The Quest for Gold

Here’s the story of Sweden’s waste-to-energy revolution and what India can learn from it.

Waste to Energy Power Plant, Vasteras, Sweden Picture Courtesy:

Finally the day has come for the people of Maharashtra to celebrate! The state government’s decision to ban plastic items with effect from 23rd June is being applauded widely. According to the estimates, more than 25,000 tonnes of plastic waste are generated in India every day out of which around 17,000 tonnes are made up of plastic bags. Putting ban on use of plastics and its successful implementation is a key step to tackle with the menace of plastic waste. Apart from Maharashtra, 24 other Indian states and UTs have already imposed some sort of ban on plastics.

Globally, curb on use of plastics has been identified as a priority in the way of solid waste management. It has been estimated that India generates over 150,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste daily basis out of which only 83 per cent of waste is collected and less than 30 per cent is treated. Despite announcing several policy measures, India’s battle against solid waste remains grim. According to the World Bank, India’s daily waste generation will reach 377,000 tonnes by 2025. So, immediate action towards effective solid waste management is need of the hour.

In this context, we all should take a look at what Sweden has done! The country that was once struggling to manage its waste, is now managing waste of other countries as well and earning revenues apart from generating energy from the waste. For a developed economy like India, it’s like finding opportunities even in waste. However, it’s all about be a changemaker by becoming a foresighter!

Sweden that was burdened with around 461-kgs of waste produced by its every citizen, is setting up an example for the rest of the world by bringing in “recycling revolution”. Today, around 99 per cent of all household waste is recycled in one way or another. It means, merely 1 per cent of Sweden’s household waste ends up in landfills. Out of around 4.4 million tonnes of household waste produced by the country every year, more than 2.3 million tonnes are converted into energy by waste-to-energy process at incineration plants. According to the Huffington Post, power produced via waste-to-energy provides approximately 950,000 homes with heating and 260,000 with electricity, across Sweden.
Even the efficiency of waste management has reached to a such level, that the country is now managing waste of other and generating revenues. As per the official site of Sweden, in 2015, the country imported 2.3 million tonnes of waste from, among others, Norway, the UK and Ireland.

The Indian Scenario

According to Energy Alternatives India (EAI), about 55 million tonnes of municipal solid waste and 38 billion litres of sewage are generated in the urban areas of India, every year. In addition, large quantities of solid and liquid wastes are generated by industries. Further, with rapid urbanisation, waste generation in India is expected to witness exponential growth.

Most wastes that are generated, find their way into land and water bodies without proper treatment, causing severe water pollution. They also emit greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide and add to air pollution. Any organic waste from urban and rural areas and industries is a resource due to its ability to get degraded, resulting in energy generation. According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), there exists a potential of about 1,700 MW from urban waste and about 1,300 MW from industrial waste.
Realising this opportunity, the agencies across the country are promoting the concept of waste-to-energy rigorously. In March last year, North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) launched India’s largest waste-to-energy plant at Narela-Bawana. The project is designed to use 2,000 metric tonnes of waste every day to generate 24 MW of energy.

Of late, Maharashtra is taking lead in the field of waste-to-energy conversion. On the eve of World Environment Day, the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) has commissioned its first-ever waste-to-energy plant on 5th June. The gasifier plant built on Turbhe landfill ground can generate around 25 kW of electricity and will be used to light up three high masts, conference hall and other lights on the site.

Further, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, also known as Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), has an ambitious plan of starting a waste-to-energy plant at Deonar dumping ground. The country’s cash rich municipal authority targets to process its tonnes garbage daily to generate 10 MW of electricity. Though these are a very few and small steps, but of course at the right direction. Once such plants are set up across the country, India can surely replicate the ‘Sweden story’ by turning waste into energy!

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