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Responsible Consumption and Production for Climate Action: Towards Effective Waste and Resource Management amid COVID-19 Pandemic

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Dr Shyamala Mani

The twelfth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) goal which says Ensure Responsible Consumption and Production patterns, recognizes that consumption and production despite being drivers of the economy have destructive impacts on natural resources. It further goes on to say that Sustainable consumption and production is about doing more and better with less. It is also about decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation, increasing resource efficiency and promoting sustainable lifestyles.

According to UN Environment Programme, sustainable consumption and production refers to “the use of services and related products, which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as the emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations” (UN Environment Programme).

Some of the facts put out by the above UN report states that each year, an estimated one third of all food produced, equivalent to 1.3 billion tonnes worth around $1 trillion, ends up rotting in the bins of consumers and retailers, or spoiling due to poor transportation and harvesting practices.

Furthermore it estimates that if people worldwide switched to energy efficient light bulbs the world would save US$120 billion annually. At the current pace of consumption and production, with the global population reaching 9.6 billion by 2050, the equivalent of almost three planets could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles.

Build Back Better:

Although the COVID 19 pandemic has adversely affected all countries of the world, it is also considered an opportunity to ‘build back better’ for doing more and better with less. “Sustainable consumption and production can also contribute substantially to poverty alleviation and the transition towards low-carbon and green economies.”

The outbreak of epidemics like COVID-19 reveal the fundamental tenets of the trade-off we consistently face: humans have unlimited needs, but the planet has limited capacity to satisfy them says Pushpam Kumar, Chief Economist of UN Environment Programme. In India we have opportunities for building back better in several sectors like water, energy, food security, waste management, health and habitation and these are all connected with each other.

It is well known that humanity has to rely on 0.5 percent of the freshwater for all its needs. It has now come to light that 2.1 billion people or 29 per cent of the global population did not use a safely managed drinking water service in 2015, whereas 844 million people still lack even a basic drinking water service.

Although India is not a water deficient country, non-availability and non-accessibility of cleaning drinking water is because both surface and ground water are getting increasingly polluted due to

inadequate and improper waste water management. According to the World Bank, India consumes 600 billion cubic metres of water annually, 245 billion cubic metres of this is drawn from aquifers making India one of the most aquifer dependent nations in the world.

More than 90% of the ground water gets used in irrigation of especially water intensive crops like paddy and sugarcane in states like Punjab, Haryana, UP and Maharashtra. These and other states are experiencing alarming rates on ground water depletion without plans for recharge.   

Energy availability and access:

While households consume 29 per cent of global energy and consequently contribute to 21 per cent of resultant CO2 emissions, the good news is that between 2010 and 2017, the percentage of the population relying on clean cooking solutions grew by an annual average of 0.5 percentage points and the global population without access to electricity fell from 1.2 billion in 2010 to 840 million in 2017.

India won’t need any new power plants for the next three years as it is flush with generation capacity, according to a government assessment. As per the Ministry of Power, India has power plants with capacity to generate 300 GW. These are operating at 64% capacity because of inability of state distribution utilities to purchase electricity and sluggish economic growth.

Energy from Renewable sources:

Meanwhile, there are plans to build renewable energy capacity of 175 GW by 2022. The energy deficiency is a low 2.1%, but experts feel latent demand from remote areas is not being accounted for. Ten states have joined the government’s Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojna and the Centre plans to electrify 18,000 villages by May 2018 to increase access to electrification, which is the bigger issue.

The report titled, ‘Transitions in the Indian Energy Sector – Macro Level Analysis of Demand and Supply Side Options’ states that beyond 2023-24, new power generation capacity could be all renewables, based on cost competitiveness of renewables as well as the ability of the grid to absorb large amounts of renewable energy together with battery-based balancing power. With power from solar being Rs.2 per kWh currently, India’s ambitious target of achieving 100,000 MW of solar power by 2022 is doable.

Waste to Energy:

Although Waste to Energy (WTE) has been cited as a renewable energy method, the criteria for using waste as an energy source is non recyclable waste having calorific value of 1500 Kcal/kg through refuse derived fuel or by giving away as feed stock. However, with more than 50% of the waste being biodegradable kitchen waste having over 50% moisture, the calorific value of mixed garbage in India is less than 800 Kcal/kg.

With high capital cost, high O&M expenses, low calorific value of the fuel used and the additional fuel used to burn the waste WTE is unviable with over 50% of the mixed garbage landing in the landfill, further contributing to its increased size besides pollution of air, soil and water in the surroundings. This high moisture bio-degradable kitchen waste is unsuitable for incineration but if separated at source, is ideal for biomethanation and the purified biogas can be compressed as Bio-CNG for running public transportation. This would help in especially meeting the needs of an urbanized population of 51% by 2047 and excess gas can be used for supply to homes for cooking, heating or generating electricity. Thus the pollution due to increased dumping of mixed waste including domestic hazardous waste in landfills can be avoided and we can be ‘doing more and better with less’, which is what is the main goal of SDG 12.

Conclusion:

Thus responsible consumption and production not only envisages delinking economic growth with increased stress on the environment and natural resources but it also entails better utilization of waste. For this segregation of different categories of waste at source is mandatory so that they can be obtained in the cleanest form and in adequate volumes to help us generate useful products and energy from it while preventing wastage, pollution due to unsegregated waste and instead find means of conserving our natural resources, air, water, soil and biodiversity, which are vital for our health and well-being.

The current waste management policies and regulations in India especially the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 in coordination with other Rules on Plastics, Construction and Demolition, E-waste point exactly in this direction.   

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References:

1. https://www.unenvironment.org/explore-topics/resource-efficiency/what-we-do/sustainable-consumption-and-production-policies  accessed on Dec 21, 2020
2. Ibid
3. https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/covid-19-and-nature-trade-paradigm accessed on December 21, 2020
4. ENSURING SUSTAINABLE CONSUMPTION AND PRODUCTION PATTERNS  https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/25764/SDG12_Brief.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y accessed on December 26th, 2020
5. UN World Water Development Report 2019  https://www.unwater.org/publications/world-water-development-report-2019/ accessed on December 26th, 2020
6. Drivers, Trends and Mitigation, Chapter 5, IPCC AR5 https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/ipcc_wg3_ar5_chapter5.pdf  accessed on December 26th, 2020
7. The Energy Progress Report, Tracking SDG 7, 2019, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/2019_Tracking_SDG7_Report.pdf accessed on December 26th, 2020
8. National Sample Survey Office 2014; Central Electricity Authority 2014 and Indian Electricity Authority 2014
9. Composition of Municipal Solid Waste in India, Earth Engineering Centre, 2012
10. Sebastian, RM, Kumar D, Alappat, BJ, Current Situation of WtE in Asia, Best Available Technologies (BAT) for WtE in Developing Countries pp 63-105. In: Municipal Solid Waste Energy Conversion in Developing Countries – Technologies, Best Practices, Challenges and Policy Edited Suani Coelho, Shyamala Mani (Regional Editor, Asia) et al, 2020, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
11. Samal B., Mani S., Madguni O. (2020).Open Dumping of Waste and Its Impact on Our Water Resources and Health—A Case of New Delhi, India. In: Kalamdhad A. (eds) Recent Developments in Waste Management. Lecture Notes in Civil Engineering, vol 57. Springer, Singapore
12. Pandey S, Pant DC, Biomethanation (Anaerobic Digestion) systems for MSW to Energy in Asian countries, WtE Best Practices and Perspectives in Asia, Shyamala K. Mani, pp 147-184. In: Municipal Solid Waste Energy Conversion in Developing Countries – Technologies, Best Practices, Challenges and Policy Edited Suani Coelho, Shyamala Mani (Regional Editor, Asia) et al, 2020, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
13. Samal B., Mani S., Madguni O. (2020).Open Dumping of Waste and Its Impact on Our Water Resources and Health—A Case of New Delhi, India. In: Kalamdhad A. (eds) Recent Developments in Waste Management. Lecture Notes in Civil Engineering, vol 57. Springer, Singapore.

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