Plastic Waste Management; A Case Study, District Kullu (Himachal Pradesh)

Introduction 

India’s plastic waste problem is not as huge as that of the western world but if we do not wake up to this alarmingly ever-growing problem now, it would soon drown us under its weight. As per CSE analysis 79% of the plastics made in the world enters our land, water and environment as waste and some of it also enters our bodies through food chain. Pandemic of 2020 has only made the matter worse.

We have Plastic Waste Management Rules made under Environment Protection Act. We are talking about Extended Producers Liability to deal with the menace.

I just wanted to pick up a district and understand the existing system for plastic waste management and see how it works. I chose to start from the hill state of Himachal Pradesh and decided to study district Kullu.

Kullu District at a Glace

Kullu district is located higher up in the mountains in the eastern part of central Himachal Pradesh and is bordered by districts of Lahaul and Spiti in North and East, Kinnaur in the South East, Shimla in the South, Mandi in the South and South-West and Kangra district in the North West. The area of the district is 5,503 Sq.kms. as per Survey of India which remained unchanged since its creation in 1963 (1) . The altitude in the district varies from 1089 metres to 6632 metres from above mean sea level.

The district has four sub-divisions at Kullu, Manali, Banjar and Anni and five development blocks at Nagar, Kullu, Banjar, Anni and Nirmand. The district has six Tehsils and two sub tehsils. It has two Municipal Councils of Kullu and Manali, has 204 Gram Panchayats, 326 villages and a census town at Shamshi (2). District has four Nagar Panchayats including two new Nagar panchayats that have been created by a cabinet decision held on October 28, 2020.

District Environment Plan

District Kullu has a district environment plan which was made to comply with the orders of Hon’ble NGT on 15.07.2019 in OA no 710/2017 titled Shailesh Singh Vs Sheela Hospital and Trauma Centre Shahjahanpur and also in pursuance of orders dated 26.09.2019 in OA no 360 of 2018 titled Shree Nath Sharma Vs UOI and others.

Deputy Commissioner is the chairperson of the district environment committee and the representative of the SPCB is the member secretary. The plan is lengthy but sketchy, it does mention action to be taken to mitigate different types of pollution and the agency responsible for the proposed action but does not elaborate on how that action can be taken and the time frame with in which the same has to be done. There is no mention of consequences if the said action is not taken and also no mention of allocation of financial resources for the proposed actions.

The district environment plan does not mention either the quantum or the constitution of the waste being generated in the district. The plan is also silent about the need to ascertain the same. The district environment plan aims to manage waste without actually having a clear idea about what kind of waste and how much waste is being generated in the district. The management plan envisages action points to deal with different kinds of waste but leaves entirely to the imagination as to how does it plan to create infrastructure or facility without having a clear estimate of waste that facility or infrastructure would be required to handle. The appropriateness of infrastructure to be created for waste management, the technology to be used especially in case of Waste to Energy plant, the facilities for waste management to be created would entirely depend upon the nature and type of waste being generated. The plan however goes on to enumerate different action points without taking cognizance of the quantum or composition of the waste in the district. It looks like a box ticking approach in pursuance of the orders of the Hon’ble NGT orders but lacks in-depth understanding of the waste being generated in the district. The district administration seems to be doing work on this front but unfortunately they seem unaware of the gravity of the situation and also unfortunately the urgency with which waste management in the mountains should be done seems lacking. This is being said after meeting and discussing the issue of waste management especially the plastic waste with various government officials in the district responsible for waste management.

Ground truthing of certain claims made in the district environment plan reveal gaps in reality and what is being claimed in outcomes. Public participation and behavioral change have been mentioned as two main factors if the environment plan of the district has to succeed but no mention of the administration’s plans to achieve the same has been made. Ironically, the plan very complacently claims that the environment status in the district is safe (3).

Plastic Waste Management(PWM) Plan in the District

Under the section of Plastic Waste Management plan there is no mention of the existing quantum of plastic waste being generated in the district. The awareness and information about the composition of plastic waste is clearly absent. It is a bit difficult to understand that a management plan for plastic waste is being made without any knowledge of both quantum and composition of  plastic waste being generated in the district. It being a major tourist attraction there must be a significant variation in plastic waste generation in peak tourist season and lean season.

The document mentions following action points as showing positive outcome in the ULBs in the district

S.N

Action Area

Outcomes

1.

Door to door collection

100%

2.

Prohibiting sale of carry bags less that 50 microns of thickness

100%

3.

Ban of single use plastic

Implemented

Following actions have to be improved or to be included in the action plan for PWM

S.N.

Action Areas

Outcomes

1.

Authorisation of PW Pickers

Initiated in MC Kullu

2.

PW Collection Centers

Initiated in MC Kullu

3.

Linkage with NGOs

Not initiated

4.

Use of Polly waste

Needs improvement

PWM In Rural Areas

In rural area of the district there are no plastic waste collection centers and in areas where there are home stays and hotels it is causing a huge hazard for the environment.

Regular rag pickers are collecting plastic from people and they just pick recyclable plastic which can be sold and fetches them a livelihood.

Action Plan for PWM

Following is the action plan for Plastic waste management given in the District Environment plan of District Kullu (4)

S.N

Action Area

Agency

Purpose

1.

PW Collection centers

ULB/Panchayat

Collection

2.

Authorisation of PW pickers

ULB/Panchayat

Collection

3.

Linkage with NGO/ECO Clubs

ULBs/Schools

Awareness and collection

4.

Use in road making

PWD

Disposal

5.

Making of Poly bricks,Poly wall, Polly Toilets and Poly benches

Panchayat

Reuse

6.

Fuel for cement Kiln

Industries

Disposal

The plan mentions the purpose of action that it intends to take through an identified agency for PWM. It is silent about the creation of necessary linkages with industry, how much quantum of plastic waste can be disposed of or reused and also the time frame within which such actions are to taken.

I have visited the only Waste to Energy (WTE) Plant in the district located at Rangri in Manali and have documented the status of this facility in detail both visually and by interviewing people working over there. The WTE plant does not generate energy as incinerator and other necessary machinery for the same are still not installed at the site. The site is producing RDF (Refuse Derived Fuel) and some of it is being sent to the cement plants in the state who are under an obligation to use RDF up to 1% as a part of their fuel mix. This arrangement works on an adhoc basis and this is an observation that is being made on the regularity of dispatch of RDF to cement plants.

RDF is also supposed to be used for road construction but it has not been used for this so far. The environmental consequences of using RDF for road construction in terms of leachate is still being debated is a different question that needs to be addressed at the policy level.

The intent of this write up was to see how well we are prepared to deal with our waste especially plastic waste and the district was chosen randomly. On paper and in pursuance of court orders it seems we are doing a lot of work but we still have to go a very long way if we are serious about managing our waste in a scientific, safe and a sustainable manner. The environment plan discussed above shows clearly the manner in which this issue is being dealt with as of now.

Footnotes:

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Archana Vaidya is a Natural Resource Management (NRM) and Environment Law consultant and an advocate. She is an Oxford Gurukul Chevening Fellow and was one of the founding partners of IELO, a law firm. She has co-authored books and writes on various issues related to natural resource management and environment law.