SWM in India – Role of Policies and Planning

Out of all the measures that are necessary in addressing India’s impending waste management crisis, the most efficient will be changes at the national policy and planning level. It is well known among the small but growing waste management sector that urban India will hit rock bottom due to improper waste management.

Solid-Wastes-Management-India

Unfortunately, they think such a crisis is required to bring about policy changes, as they generally tend to happen only after the damage has been done. This attitude is unfortunate because it indicates a lack of or failed effort from the sector to change policy, and also the level of India’s planning and preparedness.

Important Statistics

An average of 32,000 people will be added to urban India every day, continuously, until 2021. This number is a warning, considering how India’s waste management infrastructure went berserk trying to deal with just 25,000 new urban Indians during the last decade. The scale of urbanization in India and around the world is unprecedented with planetary consequences to Earth’s limited material and energy resources, and its natural balance.

Rate of increase in access to sanitation infrastructure generally lags behind the rate of urbanization by 33% around the world; however, the lack of planning and impromptu piecemeal responses to waste management issues observed in India might indicate a much wider gap. This means urban Indians will have to wait longer than an average urban citizen of our world for access to proper waste management infrastructure.

The clear trend in the outbreak of epidemic and public protests around India is that they are happening in the biggest cities in their respective regions. Kolkata, Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram, and Srinagar are capitals of their respective states, and Coimbatore is the second largest city in Tamil Nadu. However, long term national level plans to improve waste management in India do not exist and guidance offered to urban local bodies is meager.

Apart from the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), there has been no national level effort required to address the problem. Even though JnNURM was phenomenal in stimulating the industry and local governments, it was not enough to address the scale and extent of the problem. This is because of JnNURM is not a long term financing program, sorts of which are required to tackle issues like solid waste management.

Role of Municipal Corporations

In the short term, municipal corporations have their hands tied and will not be able to deliver solutions immediately. They face the task of realizing waste management facilities inside or near cities while none of their citizens want them near their residences. Officials of Hyderabad’s municipal corporation have been conducting interviews with locals for about eight years now for a new landfill site, to no avail.

In spite of the mounting pressure, most corporations will not be able to close the dumpsites that they are currently using. This might not be the good news for which local residents could be waiting, but, it is important that bureaucrats, municipal officials and politicians be clear about it. Residents near Vellalore dump protested and blocked roads leading to the site because Coimbatore municipal officials repeatedly failed to fulfill their promises after every landfill fire incident.

Due to lack of existing alternatives, other than diverting waste fractionally by increasing informal recycling sector’s role, closing existing landfills would mean finding new sites. Finding new landfills in and around cities is nearly impossible because of the track record of dumpsite operations and maintenance in India and the Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) phenomenon.

However, the corporations can and should take measures to reduce landfill fires and open burning, and control pollution due to leachate and odor and vector nuisance. This will provide much needed relief to adjacent communities and give the corporations time to plan better. While navigating through an issue as sensitive this, it is of the utmost importance that they work closely with the community by increasing clarity and transparency.

Municipal officials at the meeting repeatedly stressed the issue of scarcity of land for waste disposal, which led to overflowing dumpsites and waste treatment facilities receiving more waste than what they were designed for. Most municipal officials are of the sense that a magic solution is right around the corner which will turn all of their city’s waste into fuel oil or gas, or into recycled products.

While such conversion is technologically possible with infinite energy and financial sources, that is not the reality. Despite their inability to properly manage wastes, the majority of municipal officials consider waste as “wealth” when approached by private partners. Therefore, a significant portion of officials expect royalty from private investments without sharing business risk.

Good News on the Horizon

While the situation across India is grim and official action has to be demanded through courts or public protests, there are a handful of local governments which are planning ahead and leading the way. The steps taken to solve New Delhi’s waste management problem is laudable. If it was not for the kind of leadership and determination showcased in Delhi, India would not have had its only operating WTE plant. This plant was built in 2011, at a time when the need for waste-to-energy plants was being felt all over India. 1300 tons of Delhi’s waste goes into this facility every day to generate electricity. The successful operation of this facility reinvigorated dormant projects across the nation.

After living with heaps of garbage for months, Thiruvananthapuram Municipal Corporation started penalizing institutions which dump their waste openly. It has also increased the subsidy on the cost of small scale biogas units to 75% and aerobic composting units to 90% to encourage decentralized waste management. The corporation is optimistic with the increase in number of applications for the subsidy from 10 in an entire year to 18 in just a few months after the announcement.

In Bengaluru, improper waste management led to the change of the city’s municipal commissioner. The new commissioner was handed over the job to particularly improve waste management in the city. As a response to the dengue outbreak in Kolkata, the state’s Chief Minister went door to door to create awareness about waste management, and also included the topic in her public speeches. For good or bad, many cities in India have started or initiated steps for banning plastics without performing life cycle analyses.

Addressing India’s Waste Management Problems

Out of all the measures that are necessary in addressing India’s impending waste management crisis, the most efficient will be changes at the national policy and planning level. It is well-known among the small but growing waste management sector that urban India will hit rock bottom due to improper waste management.

Unfortunately, they think such a crisis is required to bring about policy changes, as they generally tend to happen only after the damage has been done. This attitude is unfortunate because it indicates a lack of or failed effort from the sector to change policy, and also the level of India’s planning and preparedness.

An average of 32,000 people will be added to urban India every day, continuously, until 2021. This number is a warning, considering how India’s waste management infrastructure went berserk trying to deal with just 25,000 new urban Indians during the last decade. The scale of urbanization in India and around the world is unprecedented with planetary consequences to Earth’s limited material and energy resources, and its natural balance.

Rate of increase in access to sanitation infrastructure generally lags behind the rate of urbanization by 33% around the world; however, the lack of planning and impromptu piecemeal responses to waste management issues observed in India might indicate a much wider gap. This means urban Indians will have to wait longer than an average urban citizen of our world for access to proper waste management infrastructure.

The clear trend in the outbreak of epidemic and public protests around India is that they are happening in the biggest cities in their respective regions. Kolkata, Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram, and Srinagar are capitals of their respective states, and Coimbatore is the second largest city in Tamil Nadu. However, long term national level plans to improve waste management in India do not exist and guidance offered to urban local bodies is meager.

Apart from the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), there has been no national level effort required to address the problem. Even though JnNURM was phenomenal in stimulating the industry and local governments, it was not enough to address the scale and extent of the problem. This is because of JnNURM is not a long term waste management financing program, sorts of which are required to tackle issues like solid waste management.

Are Cities Hands-tied or is Change Possible?

In the short term, municipal corporations have their hands tied and will not be able to deliver solutions immediately. They face the task of realizing waste management facilities inside or near cities while none of their citizens want them near their residences. Officials of Hyderabad’s municipal corporation have been conducting interviews with locals for about eight years now for a new landfill site, to no avail.

In spite of the mounting pressure, most corporations will not be able to close the dumpsites that they are currently using. This might not be the good news for which local residents could be waiting, but, it is important that bureaucrats, municipal officials and politicians be clear about it. Residents near Vellalore dump protested and blocked roads leading to the site because Coimbatore municipal officials repeatedly failed to fulfill their promises after every landfill fire incident.

Due to lack of existing alternatives, other than diverting waste fractionally by increasing informal recycling sector’s role, closing existing landfills would mean finding new sites.  Finding new landfills in and around cities is nearly impossible because of the track record of dumpsite operations and maintenance in India and the Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) phenomenon.

However, the corporations can and should take measures to reduce landfill fires and open burning, and control pollution due to leachate and odor and vector nuisance. This will provide much needed relief to adjacent communities and give the corporations time to plan better. While navigating through an issue as sensitive this, it is of the utmost importance that they work closely with the community by increasing clarity and transparency.

Municipal officials at the meeting repeatedly stressed the issue of scarcity of land for waste disposal, which led to overflowing dumpsites and waste treatment facilities receiving more waste than what they were designed for. Most municipal officials are of the sense that a magic solution is right around the corner which will turn all of their city’s waste into electricity or fuel oil or gas, or into recycled products. While such conversion is technologically possible with infinite energy and financial sources, that is not the reality.

Despite their inability to properly manage wastes, the majority of municipal officials consider waste as “wealth” when approached by private partners. Therefore, a significant portion of officials expect royalty from private investments without sharing business risk.

Municipal Waste Management in Poland

waste-dump-warsawMunicipal waste management in Poland has changed dramatically since the early ’90s when, as part of Poland’s privatisation program, municipal authorities were freed of their waste management obligations. The combined Polish recycling rate for dry recyclables and organic waste has increased from 5% in 2004 to 21% in 2010, according to a Copenhagen Resource Institute (CRI) study Municipal Waste Management in Poland (2013). Another source provides similar, corroborating statistics, putting the dry recycling rate in Poland at 14% and the composting rate at 7%.

The latest Eurostat data (for 2011) shows that the upward trend continuing, with the total recycled and composted reaching 28%. That is rapid rate of improvement, but leaves Poland well below the latest EU-27 average of 40% (25% recycled and 15% composted) – so what prospect is there of Poland reaching the EU’s mandatory 50% target by 2020?

Responsibility for waste disposal shifted to householders, who were left to individually contract any waste collection company of their choice. In the hard economic climate a ‘cheaper-the-better’ mentality prevailed, which did little to encourage sustainable practices. There wasn’t even an obligation on householders even to sign up for waste collection.

Landfilling was – and remains – the most common way of handling waste, but accompanying reporting and tracking methods were inadequate. Statistically, quantities of waste produced were usually larger than those collected, with the missing tonnages usually being dumped in forests or burned in domestic boilers to avoid waste disposal costs. As a result, waste management became largely uncontrolled, with a 2011 report concluding that ‘’waste management is one of the most badly neglected and at the same time one of the most urgent environmental issues for Poland.’’

Waste Management Legislation

Even after joining the EU in 2005, Poland didn’t rush to introduce reforms to improve practices and help to meet recycling targets. Only recently has Poland introduced several pieces of new waste related legislation, including:

  • Act on maintaining cleanliness and order in municipalities (2012);
  • Act on Waste (2012); and
  • Act on management of packaging and packaging waste (2013).

The first of these was revolutionary in that it gave responsibility for municipal waste collection and disposal back to municipalities. Now they are required to organise garbage collection and the separate collection of biodegradable waste and recyclable materials such as paper, metal, glass and plastic. It is expected that the new law will improve waste management control measures on a local level and greatly reduce the illegal dumping and trash burning.

The Act on Waste helps tackle the previous ‘free for all’ amongst collectors – it obliges waste handlers to act in a manner consistent with waste management principles and plans adopted at national level (by the Council of Ministers), regional level (Voivodeship) and local level (Municipality).

Poland has also this year adopted a new National Waste Management Plan, which states that an essential step towards improving the recycling rate in Poland is to increase landfill fees for recyclable, compostable or recoverable material. If acted upon, this could greatly increase the incentive to divert important municipal waste streams from landfill. The Polish market is clearly responsive to cost: in 2008 after landfill tax was significantly raised, there was a substantial reduction in waste being landfilled.

Declaration of bin-dependence

Although Polish citizens have always had to pay directly for waste collection, the new legislation has made some substantial changes to the payment system. There are now three different calculation methods. Each household is subject to a standard fee, which is then adjusted to reflect either:

  • The number of people living in a household;
  • The number of square metres covered by the property; or
  • The number of cubic metres of water used by the household per month.

The first of these options seems to be the most reasonable and has proven the most popular.

Municipalities are left to determine the standard collection fee, which as a result varies from region to region. Some municipalities charge at little as 3 Polish Zloty (around £0.56) per household, per person, per month, while some charge 20 Zloty (around £3.75).

The standard charge is also affected by a declaration made by the householder regarding waste segregation. If a property owner declares that they have separated out recyclable materials then they pay considerably lower fees. In some municipalities, this could be as low as 50% of the usual charge. Only those who declare that they don’t want to recycle pay full price. It’s rare that people do so: who would pick the most expensive option?

The problem is that some householders declare that they recycle their waste while in reality they don’t. Unfortunately, abusing the system is easy to get away with, especially since the new scheme is still in its early stages and is not yet stable. Monitoring recycling participation in order to crack down on such abuses of the system represents quite a challenging task.

Future Perspectives

Transformation periods are always hard and it is common that they bring misunderstanding and chaos. It isn’t surprising that there are problems with the new system which require ironing out, and the new legislation is nevertheless welcome. However, there is still much work to be done to provide sufficient and sustainable waste management in Poland. This will include such measures as educating the population, improving waste separation at source and securing waste treatment capacity.

Perhaps most importantly, Poland needs to take immediate action to develop its municipal waste treatment capacity across the board. If the 2020 recycling target is to be met, the country will require material recovery facilities, anaerobic digestion and in vessel composting sites, and household waste and recycling centres; and if more waste is to be diverted from landfill it will also need energy from waste (EfW) incinerators and mechanical biological treatment facilities.

According to Eurostat, only 1% of waste in Poland was incinerated in 2011. It has been confirmed so far that an EfW plant will be developed in each of Poland’s 11 biggest cities. Fortunately for Poland, the development of waste treatment installations is quite generously funded by the EU, which covers up to 80% of the total cost: EU subsidy agreements have already been signed for three of the planned EfW plants. The remaining cost will be covered by central, regional and local government.

The CRI paper presents three different scenarios for the future recycling rate in Poland. One of them is very optimistic and predicts that Poland has a chance to meet the 2020 recycling requirements, but each is based simply on a regression analysis of recent trends, rather than an analysis of the likely impact of recent and planned policy measures. What it does make clear, though, is that if Poland continues to progress as it has since 2006, it will reach the 2020 target. How many EU countries can claim that?

Note: The article is being republished with the kind permission of our collaborative partner Isonomia. The original version of the article can be found at this link.