According to reports, even as the Budget this year has stated that waste-to-energy projects will be financed by public-private partnership (PPP) mode, a lot needs to be worked out. The fine modality of waste collection, separation and disposal in a smooth fashion needs a great deal of technical and manpower support. Despite economic growth India has not been able to manage the waste churned out due to higher consumption.
The country disposes more than 188 million tonnes of garbage every day. Whereas the other Asian economies are successfully generating electricity from city waste India has not seen much success in this. For example, China claims to produce three gigawatts of power from city waste-to-energy factories by 2015.
India has captured methane from several large landfills and has built six facilities that pull out and ignite flammable trash, turning it into what is known as refuse-derived fuel. But these six fuel factories, which rely on new refuse, have either shut down or barely run, victims of equipment failure or bureaucratic snarls that paradoxically leave them short of garbage.
In most cities and towns in India , the municipal solid waste is dumped in low-lying areas in the outskirts of the cities. Most dumps lack system for leachate collection, land fill gas collection or monitoring. Also, no inert material is used to cover the waste. This results in contamination of ground and surface water and toxic gases in the air, which is a hazard for public health.
Experts say that a major problem with trash in poor Asian nations is that it is soggier than that of Europe, US or Japan and does not catch fire easily. According to a study by the Earth Engineering Centre at Columbia University in New York , in India , the urban waste mix is 47 per cent water which makes it a tough task to recycle and produce energy.
Urbanites in poorer Asian countries cook more of their own food, while Westerners use more disposable ware. As a result, urban waste in the developed world is embedded with 10 megajoules of power per tonne, while that of countries like India contains a mere 7.3 megajoules.
Waste-to-energy effort lies at the intersection of two heavy industries, energy production and waste disposal, both of which are hampered by a thick layer bureaucracy, turf battles among local, state and national governments and demands for bribes by middlemen. They add that so far, there is not a single plant in India which is a success story about waste to energy.
It is time that such energy production should be offered incentives. Both China and Malaysia finance their waste-to-energy projects with a combination of tariffs and tipping fees, giving trash entrepreneurs a reward for consuming trash and for producing power.
In India the policymakers need to prepare the ground for making tipping fees legal and extending subsidies beyond construction of projects. This would help overcome corruption and motivate plant operators to produce power.
Even though the cost per megawatt of energy may be greater than other renewable sources, but definitely the benefits of waste management, energy and metals recovery, and reduction of green house gas emissions need urgent attention.