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MSMEs can help with waste management in India but need more hands

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  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year launched the second phase of the Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban Mission to make Indian cities ‘trash-free’.
  • About 2.24 billion tons of waste were produced in 2020, and if all this waste were put on trucks, they would go around the world just over 24 times.
  • India was at the lowest position of the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) 2022, with the 151st position in waste management

Less than a year ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the second phase of the Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban Mission to make all of India’s cities ‘trash-free’. Indian micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) struggle every day to make that dream of Swachh Bharat come true.

India faces major environmental challenges related to waste generation and inadequate waste collection, transportation, treatment and disposal. Current systems in India cannot cope with the amounts of waste generated — approx
960 million tons of that — due to an increasing urban population, and this has consequences for the environment and human health.

“According to the Material Recycling Association (MRAI), the recycling rate in India is 30%. The data associated with this recycling rate is largely dominated by highly recyclable materials such as ferrous and non-ferrous scrap, paper, rubber and tires etc,” Anurag Asati, co-founder of a waste disposal company The Kabadiwala, told https://londonbusinessblog.com/.

He noted that the recycling of materials such as plastics is “not very well documented” as many recyclables in everyday waste and litter are not collected/recycled due to their low value. Some of it is also informally recycled by waste collectors and
kabadiwala associations.

The Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban Mission plan is based on a multi-pronged strategy: separating solid waste at source; follow the 3Rs of reduce, reuse and recycle; scientific processing of all types of municipal solid waste; and remediate old landfills for effective solid waste management. This can help, but growing consumerism will only add to the challenges.

Consumerism and fast fashion make waste management expensive

About
2.24 billion tons of the waste was produced in 2020 according to World Bank data, and if all this waste is put on trucks they would go around the world a little more than
24 times

“With rapid population growth and urbanization, annual waste production is projected to increase by 73% from 2020 levels to 3.88 billion tons by 2050,” the global organization added.

Rising consumerism and rapid fashion trends have prompted consumers to buy more, leading to a greater contribution to solid waste. “99% of what we buy is thrown away
within six monthswhich is one of the main reasons for these alarming numbers,” said Monisha Narke, founder of RUR Greenlife, citing data from the United Nations.

That kind of waste is also difficult to recycle because it is difficult to collect, said Asati of The Kabadiwala. “Disposing of materials such as multi-layer packaging, single-use plastics, styrofoam, old clothes is difficult because the collection and processing of this type of waste requires a lot of effort and resources, which makes it expensive,” he noted.

Lack of awareness, budget and consistent policy is also an issue

Lack of awareness, budget, financial viability and infrastructure are some other challenges faced by India’s waste management system. According to the World Bank, effective waste management is expensive and often accounts for 20-50% of municipal budgets. The lack of land in metropolitan areas like Mumbai and other Tier I cities makes recycling even more difficult and expensive, Narke noted.

India was in the bottom position of the
Environmental Performance Index (EPI) 2022, with 151st position in waste management, 165th position in climate policy. The country also scored low on the rule of law, corruption control and government effectiveness.

Apart from the basic awareness, India also needs clearer policies around solid waste management systems in India. “MSME policies and schemes in the waste management sector should be clearer and more conducive as it will help shape good structure and processes. Frequent policy changes make it difficult to customize the service/product within the given time frame,” Asati added.

He emphasized that the government is helping to promote the SME and green entrepreneurial culture, but that more attention should be paid to tax deductions, subsidies for land and electricity. “The government can also provide common areas for storage and material recovery facilities for waste management,” Narke added.

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