Waste Management Can Help India Achieve Net-Zero by 2070
India has recently announced its ambitious goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2070 at the COP26 summit in Glasgow. This means that by the end of this century, India will balance its greenhouse gas emissions with the removal of an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through natural or technological means. This is a significant step for India, which is the world’s fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide and also one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change.
But how can India achieve this goal? One of the key sectors that can contribute to this transition is waste management. Waste management is the process of collecting, treating, recycling, and disposing of different waste materials to reduce the environmental impact of waste. Waste can be solid, liquid, gas, or hazardous and is generally generated through human activity. Waste management aims at improving the quality of life we live and the environment on which we depend.
Waste management can help India achieve net-zero emissions by 2070 in several ways:
- Reducing methane emissions from landfills: Landfills are one of the major sources of methane emissions in India, accounting for about 12% of the total methane emissions in 2019. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that has a global warming potential 28 times higher than carbon dioxide over 100 years. By diverting organic waste from landfills and converting it into compost or biogas, India can reduce its methane emissions and also produce valuable products such as fertilizer or energy.
- Increasing recycling and circular economy: Recycling is one of the most common and efficient types of waste management that involves converting waste materials into new products or materials that can be used again. Recycling reduces the amount of waste that goes to landfills or incinerators, saves energy and resources, and prevents pollution. By increasing recycling rates and promoting a circular economy, India can reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and raw materials, lower its carbon footprint, and create new jobs and industries.
- Promoting waste-to-energy technologies: Waste-to-energy technologies are a type of waste disposal that involves burning waste materials at high temperatures to reduce their volume and weight, generate heat or electricity, and destroy harmful substances. Waste-to-energy technologies can help India meet its growing energy demand while reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. However, waste-to-energy technologies also have some drawbacks such as air pollution, ash residue, and greenhouse gas emissions that need to be controlled and monitored.
- Enhancing waste collection and segregation: Waste collection and segregation are essential steps for effective waste management. By improving waste collection and segregation systems, India can ensure that waste materials are properly sorted and sent to appropriate treatment or disposal facilities. This can reduce the environmental and health risks associated with uncollected or mixed waste, improve the efficiency and quality of waste management services, and increase the recovery and reuse of valuable materials.
These are some of the ways that waste management can help India achieve net-zero emissions by 2070. However, to realize this potential, India will need to overcome some challenges such as:
- Lack of adequate infrastructure and technology: India faces a huge gap in terms of infrastructure and technology for waste management. According to a 2018 report by NITI Aayog, India generates about 62 million tonnes of solid waste per year, out of which only 43% is collected and only 11.9% is treated. The rest is dumped in open landfills or other unscientific sites. India also lacks sufficient capacity and expertise for advanced waste-to-energy technologies such as incineration or gasification.
- Low awareness and participation: India also faces a low level of awareness and participation among various stakeholders for waste management. Many people do not follow proper waste disposal practices such as segregating waste at source, using reusable or biodegradable bags, or composting organic waste at home. Many municipalities do not enforce adequate regulations or incentives for waste management such as user fees, penalties, or subsidies. Many industries do not adopt cleaner production methods or extended producer responsibility schemes for reducing or recycling their waste.
- High cost and financial constraints: India also faces high cost and financial constraints for implementing effective waste management systems. According to a 2016 report by TERI, the estimated capital cost for setting up integrated solid waste management systems in urban areas in India is about Rs 10 lakh per tonne per day, while the estimated operational cost is about Rs 2,500 per tonne per day. However, the average revenue generated from user charges, tipping fees, or the sale of recyclables or energy is only about Rs 500 per tonne per day. This creates a huge financial gap that needs to be bridged by public funding or private investment.
Therefore, to achieve net-zero emissions by 2070 through waste management, India will need to adopt a holistic and integrated approach that involves:
- Strengthening policy and regulatory frameworks: India will need to strengthen its policy and regulatory frameworks for waste management to ensure compliance, accountability, and transparency. India will also need to align its waste management policies with its climate change policies and commitments, such as the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement or the net-zero target by 2070. India will also need to harmonize its waste management policies with other relevant policies such as urban development, energy, industry, agriculture, and health.
- Enhancing capacity and innovation: India will need to enhance its capacity and innovation for waste management to improve its infrastructure and technology, human resources and skills, and research and development. India will also need to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in the waste management sector to create new solutions, products, and services that can address the specific needs and challenges of different regions, sectors, and communities.
- Increasing investment and financing: India will need to increase its investment and financing for waste management to mobilize adequate resources and leverage existing opportunities. India will also need to explore various sources and mechanisms of funding such as public-private partnerships, green bonds, carbon credits, or blended finance. India will also need to optimize its expenditure and revenue for waste management by improving its cost-benefit analysis, tariff structure, and value chain.
- Improving awareness and participation: India will need to improve its awareness and participation in waste management to engage and empower various stakeholders such as citizens, municipalities, industries, civil society, media, and academia. India will also need to promote behavioral change and social norms for waste management by using various tools such as education, communication, campaigns, or nudges. India will also need to encourage community-based and decentralized models of waste management that can foster local ownership and responsibility.
By adopting these measures, India can transform its waste management sector into a key driver for achieving net-zero emissions by 2070. This will not only help India mitigate its climate change impact but also enhance its environmental quality, economic growth, and social equity.