With world governments meeting in Paris later this year for deciding on global climate agenda, mitigation and adaptation are going to be buzzwords of the day. Many think these are mere talks, with no actual outcome in hand. For that perception to fade, in the year 2007, at Bali, world governments agreed to come up with concrete actions which are based on national priorities as well as complement the global goal of carbon reduction, thus termed ‘Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMA)’ for developing countries and ‘measurable, reportable and verifiable (MRV), appropriate mitigation commitments or actions including quantified GHG emission limitation and reduction objectives, by all developed countries’. Later in the year 2009, at Copenhagen, there was a political deadlock. The facilitative role played by India resulted in Copenhagen accord. Rest is history. In Copenhagen, India also committed for reducing ‘the emission intensity of its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) by 20-25% by 2020 in comparison to 2005 level’. Around the same time National Action Plan on Climate Change was announced, later states were also asked to replicate the measure and formulate their state action plans. Discussing the National Action Plan and its status is a topic for another day, what is important to note- is the interest of the new government in the continuation of the agenda of taking actions to mitigate climate change.
Distracting here a little, and placing another timeline of happenings in India.
After coming to power, Narendra Modi government announced Swach Bharat Abhiyaan – Clean India Mission, focusing on sanitation and solid waste management. In and around June, 2015 Solid Waste Management Manual prepared by Ministry of Urban Development was made public for inviting comments. The final version of it is not yet out. Subsequently GIZ, German agency for international cooperation on sustainable development with nod from Government of India- Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) called for consultation on NAMA on Solid Waste Management in Delhi and Bengaluru. Last year, MoEFCC also decided to amend the rules dealing with solid waste management. The draft was opened for comments. In April, 2015 MoEFCC released the updated draft of rules dealing with Solid Waste Management. In addition to that, draft version of rules pertaining to plastic, e-waste and bio-medical was made public. Discussion is still open and the draft versions are available on MoEFCC website. Comments and suggestions made by our team are available on this website. Government is also planning for bringing a comprehensive law to have a constitutional mandate for Swach Bharat Abhiyaan. From all what is stated here, it is clear that government is serious in dealing with the issues of waste mismanagement. The approach can be questionable but the intent of doing something about waste ‘menace’ is definitely there.
Coming back to global climate agenda, as per the data provided by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – waste and waste water contributes 3% of global carbon emissions. Not a lot. But mitigating the emissions from waste will mean cleaner cities, lesser health risks, resource recovery for manufacturing and agriculture sectors and last but not least reduction in carbon emissions. Win – win situation for all. Developing countries like India are identified with massive dump-yards, collectively put together they may exceed the geographical size of one average city of India. A lot of us are already aware that the practice of blindly dumping of waste can lead to many environmental, health and societal disasters as is it is currently unfolding in Mandur and Mavallipura, near Bengaluru. Having Solid Waste Management as Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action in this context makes sense.
How should India’s Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action on Solid Waste Management look like?
Synergies between Swach Bharat Abhiyaan guidelines, NAMA and rules pertaining to waste management are must. Currently the three are not synchronized. In many cases, focus is on harming technologies which encourage incineration of waste. This is uncalled for. For NAMA, suggestions for including the involvement of cement industry which can take waste as ‘refuse derived fuel’ are being made. In short term- it may look like a worthy solution. In long term it will be disastrous as it uses the same old incineration technique which emits toxins in the air. There are few suggestions given below for wider public consideration:
- Green Collar Worker Fund: The action on solid waste management demands an unprecedented attention. The need of the hour is to identify various players and scientific methods which are cost effective, efficient and inclusive for all. When the talk of solutions to problems like waste begins, the experts forget that there is a workforce which has to execute whatever has been theorized. The concerns of the workforce both formal (sanitary workers) and informal (wastepickers, scrap dealers and recyclers) are rarely recognized. Their potential remains untapped. Sanitary workers even if their number is paltry, they still provide the service of door to door waste collection, sweep the streets and remove the litter from public places. Their pays are low, if on contract highly irregular with low access to social security. Coming to informal workforce their services are rarely appreciated. According to a recently published paper in Economic & Political Weekly, wastepickers collect more than 10,000 MTs of waste every day for sale to recyclers. Municipalities have started taking interest in welfare of wastepickers but such examples are rare of the rarest. Scrap dealers, itinerant buyers and stockists -leave aside the summation of their contribution; we don’t even know what their actual numbers are. They are found on the urban fringes, prone to police harassment and constant displacement. This workforce has to be recognized in all three frameworks. They are green collar workers. It is widely agreed that if the workers are satisfied they will perform more efficiently. For that to happen, their livelihoods need to be looked at respectfully. Their access to social and livelihood security should be strengthened. Creating a corpus fund for Green Collar Employees as a part of Swach Bharat Abhiyaan and NAMA isn’t a bad idea to ponder upon. The representatives of both sanitary workers and informal waste workers should be included in the steering committee of such a fund for reaching grassroots level. Compared to the other following suggested measures, the workers’ welfare framework may not show direct reduction in carbon emissions. But it will lead to their increased efficiency in waste intake and its scientific processing which will result in reduced carbon emissions.
- Extended Producers’ Responsibility: Most documents surveyed for this post, none mentioned anything about Extended Producers’ Responsibility (EPR). It is strange that the whole discourse on waste management missed the discussion on EPR. The definitions of Extended Producers’ Responsibility mentioned in draft solid waste, plastic and e-waste rules are incoherent. When government is encouraging manufacturing in India as a part of its Make in India Campaign, it is essential that the end output which in most cases is waste needs to be considered of utmost importance. A lot of products including those which have harmful inputs like mercury and lead are left out of the ambit of EPR. The enforcement mechanism of EPR, even in new draft rules, is toothless. There is a chance that a lot of these ‘illegitimate’ outputs- termed as industrial waste instead of being up-cycled or recycled may end in the streams, dump-yards or ‘catch fire’- hence threat to environmental and health safety. It is must for the government to prepare a comprehensive Extended Producers’ Responsibility policy for all type of waste items including those which are currently left out, as a part of Swach Bharat Abhiyaan, NAMA and its Make in India policy.
- Encouraging micro-enterprises for waste management is another domain which needs to be looked into for not just bringing synergy between rules, mission and NAMA but other corresponding policies like Make in India. Wastepickers, scrap dealers, stockists all are informal waste workers. They hold immense potential for waste management. The informal waste economy amounts to more than $280 Million (INR 1726 Crore) annually. These numbers are very big. The efforts are individual, as a result it doesn’t reflect in actual change in financial situation on ground for many informal waste workers. If government prepares conducive structures for organizing the work-force, provides support for skill up-gradation to expand the domain of their current operations, opens existing credit and insurance facilities to these workers, the impact will be significant.
- Transforming Agriculture Policies for better organic waste management: This domain needs to be thoroughly looked in as a part of NAMA, Swach Bharat Abhiyaan. Solid Waste Management rules make source segregation mandatory and installation of decentralized processing and sorting units is must. I will not go in the details of it, as most of it is in public domain. What I want to mention here is the need for integration of agriculture inputs with organic waste management systems. The fertilizer subsidy in India is very high. This has made the agriculture chemical and carbon intensive. There are small steps being taken for organic and sustainable farming. Usage of urban organic waste in farming is an area to be looked into. On average municipal waste in Indian cities have 60% of organic content, which can be either used for bio-methanization or composting. The mismanagement and aggregation of organic/wet waste results in high methane and carbon emissions.
Most composting facilities are defunct or not giving quality compost because of mixed waste being sent to them. Many which are able to give quality waste are unable to sustain as the market of compost is yet to be liberalized. Protective measures which encourage fertilizer consumption need to be re-worked. Mandatory source segregation, composting and later purchase of compost by Municipal, State and National authorities, agriculture universities are necessary. It can be either sold through subsidy or other incentives. Scientific composting or bio-methanization which will also result in production of slurry useful for agriculture have high potential of carbon emission reduction from both waste and agriculture sectors.
There are many other aspects proposed for bettering solid waste management systems including source segregation, decentralized processing facilities and larger zero waste framework. They have not been touched in detail. The MoEFCC is already looking at them. Government of India is making its submission for NAMA to United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat in coming six weeks. It is putting its weight behind Solid Waste Management and Forestry Sector. The inclusion of above given areas i.e. Green Collar Worker Fund/Recognition of social and livelihood security of work force, Encouragement for micro- enterprises of informal waste workers, Extended Producers’ Responsibility, Integration of SWM and other waste frameworks with Make in India and agriculture policies is must for success of Swach Bharat Abhiyaan and NAMA. In the same breath it is also important to state that government should shun the path of incinerating waste. It should be looked at as a resource, a source of livelihood for many small entrepreneurs who can bring big change.