One of the most undesirable outcomes of economic development is increased consumption, which, in turn, leads to the generation of urban waste. Today, safely disposing municipal solid waste (MSW) is one of the biggest global challenges. For India, it’s a matter of greater concern because waste management is one of the neglected areas, which is resulting in the emergence of massive landfills on the outskirts of our cities.
Today, India generates about 1.6 lakh tonnes of MSW every day, most of which ends up in landfills. As this toxic waste decomposes, it releases noxious fumes into the air that we breathe and harmful chemicals leach into the soil and ultimately dissolve in groundwater. The irony is that despite plenty of laws and regulations, waste management never seemed to be a priority area for our administrators and lawmakers.
In our two-part cover story, we have deeply analysed this mega problem and how to develop mitigating solutions. But one thing is certain, the government needs to pay urgent attention to this vital matter and come up with long-term strategies for recycling as much MSW as possible. Recycling also makes economic sense because it will spur the circular economy.
The decision of the government to ban single-use plastic (SUP) items from July 1 is a welcome step in the direction of curbing plastic pollution but according to our analysis, it will have a marginal impact because use of SUP is far more pervasive than the 21 items that have been banned. It is, therefore, essential to find ways to recycle all types of plastic items to prevent them ending up in landfills or our rivers and oceans.
In this issue, we have also turned our attention to one of the most inhuman and demeaning practices in our society: manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks. Despite being legally outlawed, hundreds of poor people are pushed into doing this hazardous job, which invariably results in loss of life due to inhalation of poisonous gases.
Another area of concern is the slow progress in achieving the targets under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Over the past couple of months there have been two disconcerting reports that make it clear that if countries don’t get into mission mode, the SDGs are headed for failure by 2030.
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