Waste Management: A Net Zero Perspective

By--Rajesh Shetty, MD, Real Estate Management Services (India) and Imran Khan, Associate Director, Real Estate Management Services (Pune) at Colliers.

The Waste generation rates across the globe are rising, and major worldwide cities have generated more than 2 billion tonnes of waste annually, which can amount to nearly 0.74 Kg of waste per person. With rapid population growth and urbanization, annual waste generation is expected to increase to almost 3.40 billion tonnes in 2050.

The awareness of waste management in the most developed countries is advanced, as compared to developing countries. Developed countries ensure the relevant measures are mandatorily undertaken to ensure waste recycling and management processes.

Poorly managed waste (whether in solid or liquid form) is a significant risk factor for our health and well-being and causing adverse impact on the overall environmental cycle as non-segregated and non-recycled waste takes considerable time naturally to decompose.

Managing waste is essential for building sustainable and liveable cities, but it remains a challenge for many developing countries and cities. Effective waste management is expensive, often comprising 20% - 50% of municipal budgets, and operating this essential municipal service requires integrated systems that are efficient, sustainable, and socially supported.

With involvement and participation in the Net-zero mission for the targeted year 2050, India has already begun to participate wholeheartedly in the mission. The focus is on Energy, Water, Waste, and Carbon footprint management, wherein waste has also been given equally to no significant guide. With organizations contributing to reducing their waste generation and becoming more sustainable for their operations, the overall adverse environmental impact due to waste is considerably reduced significantly.

The operating building or infrastructures generate different types of waste like food waste, paper, plastic, metals, wastewater, etc. We can classify waste as organic and non-organic, and further can be classified as hazardous and non-hazardous waste. Organic waste can be easily recycled through available means like vermiculture decomposing, bio-methanation, or machines. All these methods can convert the general organic waste into usable manure for gardening or horticulture to reduce dependency on harsh and hazardous chemical compounds. The onsite recycled manure is high in nitrogen compounds and can be the best source for plants.

Non-Organic waste like metal can also be recycled and recused. However, the overall cost involved in recycling the same is significant, as metal segregation into its different varieties and individual recycling plants is required, depending on the type of metals like steel, copper, aluminum and tin, etc. We can ensure that the recycled products are available through such steps, at least cost for usage back to consumer or business to business (B2B) consumptions or productions. Hazardous waste would require a completely different operating and recycling process for items like chemical wastes, used oils and batteries, or any other electronic waste to take care of hazardous compounds and components that are part of the overall recycled product. Hence, we advise manufacturers to ensure and design the overall life cycle keeping the life of the equipment till the end of life.

On the other hand, we can recycle wastewater through suitable effluent or sewage treatment plants. The insertion of the biological activation can ensure the waste is reduced and decomposed into sludge. The other by-products can be used as recycled compounds. In contrast, we must undertake water treatment to use secondary water for HVAC makeup, flushing, or horticulture purposes post disinfection. However, sold sewage waste can also be considered an excellent source to convert it into usable biogas through the appropriate biogas conversion plants, which are clean fuels for cooking and domestic purposes.

Available building design or operating standards can be adopted as drafted by IGBC or GRIHA rating systems to ensure the sites are sustainable from their inception and avoid dependence on the external mechanism for waste conversion.

Good waste management practices can be adopted, as mentioned below, to ensure our overall footprint on waste generation is reduced. By providing adequate and efficient recycling practices, we can make our contribution towards sustainable environment creation. Some steps are listed below: 

• Through waste segregation at the source into organic or inorganic. 

• By adopting methods like vermiculture pits or organic waste composter for organic waste.

• Ensuring an effective sewage/ effluent treatment plant to cater to wastewater

• Creating water balance by recycling water and utilizing it for HVAC and horticulture or flushing purposes.

• Timely disposal and recycling of electronic waste.

• Use green energy sources like Wind and Solar power instead of diesel or fossil fuel-based captive power systems to reduce the generators' oil and other hazardous waste.

• Creation of awareness amongst employees to use cleaner fuels or electric vehicles.

• By adopting building designs with provisions for electrical charging points.

• Investment in cleaner and greener energy sources both on site and off site and use of net metering to reduce the impact and dependence on fossil fuels.

• Digitization of the processes to reduce paper use.

• Hazardous waste to be kept in isolation and recycled as per approved processes.

For accomplishing the Net Zero Mission by 2050, the regulatory regime for waste management in India compulsorily needs to adopt the principles of sustainable development. It needs to undertake preventive measures to avoid further environmental degradation and hazards. Lastly, it must have the clause of "polluter pays," i.e., the polluter must bear the costs for damages and harm caused to the environment by their acts.