Waste recycling essentially deals with the process of converting waste materials into fresh materials of the same nature or recovering reusable materials from the waste materials to manufacture other fresh products. Some important points regarding waste recycling are mentioned below:
• Waste recycling considerably helps in retrieving plausible useful materials
• An effective contraction in the diminution of fresh raw materials
• Effective control of air contamination which may occur due to the incremation of the waste products
• Waste recycling is an ideal process of avoiding water contamination through land filling
• Control of emanation of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide
Another form of waste recycling involves retrieval of useful and expensive materials like gold from computer circuits and the lead electrodes from the disposed wet cells. This also involves the retrieval and recycling of environmentally hazardous materials like mercury from broken thermometers and other wastes. So the basic motto of waste recycling is derivation of the same product in a fresh state from the waste product. A typical example will be recycling used office paper waste to produce fresh paper for the same purpose or manufacturing foam polystyrene from waste polystyrene. Though recycling of waste is a complicated and expensive process, it is necessary to maintain the ecological balance.
Waste recycling in Kolkata:
In spite of the growing awareness regarding waste recycling, the city of Kolkata and Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) seems to be completely impervious to this issue. The survey of South Asian Forum for Environment (SAFE) that lasted for over 100 weeks between the periods of 2010 and 2012 had yielded results that should be a source of concern for the citizens of Kolkata. According to the opinion of SAFE Chairman Dipayan Dey, “A third of the MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) is organic matter. A further 19% or nearly a fifth of the waste consists of recyclable materials. Yet, only a fraction is either turned into compost or recycled”. 3 specific areas were demarcated namely residential areas, areas comprising of institutions and offices and market places and public areas for the random collection of MSW samples upon which the said survey was based. The survey also revealed that on an average, the MSW accumulated by a person in the city amounts to 1.4 kilos every day which contributes to the total of 5,372 tons of MSW that the city works up every day. In actual practice just over a tenth of the total of 5,372 tons of MSW whipped up by the city is recycled and the rest is directed to the Dhapa refuse heap, the ubiquitous dumping ground of the city for decades.
This fact has also been reaffirmed by a three year long survey conducted by non-governmental group, the results of which are conducive to the SAFE findings. Of the total garbage generation of 5,372 tons, 700 tons are subjected to collection followed by the subsequent recycling, while the remaining waste is rerouted to the Dhapa landfill. It is to be mentioned here that 37% of the total MSW generated every day is compostable (i.e. composed of decaying organic matters and can be used to produce manures) but KMC is completely ignorant about tapping this huge source of waste as a potential income through the process of recycling or composting. National Physical Laboratory findings indicate that the pressure created by the city’s waste generation (garbage pressure) is 16.5 tons per square kilometer, the highest recorded garbage pressure in the country.
Some corporate houses have started the Integrated Solid Waste Management Program (ISWM), in collaboration with SAFE, namely Cognizant Technologies, Ericsson, Vodafone, IBM, Tech Mahindra, Lexmark and DLF. The program designated ‘Trash to Cash’ involves recycling following the scientific steps of separating the trash at the dump. As per the statement of Mr. Dey, “We collect around 600 kg to 650kgs of mixed garbage and 100 to 120 kg of paper daily. Around 85% of the garbage is segregated at the source.” This unique waste recycling program has proved to be the bread and butter for 50 families who are now involved in the production of bio-degradable, ‘micro utility products’ from recycled items like paper and plastic. As far as the environmental issues are concerned, the ‘Trash to Cash’ program has successfully reduced waste generation in a considerable amount and also garbage heap gas emanations by 6,560 cubic meters.
The Dhapa Landfill:
Perhaps the biggest garbage dump in the subcontinent, the Dhapa landfill continues to stick out like a sore thumb in the Kolkata landscape. KMC is oblivious of the recycling norms and so the practice of separation of toxic metals like nickel, zinc, lead and arsenic at the garbage collection hubs is an alien concept. All these toxins make their way to the Dhapa refuse heap and have already contaminated the soil. The canals carrying waste water in the vicinity of the landfill record a high concentration of toxins like zinc and carbon and low concentration of oxygen. According to Mr. Dey, the SAFE Chairman, “The World Bank Global Environment Facility report 2012 estimates that the landfill gas emission capacity at the Dhapa disposal site to be 7,500 cubic meters per hour, one of the highest in the country. KMC has itself quantified the greenhouse gas reduction ability of the Dhapa CDM Project at 8, 19,165 tons per year. Yet none of it is tapped”.
A Frankenstein called Illegal Plastic Bags:
A ubiquitous sight along the Beliaghata Canal, Rajabazar, and VIP Road on the way to the airport is the hillocks of plastic bags. Recycling them is not economically feasible nor is their destruction possible without endangering the environment. Yet Kolkata is being inundated by the illegal plastic bags. While the Government mandated the use and production of plastic bags below the thickness of 40 microns as illegal on June 5, 2007, 2500 to 3000 tons of illegal plastic bags are manufactured daily in the city. About 200 small scale units are engaged in the production of these illegal plastic bags in different sizes. Every shop, every business and every market uses these very low cost (5 paisa each) illegal carry bags because the Government mandated 40 micron thickness plastic bags cost as much as 40 paisa each. The only possible exceptions are perhaps the malls who manufacture their own plastic bags as per the Government mandate.
The State Pollution Control Board has finally come to terms with the fact that the issue of the plastic carry bags has become a Frankenstein. With no proper recycling program in place these bags are causing irreparable damage to the environment of the city. They have contaminated the Hoogly River, throttled the underground drainage system in many places and converting the heritage sites into heritage litterbins! While the illegal plastic bags keep flooding the city, they have also handed the city an indomitable amount of garbage as a bonus, regarding which Kolkata is absolutely clueless as how to handle it.
Proper recycling of the immense amount of solid waste generated daily is still an alien concept in Kolkata. The Dhapa landfill has been taking in garbage for decades emanating harmful green house gases that keep polluting the city. Added to it is the insurmountable amount of garbage generated through the use of illegal plastic bags which are being neither recycled nor being destroyed. We have been violating the environmental issues too long. Ultimately the whole situation is going to explode in our faces, severely endangering the living conditions of the city.