Municipal Solid Waste management in search of viable options
Rapid urbanisation calls for efficient management of
municipal solid waste, and MSW-based power plants are a viable solution, notes
Dr. G.V. Rama Krishna, Chairman & Managing Director, Selco International
Municipal solid waste (MSW) refers to materials discarded in
urban areas for which municipalities are usually held responsible for
collection, transport and final disposal. MSW includes household refuse,
institutional waste, street sweeping etc. Estimates suggest that in Third World
nations, only 50 per cent of the total MSW collected is scientifically disposed.
In India, the per capita generation of MSW in metropolitan cities is estimated
at 0.5 kg per day. It is much lower (0.2-0.4 kg per capita per day) in non-metro
urban centres. Keeping the urban population increase and organised and improved
collection of municipal solid waste it is likely to touch 60 million tonnes by
During the decade ending 2001, while India's total population grew by 23 per
cent, urban population grew by 32 per cent. As of 2001, nearly 28 per cent of
India's population lived in urban areas compared with around 18 per cent in the
1960s. By 2020, urbanisation is projected at 32 per cent.
Due to rapid and widespread development, not only state capitals but even many
cities are already facing the problem of dumping the huge quantum of MSW
generated daily. All existing dumpsites have supersaturated and hence scientific
disposal has become vital. The MoEF guidelines on MSW, issued in 2000, have
become mandatory and this explains the current thrust given to this sector.
Rapid urbanisation in India warrants the need for efficient management of
municipal solid waste, and MSW-based power plants are a viable solution.
India has yet to record significant achievement in this regard. As of December
2006, the total waste-based installed power capacity stood at 46 mw, which
mainly (but not entirely) included MSW-based power capacity. This capacity
represents only 0.5 per cent of the country's total capacity from new and
renewable energy sources.
Since MSW projects are implemented in the PPP (public-private partnership) mode,
support from the government becomes vital. For instance, land that is allocated
on lease must be allowed for mortgage to financial institutions, or at least,
land should be sold at concessional rates, as in the case of computer software
industry. Without land mortgage, raising funds is not possible. The power
purchase agreement should be as per the guidelines of the Union ministry of new
and renewable energy. If state electricity boards are not interested in
purchasing power, third-party sale should be encouraged. As of now, best
guidelines to this effect exist in the states of Karnataka and Maharashtra,
through their respective state electricity regulatory commissions.
With a view to expediting MSW projects, state governments should be proactive on
two primary counts - signing of PPA and allotment of land. Given land of lease
with mortgage facility or selling land (at concessional rates) on 99-year lease
would be a welcome step. Subsidies are also critical for MSW projects.
In some European countries, Japan and USA, government support comes from a
"tipping fee" or "gate fee". These governments pay $60 to $120 to the plant
operator for every tonne of MSW consumed. This assures the success of the plant.
In India, this model did not find favour; hence support is being extended by
giving better (higher) tariff for electricity produced. The government should
seriously view disposal of MSW as a primary objective. Government agencies
should adhere to MSW disposal as per MSW rules of 2000.
MSW power projects are quite cost effective. Such power projects have a slightly
higher capital cost due to the MSW processing plant. However, better tariffs
could compensate for this additional cost. Operational costs could be a little
higher than the biomass-based counterparts. However, contrary to popular belief,
the capital cost of a MSW power project is not twice that of a biomass-based
Various technologies for MSW disposal have been tested in India and abroad -
composting, land-filling, anaerobic digestion, etc. Finally, the best method for
instant reduction of MSW was found to be power generation through incineration
(burning). Over the past decade, tremendous awareness has come about on this
science in India. However, there is a long road ahead.
With the backdrop of frequent hike in price of fossil fuel and our strong
dependence on it in the future our national economy is bound to suffer due to
cost escalation on the one hand and huge import cost on the other. Dependence on
fossil fuel with inherent price volatility under a finite global reserve is a
major concern coupled with large quantities of green house gas emission which
constitutes environmental hazards. India needs to develop alternate fuel for
power generation with the above constraints. Our search for alternate fuel would
ensure sustainable development on the one hand and energy security on the other.
(The author may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
[May 19-25, 2008]