India’s growth story, especially in the last few decades has resulted in a rapid increase in both domestic and industrial waste. The main driver for domestic waste is the rapid urbanization. Further, rapid growth of the Indian industry has led to increased industrial waste generation. In contrast rural waste is largely agricultural in nature and is dispersed over half-a-million habitations making them ‘manageable’. However, rural areas do suffer as ‘pollution sinks’ for the encroaching urban sprawl.
Over 160,000 Metric Tons (MT) of municipal solid waste is generated daily in the country. Per capita waste generation in cities varies from 0.2 kg to 0.6 kg per day depending upon the size of population. This is estimated to increase at 1.33% annually. The total waste quantity generated by the year 2047 is estimated to be about 260 million tons per year. It is estimated that if the waste is not disposed off in a more systematic manner, more than 1,400 km2 of land, which is equivalent to the size of city of Delhi, would be required in the country by the year 2047 for its disposal.
The Indian industrial sector generates an estimated 100 million tons/year of non-hazardous solid wastes, with coal ash from thermal power stations accounting for more than 70 million tons/year. Over 8 million tons/year of hazardous waste is generated in India. About 60% of these wastes, i.e., 4.8 million tons/year is estimated to be recyclable and the remaining 3.2 million tons/ year is non-recyclable.
The most harmful of all solid waste is the plastic. Plastic is made from a non-renewable natural resource i.e., petroleum. Consequently, the manufacturing of plastic bags contributes to the diminishing availability of our natural resources and the damage to the environment from the extraction of petroleum. At the same time, plastics are hazardous to produce; the pollution from plastic production is harmful to the environment. Finally, most plastic is made of polyethylene – more commonly known as polythene – they are hazardous to manufacture and are said to take up to 1,000 years to decompose on land and 450 years in water. The fact that plastics are not biodegradable means that the plastic bags in circulation and future production of plastic bags will stay with us for a long time- in our landfills, oceans, streets, and so forth. Further, countless plastic bags end up in our ocean and cause harm to our marine wildlife.
The prevalent system of waste management is far from satisfactory. For instance, the practice of uncontrolled dumping of waste on the outskirts of towns and cities have created serious environmental and public health problems that threaten water quality and urbanization itself.
There is an urgent need in most cities to change, restructure or intensify the waste collection systems. There is a need for promoting new ideas and concepts of waste management in waste collection, segregation and waste transportation.
Further, a complete change in the mental outlook of people is required to deal with accelerating problem of increasing waste. People can restrain themselves from the use of harmful man-made substances like plastic, they can consume more judicially reducing the amount of massive waste as a burden on environment, they can work towards waste segregation and organized dumping of waste enabling recycling, and they can reduce the use of paper and use environment friendly online medium as an alternative.