Supreme Court favours source segregation and biomethanation technology
Municipal waste case is scheduled for hearing on July 28, 2008. Earlier, on May 15, 2007, the Supreme Court permitted the Union ministry of new and renewable energy (MNRE) to subsidise five pilot waste-to-energy plants. Vilas Mutemwar, Union Minister of Renewable Energy has already announced 31 such projects in the parliament although Supreme Court 's last order based on its Waste to Energy Committee's report had vacated stay for only 5 such projects that too with Biomethanation Technology. If Delhi incinerator based WTE projects succeed then it would set a precedent for all of India and South Asia.
Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Ltd. (ILFS) claims to have the experience in Waste to Energy Projects in Delhi, UP, Rajasthan, Maharastra. The Delhi projects are proposed in residential areas.
The Municipal Waste Management case ( W.P. (C ) No. 888/1996) came up for hearing in the Supreme Court of India on 15/5/2007.
The case dealt municipal waste to energy projects and its failures and the role of Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) . The Ministry has been implementing a national programme on energy recovery from urban and industrial waste, to promote new technologies such as bio-methanation, pyrolysis/gasification and combustion for the processing and disposal of waste.
In the context of widespread concern about global warming, the order is quite significant since it does not allow waste incineration. As per the Kyoto Protocol, waste incineration is a green house gas emitter and India is a signatory to it. Upon hearing the application of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, the court has passed its order wherein it has referred to the findings of the Committee of Experts on Waste to Energy saying, "it is desirable to have solid waste segregated at source, which is also required as per the MSW Rules, 2000."
Unmindful of these mandatory requirements and oblivious of the composition of Indian waste, which has a low calorific value and is hence unsuitable for electricity-generation, MNRE had for quite a long time experimented with incineration technologies despite consistent failures against the cardinal principles of waste management at considerable public cost.
The 15 May, 2007 order "permit (s) Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Sources (MNES) to go ahead for the time being with 5 pilot projects chosen by them" but it is noteworthy that this refers specifically to bio-methanation technology. Efforts are already on by the Ministry to misinterpret the order to include incinerator projects to push the Mumbai, Delhi and other projects.
In the light of the most recent Supreme Court order, one feels that MNRE should ideally withdraw or modify its letter dated 25.07.2005 written to Chief Secretaries of State Governments Administrators of Union Territories Heads of State Nodal Agencies Municipal Corporations/ Urban Local Bodies on the subject of "Accelerated Programme on Energy Recovery from Urban Wastes- Sanction for the Year 2005-06" with copies to Ministry of Urban Affairs & Poverty Alleviation, Ministry of Environment & Forests, Development of Science & Technology Secretary, Planning Commission, IREDA and other Financial Institutions/Banks R&D Institutions, Consultants/Consultancy Organisations and Business/Industry Associations pledging support for combustion technologies among others.
Sadly, the petitioner's objection to providing support (subsidy) to waste to energy projects was not deemed justified by the court.
P.S: The urban solid waste is generated in large quantities (0.4 – 0.6 kg per capita per day depending on the size of the city). The Class I cities (299) identified in a study together generate around 64,000 tons per day of MSW. MNRE is least concerned about its management, its entire focus is on energy generation.
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Electricity, but at what cost?
Electricity generation from waste is not a eureka solution for waste management. This was brought home after a presentation given by Energy Developments Limited (EDL), an Australian company, to the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) on January 7. EDL was renewing its proposal to set up the resource incineration plant in Chennai; the presentation, however, failed to answer most environmental and feasibility questions.
On January 31, the Chief Minister, Ms Jayalalithaa, announced in the Assembly plans to pursue a 14.85 MW plant to produce power from the city's garbage, using gasification pyrolysis technology, in Perungudi.
Energy Developments Limited Private India Limited (EDL India) is a subsidiary of the Australian company, 12% of whose shares are held by the US-based Smith family's Brightstar Synfuel Corporation. It reports that till June 30, 2002, over the last 11 years, it had invested $148 million in the development of its gasification technology. Does it not mean that, till June 2002, the technology was still in a developing stage? And now even if we accept that it has been developed, according to EDL, why should we expose our ecological space for its trial?
The plant has been proposed at Perungudi dumpsite where the company has been leased a 15-acre plot of land for 15 years by the corporation. The dumpsite receives about 1,200 tonnes of waste per day. The company intends to dispose of waste and recover electricity through the company's gasification technology, which it calls a Solid Waste Energy Recycling Facility (SWERF). The company also claims to have a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF).
The world's first and only SWERF plant, in Wollongong (New South Wales, Australia), is still in an experimental and developing stage. Environmental activists and some welfare associations have criticised the project -- they argue that since the only functional facility using a similar technology is still on an experimental run, there is no need to promote an untested project in Chennai.
The word 'recycling' in the process is a misnomer used to mislead gullible bureaucrats and the media. In fact, a technology like this will kill the recycling sector and destroy the source of livelihood of people working in this sector.
Gasification is an incineration process that emits dioxins, the most poisonous cancer-causing toxin known in the world. Incineration transfers the hazardous characteristics of waste from solid form to air, water and ash. It also releases new toxins, which were not present in the original waste stream, besides generating heavy metals.
Contrary to what EDL says, the gasification of waste leads to global warming and cannot be allowed, as India is a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol. Annexure A of the Protocol lays down that incineration processes cause greenhouse gas emissions. It is a resource destroying process.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the corporation and EDL has been kept confidential, despite the fact that Tamil Nadu has the Right to Information Act in place. The agreement is inaccessible even to media people and researchers.
The company proposes to produce 14.85 MW of electricity using 600 metric tonnes of municipal solid waste per day given by the Chennai Corporation. It plans to sell it to the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB) at a cost of Rs.3.87 per unit.
EDL's claim that the plant will eliminate the need for a dumping ground by diverting 80% of the waste is false. Where will the plant dispose of the ash? It says it will return the remaining 20-25% of toxic waste to the corporation. How will the corporation deal with this waste? EDL's presentation also says that Perungudi waste has 34.64% inert waste. It means that even if EDL's incinerator plant becomes functional, the corporation will have to deal with the remaining 50-55% of the waste. EDL compared the summarised the results of two Perungudi waste composition studies, one done by it and one by the Corporation. The EDL study was said to be conducted as per ASTM standard test method for the determination of the composition of unprocessed MSW (see table below).
Composition of Perungudi waste Type of waste EDL (September 2002) Chennai Corporation (1998) Organic 8% 59% Green waste 32.25% 0.20% Timber 6.99% 0.00% Consumer plastics 5.86% 1.00% Industrial plastics 1.18% 1.18% Steel 0.03% 0.00% Aluminium 0.00% 0.00% Textiles and rags 3.14% 5.00% Inert 34.64% 27.30% Paper 6.45% 3.50% Rubber and leather 1.47% 2.50% Others 0.00% 1.50%
This is the scenario in theory; in practice, the corporation will still have to deal with 70-75% of waste. Ash and suspended particulate matter that emerge from the combustion technologies like these is a huge perpetual problem because, although there is volume reduction of waste through this technique, the management of ever growing ash remains. As a consequence of this, several toxins will enter the food chain and poison the health and environment for generations. The technology intends to use Chennai residents as guinea pigs.
Interestingly, in the presentation made by EDL to the TNPCB, it tried to contradict the composition of the waste as was analysed by the corporation but it failed to show mercury in its own study. The advocates of the project have no way to segregate mercury from the garbage as is required. This is yet another instance of ignoring environment and public health effects.
EDL's controversial incineration technology emits dioxins, which the company would have us believe would be much lower than the permitted level. "However, it has been clearly shown that dioxin is carcinogenic even in trace quantities. Further, no Indian laboratory has tested dioxins. How then can there be a permissible limit here in India?"
While India has made 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 (UNEP) Stockholm Treaty on persistent organic pollutants (POPs), it subsidises and promotes the production of POPs throughout the country.
Signing the POPs treaty is at odds with the current policy of the Union Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources (MNES) to promote dioxin-emitting high heat waste-to-energy (WTE) technologies. The MNES 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. Surprisingly, these projects have undergone no environment impact assessment and public hearing process. Even approval from the Technical Appraisal Committee (TAC) has not been sought.
EDL's project in Delhi's Gazipur gasification-based WTE project with 1000 MT per day to generate 25 MW of power has been shelved following pollution-related objections. How can a technology, which has been found polluting in Delhi, become non-polluting in Chennai? There are three recent studies on India (see 'Some Indian studies' below) that show high levels of dioxins and organo-chlorine pesticides in human milk samples, wildlife and dairy products. According to one of them, presented at an international symposium on dioxins in Seoul, Korea, in 2001, breast milk samples collected from India showed the highest levels of dioxin-related compounds. Samples were collected from residents living around municipal dumpsites from Perungudi, Chennai, India.
In a study of the Perungudi dumpsite, Environment Resource Management, London, has clearly certified garbage as most suitable for composting rather than for burn-based technologies. This is the sanest waste management concept but foreign multinational companies perceive Indian waste as a market for their failed technologies. Waste is a problem that can only be solved by people's participation, not by 'quick fix' technologies.
By Gopal Krishna
(For reference, see the followimg Indian studies: * Polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins, dibenzofurans, and polychlorinated biphenyls in human tissues, meat, fish, and wildlife samples from India. * The global distribution of PCBs and organochlorine pesticides in butter.)
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Sl.No. Posted By Date View
1. Mallesh Kota 05/06/2007 Based on my knowledge on WTE incineration, I can say that modern incinderators are no way near to the old traditional ones. Modern incinerators do not emit any dioxins and can be treated very well before the ash is sent to brick factory. This has no toxic substances.
2. S. Srinivasan 12/03/2006 It is an interesting article. However, we have two fundamental issues to handle in India:
1. Energy security with environmental friendly technologies which remove our dependence on imports (oil & gas) and also reduce use of coal.
2. Managing the waste produced throughout the country.
Today this may not be the right type of plant. But India has to develop an indigenous technology which converts waste to energy in an environmental friendly way. If we succeed, we would give our future generation a very reliable source of energy.
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