Our Global population is expanding at an exponential rate so is the need for effective and improved waste management. While catering to thousands of needs both online and offline the garbage we collect is enormous. A rich, scientific and sustainable approach is the need of the hour for safeguarding and ensuring a greener future. By definition, waste is defined as “Any material unused and rejected as worthless or unwanted”. In modern society where the need is surplus and want is more, the waste generated is 1,00,000 metric tons of waste per day. India became the world’s most populous country recently and per the survey by the Mint in 2023 the country’s Urban population is expected to hit 600 million and would generate 165 million tonnes of solid waste, of which ~6% is plastic. Worldwide waste generated per person per day averages 0.74 kg.

Waste available to us can be broadly classified into two:-
1) Solid Waste: – It includes household waste, Industrial Waste and Environmental Waste.

2) Hazardous Waste: – Those wastes which pose a threat to human health and the environment.

With rapid urbanisation, the volume of waste generated in cities has increased to an unprecedented level and the waste disposal rate is inferior compared to waste generation. Developing nations like India are struggling with adequate infrastructure for the disposal of waste. Whereas developed countries have good waste management systems in place. For Instance, Germany has the highest recycling rate in the world. Germany recycles an impressive amount of 66.1% of waste. A magic wand didn’t help the developed nations to manage the waste effectively but proper, foolproof and scientific planning did. The package Ordinance in Germany made sure the manufacturers and distributors of goods are responsible for ensuring packaging is either returned or recycled.

Out of many, the three most crucial challenges we face in waste management are:-

1)    Public Awareness

                        Many of us are unaware of the waste generated by us on a day-to-day basis and the environmental impact it is causing. An effective way to improve waste management is to integrate the topic of waste management into the school curriculum and practically teach children about the causes and consequences of waste disposal. As waste is the result of human activities, if everyone doesn’t have a proper understanding of waste management issues even though an effective and robust plan is created it will fail. One such initiative by Bengaluru Municipality is displaying posters with pictorial representation to create awareness for waste segregation. The Practice of separating rubbish should be imposed to promote recycling, reduction and re-use of waste materials.

2)    Plastic

            The use of Single-use plastic has emerged as a major environmental concern. Plastic being non-biodegradable will be around even if humans go extinct from planet Earth. Per the Study, “From the 1950’s to 1970’s the amount of plastic produced was very little”. By the early 2000s, plastic production had increased more than it had in the last 40 years. The real challenge however lies in the lack of affordable alternatives and effective localized implementation. Materials like glass or metal may be suitable replacements in certain scenarios but they lack the lightweight and flexible nature of plastic. Plastic has become deeply ingrained in our society such that a complete shift away from plastic products will take a longer time because of its sheer convenience and familiarity.

3)    E-Waste

            We as a human society have now moved to a technology-driven era, the need for faster and superior devices is a necessity than a requirement. From Tech Giants to the common man heavily depend on electronic devices for their day-to-day activities. Discarded electronic devices contain hazardous materials that pose environmental and health risks. With changes in technology happening every minute each of the devices we own will be deprecated over a few months or years. Per the latest study, the US is the world leader in producing electronic waste followed by China. As the saying goes “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, the organisers of the Tokyo Olympics collected 47,000 tons of tech waste and 5,000,000 cell phones to make 5000 medals for the games. Gold, Silver and bronze metals were extracted from electronics. There needs to be many improvements in e-waste recycling facilities globally as with high product complexity and inefficient screening a significant portion of e-waste ends up in landfills contaminating soil and water.

 With great challenges in hand for tackling waste, Innovative and research-oriented studies in this regard should be promoted at all levels.

 A few of the solutions for sustainable waste management include:-

1)    Recycling Technologies

            Governments all over the world need to heavily invest in advanced recycling technologies like chemical recycling. With chemical recycling the polymeric waste can be changed in the chemical structure thereby creating substances that can be used as raw materials for the manufacturing of plastics. Chemical recycling represents a positive step towards reducing disposed waste and contributing to the circular economy of plastics. Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) has become the first Indian company to use chemical recycling for circular polymers. These technologies have the potential to address challenges with hard-to-recycle plastics thus contributing to a more sustainable waste management.

2)    Waste to Energy Solutions

            Although a largely underutilized sector around the world, this sector is very promising as frequent geo-political tensions are happening all over the world in matters of Energy. Waste to energy is any process that converts waste into a source of usable energy. Waste to energy solutions can turn gaseous, liquid and semi-solid waste into fuel for transport or electricity. Another process called plastic pyrolysis promises to make usable fuel from waste, even though it may sound not as green as it is. This process helps to convert plastic into fossil fuels which if left unattended will take up to millions of years to disappear from the face of the earth. Another future scope on waste to energy solutions is in the emerging Dendro Liquid Energy [DLE] plants which work on near zero emissions. DLE Plants work with both wet and dry waste to generate clean fuels for electricity.

3)Investment in Infrastructure

            The government can establish a waste management infrastructure that aligns with good practices. Both private and public entities must invest in robust waste management infrastructure. Government Initiatives like waste collection using informal waste collectors help in streamlining the waste management process to collect waste from households. These types of initiatives reduce the burden of municipalities in managing waste. A robust system can help in a smooth process ensuring that waste from the point of generation to disposal is done without any blockers.

In conclusion, a sustainable future is not just a choice but necessary for the well-being of our future generations. By adopting and incorporating a sustainable livelihood we can pave the way for a greener and more resilient planet. This would require collective participation from private and public entities. The government should promote value-added research in waste management by offering grants which can create an environment for innovative research to effectively generate ideas for recycling and reusing all possible wastes. The path to sustainability may be challenging but the benefits of a greener and equitable world far out ways these challenges. Together we can build a sustainable future that ensures a prosperous and harmonious existence for all. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”