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PM calls for week-long garbage-free country, but India is the world’s highest waste-generator

India produces 277.1 million tonnes of solid waste every year, which is likely to touch 387.8 million tonnes in 2030. However, the per capita waste generated is below the global average.

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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi had last week launched a week-long garbage-free India campaign in the run-up to Independence Day. Announced on 8 August, Modi had said his government’s ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ was key in supporting the fight against coronavirus.

However, the week-long initiative seems too small an effort when considered in context of several reports on how much waste India generates, including a 2018 World Bank report that found the country generated 277.1 million tonnes annually.

The World Bank study revealed that India was the world’s highest waste-generating nation. According to a 2016 estimate given by the study, India’s annual waste generated is likely to touch 387.8 million tonnes in 2030 and 543.3 million tonnes by 2050.

The silver lining, though, is the fact that while India’s total waste production is the highest, Bermuda and the US topped the list when it came to per person generation of waste every day.

While Bermuda generated 4.54 kg of waste per person each day, US produced 2.24 kg per person. At 0.57 kg per person, India was below the global average of 0.74 kg per person. By 2050, however, India’s figure is projected to increase by 900 gm every day.

A report by the Press Information Bureau in 2016 put India’s annual waste generation at 62 million tonnes, “with an average annual growth rate of 4 per cent”.

On a daily basis, the country produces more than 1.50 lakh metric tonne (MT) of solid waste, according to a 2019 India Today report. With almost 15,000 MT of garbage remaining exposed every day, it has become a significant reason for rising pollution levels.

“Of the total collected waste, only 20 per cent (27,000 MT per day) is processed and the remaining 80 per cent (1,08,000 MT per day) is dumped in landfill sites,” the news report noted.

According to a paper titled Challenges and opportunities associated with waste management in India — published in the Royal Society Open Science in March 2017 — urban areas alone generate 1,70,000 tonnes of waste per day.

There is also a significant disparity in the waste generated per person/day between small towns and cities. While people in small town could stack up about 0.17 kg per person/day, their city counterparts generate about 0.62 kg per person/day.

Also read: Kabaadiwallas not enough to fix India’s garbage problem, but this national project could be

Delhi tops list of Indian cities generating waste

According to the World Bank report, 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal waste is generated worldwide each year. This was projected to increase by 70 per cent, to reach 3.4 billion tonnes by 2050, due to “rapid urbanisation, population growth and economic development”.

Delhi topped the list of Indian cities with maximum waste generation (30.6 lakh tonnes), and was followed by Greater Mumbai at 24.9 lakh tonnes, Chennai at 18.3 lakh tonnes, Greater Hyderabad at 16.4 lakh tonnes, Bengaluru at 12.8 lakh tonnes, Ahmedabad at 12.2 lakh tonnes, Pune and Surat at 6.2 lakh tonnes, Kanpur at 5.5 lakh tonnes and Jaipur at 5.4 lakh tonnes.

Municipal waste is roughly classified into five categories — recyclable material (glasses, bottles, cans, paper, metals, certain plastic, etc), composite wastes (tetra packs, toys), biodegradable wastes (kitchen waste and green waste such as flowers, vegetables, fruits and leaves), inert waste (rocks, construction material, debris) and domestic hazardous and toxic waste (e-wastes, medication, light bulbs, fluorescent tubes, shoe polish).

In the South Asian region — which primarily consists of low and middle-income nations — more than half of the total waste generated is food or green material, while plastic makes up 8 per cent of its total waste.

At 277.1 million tonnes of waste, India generates more than 80 per cent of what South Asia produces and 13 per cent of what the world produces annually.

The World Bank report also noted that 33 per cent of the world practices open dumping of waste — a popular practice in South Asia. In India, it noted, “77% of waste is disposed of in open dumps, 18% is composted and just 5% is recycled”.

Also read: Waiting for food, dodging cops — ragpickers in Lucknow slum live on crumbs, no water


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  1. Priorities of a prime minister can be defined only by the prime minister himself, and they define the prime minister himself

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