and Waste Management*
By: Ajit Kumar Jain, I.A.S.
High rate of population growth,
declining opportunities in the rural areas and shift from stagnant and low
paying agriculture sector to more paying urban occupations, largely
contribute to urbanization. The cities have grown haphazardly showing tell
tale signs of saturation of services, infrastructure and employment
potential. This manifests in congestion, inadequate water supply and
sanitation, urban poverty and environmental degradation and poses a
challenge to urban planners and citizens alike. The priority assigned to
urban environmental issues has traditionally been low, resulting in
substantial damage to human health and reduced productivity, development.
Cities are considered as the growth engines but growth bereft of
environmental concern is self-defeating.
The unexpected immigration has
also caused the burgeoning of slums, and the growth of squatters and
informal housing all around the rapidly expanding cities of the developing
world. In many cities, the rapid population growth has overwhelmed the
capacity of the municipal authorities to provide even basic services.
Millions of people in cities in the developing countries cannot meet their
basic needs of shelter, water, nutrition, sanitation, health and education.
Thus urban poverty becomes a characteristics feature of urbanization in the
twentieth century. Cities are harnessing the environmental resources at a
furious pace, taking their ecological footprints far beyond their
geographical limits. Pollution of all sorts is rampant leading to deep
degradation of the urban environment. Sustainability of the cities in the
developing countries with all the above constraints has become a big
question mark and has rightly been placed at the focal point of the
Balancing developmental needs
with the limitation of natural resource base will be a key parameter in the
struggle for survival. This will be a common denominator particularly in
water supply, sanitation, air quality and solid waste management.
Conceptually the contours of the city growth can be economic growth
Examples of rapidly depleting
assets include depleted ground-water, collapsing fisheries, CO2
accumulation in the atmosphere, and deforestation. It is demand of time that
we understand our basic requirements, dependency on resources and
sustainability on the life support systems that would be the determinant of
our very existence. This integrity takes us to concept of “Sustainable
The most widely known
definition of sustainable development comes from the Brundtland Commission,
which defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs
of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to
meet their own needs.”
Decision-makers at all levels
are faced with the task of how to resolve urban problems from drinking
water to waste management, from housing and transportation to the
preservation of urban green space. At the same time the cities will need to
become more aware of the impact that their consumption patterns have on
other regions and ecosystems.
Urbanization and Waste
contributes to waste generation, and unscientific waste handling causes
health hazards and urban environment degradation. Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)
is defined to include refuse from the households, non-hazardous solid waste,
discarded by the industrial, commercial and institutional establishments,
market waste, yard waste and street sweepings which are collected by the
municipal authorities for disposal. MSW is only a relatively small fraction
of all the solid waste that is generated in an advanced economy. Municipal
Solid Waste Management, broadly deals with post-consumer waste, in
prevention, treatment, recycle, reuse and disposal.
Health and Environment
Some of the adverse
environmental impacts of unscientific handling and indiscriminate dumping of
the solid waste are:
Ground water contamination
by the leachates generated by the waste dumps.
Surface water contamination
by the runoff from the waste dumps.
Foul odour, pests, rodents
and wind blown litter in and around the waste dumps.
Generation of inflammable
gas (methane) within the waste dumps resulting into fires at the
landfill and smoke and smog around.
Release of green house
gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.
Bird menace above the waste
dumps affecting air traffic.
Epidemics through stray
animals and other diseases vectors.
In large agglomerations of
the developing countries, inadequate waste management is the cause of
serious urban pollution and health hazard.
Sustainable Solid Waste
The conventional approach of
solid waste management has been to manage the removal of the solid discards
from the immediate vicinity of the human settlements. This resulted in the
mechanized systems of collection and transportation of waste in the
industrialized countries and the landfills to bury the waste. In the later
part of the twentieth century, it was realized that the societies will not
be able to master the waste avalanche. The waste management had to change
its focus from “efficient removal” to waste avoidance, minimization and
recycling options with higher priority.
MSW contains organic waste,
plastics, papers, glass, metal and inert substance. Carbon and
nitrogen-based organic waste from kitchen, market and abattoir is a source
of rich organic manure or energy. Plastics, papers, glass, metals are
recycled into new products. Debris can be recycled and earth and inert waste
used as landfill cover. This helps conserving natural resources and also
generates employment. Promotion of waste recycling sector and providing that
with an institutional support can, therefore, be in tune with the goals of
Waste Management and Poverty
impacts the poor most severely. The urban poor, who do not have a fair
access to public health and sanitary services in the city are subject to
extremely unhygienic conditions in their settlements and periodic outbreaks
of water and air borne epidemics. Driven by the compulsion of abject
poverty, many of them are involved in waste picking and recycling through an
informal chain of scrap dealers and recycling industry. While the scrap
dealers have an access to the recyclable waste of the industry and
commercial establishments, they depend on the rag pickers for retrieving
recyclable waste from the households. In the absence of source segregation,
the waste pickers collect the recyclables from the garbage bins.
The rag pickers can be
instrumental in the collection and processing of organic waste also, within
the localities. Organized groups of rag pickers can be trained and given
logistic support for decentralized waste management. This may reduce the
transportation and landfill requirement.
In Bogota, Columbia rag pickers
called 'card boarders' have been organized into waste recycling
cooperatives. With the help of the non-governmental agencies, these
cooperatives have formed a 'National Recyclers Association' representing
over 50,000 waste collecting families. The cooperatives have ensured minimum
wages to the waste collectors. They have set up their own company for
selling recyclable waste material and have provided daily care and health
cover to their members.
Community participation becomes
paramount in an innovative and sustainable approach to Municipal Solid Waste
Management. Increasingly, local governments in the developing countries are
encouraging community participation.
To achieve the objective of
sustainability it is necessary to establish systems of solid waste
management, which harmonize the technical requirements with the objectives
of environment protection and the needs and interests of different
stakeholders especially the urban poor. As the city population increases and
its economic profile changes, the quantity of waste and the resources
requirement to manage it will increase. Given their financial limitations
and competing demand of other services, the urban local bodies may find it
challenging to raise and sustain additional allocations for this sector.
Thus waste minimization and a community-based waste management seems the
only sustainable way to manage the waste.
Jain, I.A.S is Senior Advisor, Solid Waste Management Cell, All India
Institute of Local Self-Government (AIILSG), Sthanikraj Bhavan, C. D.
Barfiwala Marg, Andheri (West), Mumbai - 400 058 (India).
(*The article has been
reprinted from Eco-Echoes vol.7, Apr-Jun 2006, published by Indian Centre
for Plastics in the Environment)