Solid waste has emerged as a real challenge to humanity and it is increasing with the rise in population and civilisation.
A lack of sustainable solid waste management is posing threats and risks to human life in urban areas, however, this challenge may prove to be a great source of opportunities in terms of income and employment generation for the companies and individuals involved in solid waste recycling.
Currently, solid waste is not managed properly and is mostly dumped in the open at landfills or open grounds in most of the developing countries. Although most of the components of solid waste are inert and useful for reuse and recycling, others may prove highly hazardous and fatal to the life on earth.
Globally, countries produce about 4 billion tons of solid waste, of which 1.2 billion tons comprise municipal waste. Of the total, only 1 billion tons are utilised through various means and 600 million tons are recycled. Moreover, almost 200 million tons of solid waste is utilised for energy generation.
The biggest producer of waste per capita is Canada, at an estimated 36.1 metric tons per year, which is 10 metric tons more than that in the United States. Canada produces an estimated 1.33 billion tons of waste per year, where 1.12 billion tons comprise industrial waste.
Pakistan generates 30 million tons of municipal solid waste per year. About 50% of this is collected for recycling and reuse. But the rate varies, from 80% in larger cities to a minimal in most rural areas (Mihai and Grozavu 2019).
Most of the solid waste is dumped in open grounds and spaces in and around urban centres as landfill sites are almost non-existent. Karachi, which produces 16,500 tons per day, is a major solid waste producing city because of the highest population, and Lahore, the second most populated city in Pakistan, produces 7,690 tons.
Solid waste in Pakistan is primarily composed of metal, paper, plastic, rubber, animal waste, food waste, grass, leaves, textile waste, glass, bones, stones, etc.
Primarily, waste can be classified into municipal solid waste and hazardous waste, hoerver, in terms its recycling potential, solid waste can be classified into metal, plastic, paper, glass and rubber items.
All these items have got a price tagged to them and are sold and processed through recycling to produce useful products for the market.
At present, solid waste collection in Pakistan stands at only 50% of the total generated waste. Recycling is among the most effective means through which solid waste can be reduced and natural resources can be conserved by reusing materials and putting them back into productive use.
While Pakistan does not have adequate recycling facilities in formal sectors, the informal recycling industry continues to thrive.
Among all waste, plastic waste is the worst as it is light weight, can easily flow with water currents into rivers and seas, and may choke water bodies on earth.
A majority of plastic is released as waste due to inadequate recycling and incineration facilities. Pakistan ranks sixth in the world and third in Asia in terms of plastic pollution.
The government of Pakistan has enacted Pakistan Environmental Protection Act (PEPA) in 1997. Section 11 of the Act states “No person shall discharge or emit or allow the discharge or emission of any effluent or waste or air polluntant or noise in an amoount, concentrastion or level which is more than the National Environmental Quality Standards.”
PEPA and the provincial Environment Protection Acts, rules and policies provide for a legal framework for waste management in a sustainable manner but on the ground nothing seems to be in favour of such institutional provisions.
Waste is dealt with through multiple means like recycling, dumping and burning. Recycling is the ideal way of dealing with solid waste as it is the most environmentally friendly and sustainable option.
At present, Europe recycles 41% of its municipal waste while the United States recycles 32% of its waste.
As the recycling of solid waste is highly sustainable and an environmentally conducive practice, many countries have started investing in technologies that not only manage the waste efficiently but are also cost-effective.
For instance, China is investing $6.3 billion in a drive to rmp up its recycling capacity to 30% of 2030. Similarly, other countries have also started investing in green technologies to reduce waste and provide sustainable solutions for the future.
Only through a collective and cohesive strategy, environment can be protected and preserved for future generations.
Waste as a resource
Although the waste poses challenges and threats, it also offers opportunities for employment and income generation.
Many of the waste components like plastic, tin, iron, paper and glass have got a recycling value and price tagged to them. Unemployed youth segregate all such waste and sell them to recycling agents for converting into useful products.
Therefore, like many advanced countries, the recycling industry is also picking up in Pakistan but mostly in the informal sector.
There is a need to understand waste recycling in the informal sector, collect data and analyse for further improving its scale and quality.
A major component of solid waste is the biodegradable waste that does not carry any price tag and is the worst of all sorts of waste as it decomposes soon after dumping anywhere. Insects and pests harbour organic waste, causing foul smell due to aerobic decomposition.
It also emits greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere. The best way to recycle the organic solid waste is through anaerobic fermentation into a closed chamber to get biogas as a source of clean energy and decomposed organic manure besides earning carbon credits.
The government needs to be sensitised to recycling solid waste by offering incentives and technical support to the informal recycling industry.
There must be immediate focus on organic solid waste to earn carbon credits under the recently adopted methane pledge that Pakistan is a party to.
A carbon credit registry shall immediately be incorporated to facilitate private sector in registering carbon credit cases by individuals and companies. This way, Pakistan can attract the much-needed foreign currency on a very fast track.
THE WRITER HAS SERVED AT PROVINCIAL, FEDERAL AND INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATIONS AS AN ENVIRONMENTAL CONSULTANT