Waste and climate change:
At a global scale, the waste management sector makes a relatively minor contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, estimated at approximately 3-5% of total anthropogenic emissions in 2005. However, the waste sector is in a unique position to move from being a minor source of global emissions to becoming a major saver of emissions. Although minor levels of emissions are released through waste treatment and disposal, the prevention and recovery of wastes (i.e. as secondary materials or energy) avoids emissions in all other sectors of the economy. A holistic approach to waste management has positive consequences for GHG emissions from the energy, forestry, agriculture, mining, transport, and manufacturing sectors.
Indian Cities and Waste Management:
The generation of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is overriding the population growth rate in all mega-cities in India. In Chennai (India) for example, the population growth between 1991 and 2001 was 21%, while its waste generation grew 61% between 1996 and 2002.
Furthermore, the economic and demographic growth of cities, coupled with changing lifestyles of people, changing land use patterns and technological advancements have led to an increase in the complexity of urban MSW management. Nationally, MSW generated in cities increased from 6 teragrams in 1947 to 48 teragrams in 1997 with a per capita increase of 1– 1.33% per year.
Improper Solid Waste Management is a systemic problem for all of India’s cities, and a study found that 91% of all solid waste is collected and dumped unscientifically in open landfills. Currently, an estimated 18% of waste going to Chennai’s landfills everyday can be recycled, and on average this number varies between 15%-25% depending on which city’s waste is examined. Landfills in Indian cities are fast reaching maximum capacity and there is a critical need to manage post-consumer waste effectively.
At an aggregate level, most of the waste generated in urban India are from households and apartments. However, municipal infrastructure, as well as it's protocols to collect segregated waste from these small and medium waste generators is severely lacking.
Scrap Dealer (Kabadiwalla) Ecosystem:
Apart from official systems of waste management in India’s major cities, which is handled by the city municipality, there is a robust ‘informal’ economy of traders in recyclable waste materials, that mainly consist of waste pickers, scrap dealers (Kabadiwallas), and wholesalers traders. Their main incentive is financial profit- waste pickers collect materials, which they sell to kabadiwallas. The Kabadiwallas sell the materials to specialised wholesalers, who in turn sell the materials to recycling factories. Together, these traders form an important ecosystem of handling recycled waste in the city.
Despite their contribution to ensuring that less waste enters the city landfills, they remain largely ignored in mainstream discussions on waste management. The Kabadiwalla ecosystem remains invisible in Indian cities with its impact unquantified and very little is done to improve its efficiency in delivering an effective way for residents, commercial establishments and Industries to send less waste material to the cities landfills.