Tag Archives: Waste management.

Water Conservation and Minimizing Wastage

Like in many philosophical traditions of the world, the Indian tradition puts great emphasis on the importance of water in life. In the ancient Indian tradition, ap or water is one of the five panchmahabhutas or great elements of life. Early Indian literature belonging to Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and other traditions had highlighted the importance of water and its conservation. The rich Ayurvedic literature of the subcontinent has countless treaties on water. It goes to the extent of defining it as jiva or life. However, this elixir of life is becoming increasingly scarce due to challenges of rising population, rapid urbanisation, industrial growth and increasing water pollution. Since the second half of the previous century, the world has been urbanizing rapidly. According to the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), a division established in 1946 to study “population dynamics and monitoring demographic trends and policies worldwide”, in 1950, only 30 per cent of the world’s population lived in urban areas, whereas by 2018 the world population living in the urban setting had grown to 55 per cent. The urban population of the world has grown rapidly from 751 million in 1950 to 4.2 billion in 2018.

The rapid urbanization has led to a severe crisis of useable water in the world, particularly in developing countries such as ours. In India, per capita availability of water has decreased from 2209 m3/year in 1991 to 1545 m3/year in 2011 and it is estimated to decline further up to 1140m3/ year in the year 2050. Furthermore, demand for water from various sectors viz. irrigation, drinking water, industry, energy and others are expected to rise from 710 billion cubic metres (BCM) in the year 2010 to 843 BCM in the year 2025 and further to 1180 BCM in the year 2050.

 According to a 2018 NITI Aayog report, currently, 600 million Indians face high to extreme water stress and about two lakh people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water. By 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and an eventual six per cent loss in the country’s GDP. When we speak of water, we generally mean freshwater because even when 70 per cent of our planet is covered with water, only 2.5 per cent of it is consumable. 

According to the UN Environment’s document ‘Freshwater Strategy 2017-2021’, freshwater plays a fundamental role in support of the environment, society and the economy. Since water is a natural resource and it cannot be created in factories or laboratories, the only solution to our looming water crisis is conserving water. 

In seven out of India’s 10 most populous cities, the depth to groundwater has increased significantly over the last two decades. This is an alarming situation because India is the biggest user of groundwater. According to a report India extracts more groundwater than China and the US the next two biggest pullers of groundwater combined. Half of the total clean water needed in our country is met from groundwater. 

The 2014 report o the parliamentary standing committee on water resources constituted on August 5, 2004, found that the groundwater forms the largest share of India’s agriculture and drinking water supply. About 89 per cent of groundwater extracted in India is used for irrigation making it the highest category with 9 per cent share of the extracted groundwater followed by the industry that uses only 2 per cent of it. Similarly, the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) has stated in Lok Sabha that 50 per cent of urban water requirement and 85 per cent of rural domestic water needs are fulfilled by groundwater. This kind of use has caused a reduction in groundwater levels in India by 61 per cent between 2007 and 2017.

The present government has shown unprecedented interest in water conservation, minimising wastage and ensuring equitable distribution. In his first Mann Ki Baat programme in the second term as the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi described the water crisis as on one of the biggest challenges facing India today. Apart from this, to encourage stakeholders like water user associations, institutions, corporate sector, individuals, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), gram panchayats, urban local bodies to adopt innovative practices of groundwater augmentation like creating awareness through people’s participation, rainwater harvesting and artificial recharge, promoting water use efficiency, recycling and reuse of water, the government in 2007 launched the Groundwater Augmentation Awards and National Water Award.

What is composting and how it helps the environment?

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A compost bin

Composting is a treatment process that facilitates the decomposition of organic matter in an oxygenated environment and creates a nutrient-rich fertilizer or soil amendment. Food scraps, landscape trimmings, wood products and animal byproducts, packaging and other discarded material can be composted. Bio-waste from food instead of dumping in a landfilled is turned in to compost and forms a resource for organic soil improvers, fertilizers, and bio-based products. The carbon and nutrient contents of bio-waste are mainly concentrated in organic fertilizers. By bringing these nutrients back to the soil, rather than letting organic waste rot away in landfills composting can feed diverse life in the soil. The bacteria, fungi, insects and worms in compost support better soil health and plant growth, ultimately boosting its resilience to cope with harsh drought conditions. These nutrients and can also be extracted, modified or transformed into a range of different bio-based products, too. All these secondary products can replace fossil-based products such as mineral fertilisers, peat and fossil fuels. After use, the residues of these products can flow back safely into the biosphere, thereby closing carbon and nutrient cycles.

Furthermore, compost has the ability to help regenerate poor soils. The composting process encourages the production of beneficial micro-organisms (mainly bacteria and fungi) which in turn break down organic matter to create humus. Humus–a rich nutrient-filled material–increases the nutrient content in soils and helps soils retain moisture. Compost has also been shown to suppress plant diseases and pests, reduce or eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers, and promote higher yields of agricultural crops.

Composting organic materials that have been diverted from landfills ultimately avoids the production of methane and leachate formulation in the landfills. Compost has the ability to prevent pollutants in stormwater runoff from reaching surface water resources. Compost has also been shown to prevent erosion and silting on embankments parallel to creeks, lakes, and rivers, and prevents erosion and turf loss on roadsides, hillsides, playing fields, and golf courses.

The benefits of improving organic collection for composting are potentially far reaching. Direct benefits include an improved urban environment for human health, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and reduced costs for municipalities and households. Indirect benefits can include improved soils in peri-urban areas through cycling of organic fertilisers, more feedstock for the local bioeconomy, and clean renewable energy for electricity, district heating, and even transport systems.

We are finding it difficult to manage our waste.

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A garbage mound in New Delhi

Mountains of waste being generated as a by-product of economic development is taking a serious toll on the environment. Because of rapid urbanization, the country is looking at massive waste management challenge. Nearly 400 million urban residents in living in 8000 towns and cities produce 62 million tons (MT) of solid waste annualy. Out of 62MT, only 42 MT is collected and even out of 43 MT, only 11.9MT is recycled or treated and rest goes to landfill sites or garbage mounds.

Uncontrolled dumping, is the major waste disposal method in India, and is also a major source of disease. In Mumbai, 12% of total solid waste is burned either openly on the streets or in landfills, a practice that releases black carbon, dioxins and carcinogenic furans.

A CSE survey data shows that 70-80 percent of India’s wastewater ends up in water bodies. No proper sanitation facilities, frequent, uncontrolled discharge of wastewater and industrial discharges are the major causes of water-borne diseases, especially in India’s densely populated slum areas and ghettoes. Findings show that out of 816 municipal sewage treatment plants (STPs) listed across India only 522 work. So out of 62000 million liters of Sewage generated, only 18,883 gets treated and the rest is discharged into the water bodies.

Sewage water pollution - refused directly into water basins
Sewage being discharged into water bodies

According to State of India’s Environment 2019 data, the country also recorded a 56 % increase in hazardous-waste generating industries between 2009 and 2017. These industries are also not complying with rules and regulation set by the authorities. A recent joint study by The Associated Chambers of Commerce of India (ASSOCHAM) says that that nearly 74.6 lakh tons of hazardous waste is generated in India.

The lack of infrastructure for scientific disposal and recycling of hazardous waste has caused severe environmental damage. There are only 17 disposal facilities in India with both secured landfills and modern scientific incinerators. States like Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab and Orissa do not have safety regulations and infrastructure to safely recycle and dispose hazardous waste. Workers who collect hazardous waste are exposed to its dangerous chemical nature, resulting in them contracting severe diseases. They do not have modern equipment, are poorly trained and not paid well.

‘True Cost of Sanitation’, a report of economic cost of sanitation released in 2015, stated that India lost near 106.7 Billion from its GDP. Poor sanitation has impacts on the society and the economy. It causes fatal diseases and also gives rise to related losses in productivity due to sickness and increased healthcare costs from caring for the sick.