Conventional wisdom has it that waste management must be done in a sustainable manner. But the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) has chosen an unsustainable and hazardous technology to manage its waste.
According to the agreement it has signed with Timarpur -OKhla Waste Management Company Pvt. Ltd. (TOWMCPL), a subsidiary of Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Ltd. incineration based Waste-To- Energy plants will soon be set up in the residential areas of Sukhdev Vihar, Timarpur and Ghazipur to manage the capital city's waste.
These plants could be another Bhopal disaster in the making. In early December 1984, Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister visited Bhopal and promised that from now on no hazardous industry will be set up in residential areas. It turns out that no action has since been taken to fulfill his promise.
The proposed Incineration Technology for energy generation is quite hazardous. It emits dioxins, the most poisonous cancer-causing toxin known to mankind. Incineration transfers the hazardous characteristics of waste from solid form to air, water and ash-perhaps making a case for space crunch for landfills. It also releases new toxins, which were not present in the original waste stream, besides generating heavy metals like Mercury.
In fact, a technology like this will kill the recycling sector and destroy the source of livelihood of people working in the waste sector.
In order to get this project implemented, the Union ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) will provide a subsidy. The waste will be provided by MCD.
In Timarpur, it plans to generate 6 MW of electricity from the project. It plans to process and treat 214,500 MT of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) and produce 69,000 MT of Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) in a year as per company's project design document. The project requires an investment of Rs.580 million. The promoters claim that the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance has agreed to provide 20% of the project's cost as a capital grant.
MCD's claim that these plants will eliminate the need for a dumping ground is false. Where will the plant dispose of the ash?
Contrary to what MNRE says, these incinerators cannot be classified as renewable energy, as the fossil-fuel based waste resources are destroyed instead of being recycled. They destroy all the paper, card and kitchen waste in domestic waste, instead of recycling and composting.
If the electricity companies and others have even an iota of concern for environment and public health, they should not buy electricity from this polluting and experimental incinerator.
The advocates of the project claim that no segregation of the plastics from the garbage is required. This not only violates the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management Handling) Rules 2000, which stipulates segregation, and promotes recycling of "recoverable resources" but also pre-empts segregation and recycling efforts being made by municipalities and communities around the country.
The incinerator based WTE technology is a failed technology. Ash and suspended particulate matter that emerge from the combustion technologies is a huge perpetual problem because although there is volume reduction of waste through this technique, the management of ever growing ash remains.
Trusting Delhi's waste to such an unproven technology is fraught with danger. It is even more disturbing that the company that is being awarded such projects does not have any previous experience in waste treatment.
India is top of the POPs
Delhi is only the tip of the iceberg. Even as India makes an international commitment to minimise the production and use of 12 of the most toxic chemicals in the world, known as the Dirty Dozen, by signing the United Nations Environment Program's, Stockholm Treaty on persistent organic pollutants, it subsidises and promotes the production of POP throughout the country.
Signing the POPs treaty is at odds with the current policy of the Union ministry of new and renewable energy to promote dioxin-emitting high heat waste-to-energy technologies.
The MNRE has issued an executive order to all the state chief secretaries and the administrators of Union Territories asking them to promote such WTE projects.
As a consequence, agreements for many such toxic projects have been signed and are being signed around the country.
Vilas Muttemwar, union minister of state for new & renewable energy (MNRE) informed the parliament recently that 31 waste to energy based power projects aggregating to 68.62 MW capacity in 8 states have been set up with central financial assistance from MNRE. The Supreme Court in its last order had approved subsidy for only 5 projects based on Biomethanation process while partially vacating the stay on all subsidy given to such projects.
Similar projects have been shelved in the recent past in Delhi, Chennai, Bhopal, Jaipur, Kanpur and Mumbai following pollution-related objections when Energy Developments Limited, an Australian company proposed it.
As a result of growing scientific evidence against incinerators and other "end-of-pipe" solutions, which generate POPs, developed countries have legislated severe environmental norms. What is more appalling is the fact that multinational corporations, international financial institutions such as CDM Executive Board, World Bank and aid agencies are pushing such technologies.
There are at least three studies on India that show high levels of dioxins and organo-chlorine pesticides in human milk samples, wildlife and dairy products.
According to the first study, breast milk samples collected from India showed the highest levels of dioxin-related compounds. Samples were collected from residents living around municipal dumpsites from Perengudi, Chennai, India.
In another study, the concentration of dioxins and other POPs were detected and measured in tissues of humans, fish, chicken, lamb, goat, predatory birds, and Ganges River dolphins collected from various locations in India. Dioxins were found in most of the samples analysed, with the highest in the liver of the spotted owlet.
It will be in the interest of our health and environment to desist from creating landfills in the sky by undertaking projects that create manifest conflict between Kyoto Protocol by making dubious claims about carbon credits even as they violate Stockholm Convention by condoning POPs emission. It will encourage indigenous and safer non-combustion technologies that can be implemented and operated at the community level. This could also help the informal sector improve its working conditions, encouraging composting and recycling rates.
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