[Model Answer] UPSC GSM3-2018/Q6: How to remove Toxic Solid Waste from Habitable Environment? (10 marks)

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  1. Question for UPSC Mains-GS3
  2. Introduction: Define / Origin / Data
  3. Conclusion: Summarize
  4. Afterthoughts / Mistakes / Pitfalls

Question for UPSC Mains-GS3

Q. What are the impediments in disposing the huge quantities of discarded solid wastes which are continuously being generated? How do we remove safely the toxic wastes that have been accumulating in our habitable environment? (150 words, 10 marks, asked in UPSC Mains-2018)

निरंतर उत्त्पपन्न किए जा रहे फेके गए ठोस कचरे की विशाल मात्राओ का निस्तारण करने में क्या क्या बाधाए है ? हम अपने रहने योग्य परिवेश में जमा होते जा रहे जहरीले अपशिष्टों को सुरक्षित रूप से किस प्रकार हटा सकते है ?

Relevance to Syllabus of UPSC GSM3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation.

Introduction: Define / Origin / Data

  • (Define & give example) Solid waste is an unwanted or discarded material, from a residential, industrial or commercial establishment, that can not be used in its present form. Examples include plastics, cloth, glass, metal and organic matter, sewage, sewage sludge, building debris etc. OR
  • (Origin of the problem & then example) Urbanization and industrialization produce colossal quantities of waste. It can be of either solid of liquid form. The examples of solid waste includes…. [give examples]. OR
  • (DATA) Every year, 55 million tonnes of municipal solid waste and 8 million tonnes of industrial solid waste is generated in India. Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh & Telengana contribute 60% of this. Per Capita Waste generation in India is expected to increase rapidly in the future at 1-1.33% per cent annually.

DATA lifted from Kurukshetra Magazine 2017 issue but it is most impracticable way to write introduction. What if they had asked about Air pollution or Soil pollution? how many types of pollutant data will you memorize for exam!

UPSC How to remove Toxic Solid Waste from Environment

Body-1: Impediments in disposing solid wastes?

  1. According to NITI Ayog, urban areas generate 170,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste each day. While the urban local bodies (ULBs) spend about Rs. 500 to Rs. 1,500 per tonne on solid waste management. Out of this 60% – 70% is spent on the collection, 20% – 30% on transportation but almost nothing on treatment and disposal. Previous Economic Surveys have also identified the poor fiscal capacity of the ULBs as a chief cause of poor municipal services- including solid waste management.
  2. ULBs discard the solid wastes into open dumps. Due to protests by villagers, it’s becoming difficult to create new landfill sites, and due to poor fiscal capacity ULBs are unable to convert open dumps into sanitary landfills.
  3. Lack of conducive policy guidelines from State Governments in respect of allotment of land, supply of garbage and “waste 2 energy” power purchase facilities.
  4. Greed and Profiteering mindset of the industries, hence low level of compliance with e-waste management rules and biomedical waste management rules.
  5. As a result, waste collection and segregation is done by informal rag pickers & scrapyard workers, who’re not scientifically trained. In Delhi, even radioactive waste from hospitals finds its way to Mayapuri’s scrap market. This puts both workers and residents at risk.
  6. Rampant consumerism, “use and throw mentality”, buying new mobiles & electronic gadgets every 6 months, Mineral water bottles, Soda cups, Shopping bags. Fastfood outlets provide take-home food containers made-up of plastic. Lack of civic sense among citizens. Youngsters feel shy of carrying metal tiffin box from home to get the food. Rise of e-commerce sites that deliver products at home packed in cardboard, plastic, bubblewrap and thermocoal. [These are all peripheral points, they should be written after you’ve exhausted the primary reasons]

Body-2: how to remove toxic waste?

Now’s lets address the second part of the question, “How do we remove safely the toxic wastes that have been accumulating in our habitable environment?”

  1. Bioremediation i.e. using microorganisms to degrade contaminants into less toxic forms. It can be done
    1. in-situ: Treating the solid waste on the contamination site itself through bioventing, biosparaging, bioaugmentation.
    2. Ex-situ: removing the solid waste from site, & treating it elsewhere through landfarming, biopiles, bioreactors or composting.
    3. Mycoremediation and micofilteration i.e. using fungi to decontaminate the area.
  2. Phytoremediation i.e. using plants to remove contaminants from soil and waste.
  3. “Waste to energy conversion”. Solid waste can be converted into energy or atleast in less toxic / infectious forms through following methods:
    1. Thermo-chemical conversion: through biogassification and pyrolysis. Pyrolysis breaks down the solid waste by heat in the absence of oxygen. Carbonaceous waste can yield charcol and fuel gas. Non-carbonaceous waste will generate ash that can be used for filling highway and bricks. However, not suitable for municipal solid waste due to its diverse composition.
    2. Bio-chemical conversion: using bacteria and microorganisms to breakdown the biomass into methane gas.
    3. electro-chemical conversion: using autoclaving under high pressure to bring electro-chemical changes in the waste and generate highvalue chemicals and fuels.
  4. Just like we’ve National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) to develop highways in PPP mode, we should setup Waste to Energy Corporation of India (WECI) to setup such plants in big cities. (this is recommended by NITI Ayog’s three year agenda.)
  5. Leachate is the liquid that percolates through a dump and carries with it any soluble substance or suspended matter that comes along with it.
  6. Molten plastic waste can be added to stone and bitumen mix for road construction.
  7. Deep burial of biomedical and radioactive waste in barren land and uninhabited areas.
  8. Plasma gasification technologies can be explored but too costly for adoption in India.
  9. Biogas and composting are suitable for rural and rurban areas. But they’re not sustainable solutions in larger cities since they generate by-products large volumes (slurry and manure) that’s of no use to cities, and costly to transport to rural areas.
  10. According to the Hazardous Waste Management Rules 2010, the onus of managing and treating hazardous waste lie with the waste generator, and the urban local body has to ensure that such waste does not contaminate municipal waste stream in their area of authority.
  11. Strict enforcement of E-Waste & Biomedical Waste Management and Handling Rules.
  12. “3R concept”: Reduction in use and Re-use of the solid wastes and Recycling of the solid wastes.

Point 1 to 8 are relevant to premise “how to remove toxin waste already present in environment”, 8 to 11 are just filler points.

Conclusion: Summarize / Scare / SDG

  • (Summarize the body 1 & 2): Solid waste management (SWM) in India is becoming a major problem due to population growth and urbanization. The process is further impeded by poor fiscal capacity of ULBs, lack of trained manpower and non-conducive policies of the governments. Bioremediation and Waste-to-energy strategies can reduce the toxic waste volume drastically in most eco-friendly manner. They also generate useful byproducts, and reduce the necessity of large landfill sites. Hence, need of the hour is to explore and implement these measures on war-footing.
  • (Scare them & then say it’s important) Solid waste harms environment through leeching of toxins in soil and water, as well as release of GHG in the air. Such waste dumps become a breeding ground for mosquitoes, flies, vermin and pose threat to human health. Hence need of the hour is to ……
  • [OR in worst case, play the पीपुडी of SDG] Sustainable Development Goal #6 requires the nations to eliminate dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals in the environment. Goal 11 requires human settlements to become inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Effective solid waste management, and removal of toxic elements from habitable environment is therefore need of the hour.

Afterthoughts / Mistakes / Pitfalls

  • My answer is almost 1000 words, but you can cherry pick & summerize 3-3 bullets each for body 1 and body 2- that much will easily fill 150 words limit.
  • Question is “How to safely remove the toxic waste”. NOT “how to prevent the generation of waste”. So, make logical arguments accordingly. “We should create awareness, ask people to use cloth-bags etc….” That’s is true but that type of “IEC-पीपुडी (information, education, communication) not asked here.
  • You’re not asked to explain what type of diseases occur, what type of pollutions are spread due to solid waste. “When animals consume plastic bags, alimentary canal gets blocked and the stomach is bloated. The animal stops eating and dies of starvation.” That’s true but not asked here.
  • Toxic waste that is accumulating in our “habitable” environment. So how will you remove plastic from Oceans to save the fishes or remove plastic garbage from Mount Everest- that is not asked.
  • Not expected to give sub-examples of bioremediations like biosparaging, bioaugmentation etc. I’ve given them from Shankar sir’s book just for educational purpose.
  • “ULB’s financial strength needs to be augmented both through grants from Finance Commission and through stricter collection of ULB’s own taxes such as property tax and professional tax.” That’s true but not directly relevant to body part 2 that is “How exactly will your remove toxic material”. So, examples of methods such as bioremediation, pyrolysis etc. will fetch you more marks than generic bol-bachhan about funding, strict enforcement of policies and awareness generation.

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3 Comments on “[Model Answer] UPSC GSM3-2018/Q6: How to remove Toxic Solid Waste from Habitable Environment? (10 marks)”

  1. Thanks sir,wonderful as usual ur articles have always quality content,I have a request that plz plz introduce the pdf option so that we can save it ,note making is time consuming

  2. Mandating waste segregation and collection at source can also be one of the ways to best utilize the concept of 3Rs

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