. tapioca, corn or potato)....Read more: