The menace of solid waste
In the year 2017, one of the biggest problems faced by the people living in Imphal was regarding the solid waste management. Like in many other urban areas of India, solid waste management in Imphal consists of centralised method in which unsegregated wastes are collected from households and other business institutions either by Imphal Municipal Corporation or by some other private agencies. The collected wastes are then dumped in open fields located in low lying areas like Sanakeithel, Lamphel etc. These disposal sites are often near some residential areas. As a result, the stench that comes out of the accumulated wastes become a problem for the people living there. This often becomes a cause of conflict between the residential people and the people from agencies dealing with waste management.
The problem of solid waste management
The problems related to waste disposal is not only limited to small towns like Imphal that lack infrastructure to dispose the waste efficiently but is spread all around the world. Urbanisations have increased tremendously waste related problems. According to the central pollution control board, India alone produce about 52 million tonnes of waste every year. Its worse in countries like China, Brazil, Japan, Germany and US.
One of the factors which worsens the problem is the prevailing' use and throw' life style. For instance, using disposable plates and disposal glass for any get together, in stations etc or using polythene for buying things etc. Though these items are quite convenient for using, they constitute a significant amount of trash.
Impacts of unscientific dumping of solid waste
- In many places, the solid waste are often dumped in open fields or landfills which are not managed properly. The trash would litter all over the areas. Such improperly manged landfills have lots of adverse impacts on the environment, some of which are summarized as under:
- Apart from the strong stench that comes out of the accumulated waste, dumping grounds can attract many vectors of diseases such as rats, cockroaches, insects etc
- Burning of trashes containing plastics and polythene in open may release gaseous pollutants like dioxin, furans, polychlorinated biphenyls etc which are associated with discomforts such as allergies, breathing problems, aathma etc. Pollutants also increase the risk of heart diseases.
- Open dumps releases large amount of methane due to the anaerobic decomposition taking place among the accumulated waste. Methane is one of the green house gases that contribute to global warming. Studies shows that methane is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide to trap heat in the atmosphere.
- The chemicals leached from the accumulated wastes contaminate soils and ground water.
- Stray animals which rummage for food from the waste often ingest harmful substance along with the food.
Accidents at dumping sites
Apart from the effects on human health and environment, accidents often take place at the dumping sites. In the early 70s, the cases of spilling of the contents from the drums dumped at the valley of drums, Kentucky which eventually contaminated the neaeby creeks with toxic chemicals was widely publicized. A few years later it also caught fire due to the methane produced. Similar incident occurred in India when the methane produced by the accumulated waste of Deonar landfills in Mumbai caught fire and burned for about ten days in February 2016. Accident of different nature took place at Ghazipur landfills of east Delhi. The 50 tonnes of garbage dumped there came crashing down on September 2017, catching people unaware. Two people were killed in the mishap.
Trying to find a solution
Considering the immense adverse impacts, solid wastes have on the environment, different government and non government agencies have taken up waste related projects. Institutions like World Bank and UNDP have also been funding projects to develop waste to energy infrastructures, sanitary landfills, support recycling etc. In spite of the efforts being made, no nations have been able to deal with the problem successfully. The only nation which come close to being successful is Sweden, though it also has its share of critics.
Efforts to improve the waste management in Sweden began in 1970s with implementation of strict waste disposal rules. Swedish laws make the producer of wastes responsible for every works related to the collections and disposal of wastes. Government also provide recycling stations within 300 meters from any residential areas which make collection of wastes easier. The collected wastes are either recycled or sent to the plant for converting into energy. It is said that only about 1% of the trash produced ends up in sanitary landfills. They have been so successful in managing the wastes that in 2015, Sweden imported 1.3 million tonnes of wastes from countries like Norway, UK and Ireland as raw materials. The critics however point out that more amount of wastes are converted into energy and less amount are recycled which is not eco friendly.
In case of Oslo, the citizens play an important role in managing the wastes. They segregate the domestic wastes at household levels by putting the wastes in different coloured bags. The plastic wastes are put in blue bags, the food wastes in green wastes and other types of wastes in other coloured bags. The trash bags are collected and sent to the processing plant which are provided with optical sensors. The optical sensors detect the green and blue bags as they move forward in the machine and diverted to other units for further processing. The blue bags containing plastics are sent to the remoulding unit while the green bags containing food wastes are converted into biofuels and bio fertiliser. Other type of wastes ends up in plant that convert them into energy.
Allappuzha is a village in Kerala. A few years back the villagers took the responsibility to segregate the wastes when they realized the harm caused by the unhygienic dumping of the waste at the open landfills. The organic wastes segregated are composed and converted to manure while the non biodegradable wastes are handled by the municipalities.
Panaji, the capital of Goa is another city worth praising for successfully implementing its' segregation of waste at source' policy. The municipalities have developed certain mechanism to ensure proper segregation of wastes. Apart from providing different coloured bins for collections of different types of dry wastes, the pick up trucks of the municipality collect biodegradable and non biodegradable waste on different days of the week. Consumers dumping unsegregated wastes are also penalised.
Role of rag pickers
In many countries which follow centralised method of collecting unsegregated wastes and dumping them in a dumping sites, rag pickers play an important role of segregating the wastes. They would pick up, sort out and sell any waste worth recycling to a middleman who in turn sells them to the manufacturing plant. It is reported that about 20-25% of the wastes are recycled by them. Recognising the important role played by them, Brazil has integrated the waste pickers into the municipal solid waste management system.
Role of individuals
Though most of the nations have formulated policies related to the waste management, the citizens need to play a bigger role in order to implement it successfully. Following the golden 4R rules of reduce, reuse, recycle and recover can make a significant change.
When we recycle materials, we not only curb the problems related to wastes but also save energy. Since recycled materials have already been processed, it would require less energy to convert them into a new item. For instance, according to a website of Standford university, one tonne of recycled aluminium saves 14000Kwh of energy which is equivalent to 95% reduction in the energy required than manufacturing from its ore, bauxite. Similarly, one tonne of newsprints saves 601Kwh of energy and one tonne of recycled steel saves around 642 Kwh of energy.
With urbanization, one cannot avoid generating wastes. But the various cases of success stories have shown that most of the domestic waste are manageable wastes. With a little change in our lifestyles we can also mage them effectively.
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